Tuesday 16 December 2014

Harking back to a bygone age - recital at the 1901 Arts Club, London

Music had, for centuries, played an important role in our society.  Paintings and documents have long afforded us a glimpse into the vibrant musical life of generations past, particularly the music salons of 19th century.  These salons were meeting places for music lovers, performers, composers,  instrument makers, and the curious minded public of every walk of life - a cocktail of interesting characters unlikely to come together if not for the occasion.  Several performers would take to the stage, with slightly less fanfare than at a concert hall proper but every bit as compelling and

Monday 15 December 2014

Book Review - The Recorded Legacy of Vladimir Horowitz

Photo with 'Recorded Legacy of Vladimir Horowitz' author, Jun Kinoshita
I often call pianists of my age the 'Horowitz Generation'.  I grew up listening, watching, and reading about Vladimir Horowitz; my parents weren't using Mozart as a ruler for pianistic excellence, but Horowitz.  In our modest collection of recordings at home, Horowitz' far out-numbered any other pianists.  

At Juilliard, I sat in David Dubal's class.  Mr. Dubal is well-known far and beyond for his radio programme, his encyclopedic knowledge of the piano repertoire, as well as his association with Vladimir Horowitz.  

Sunday 14 December 2014

Kykkos Monastery - Cyprus at its most lavish and opulent

In the course of my travels, I try to seek out locations and sights that would stir and inspire me.  My heart is often drawn impatiently towards the destination, sometimes forgetting that the journey getting there is just as much an experience.  

The island of Cyprus is a Mediterranean paradise.  After working in Nicosia and Paphos, both bustling resort paradises (particularly the latter), I set off in search of one of the most lavish and religious icons of Cyprus, the Kykkos Monastery.  In distance, it is only 70km from Paphos,

Wednesday 10 December 2014

Chott el Jerid, Tunisia - Dry Salt Lake the closest thing to Mars on Earth?

In the days of our grandfathers, sunrise was the tranquility that begins the cycle of daily routines.  As light filters through darkness, the sun rises every morning tempting the birth of a new day.  Today it is as much a spectacle as the Eiffel Tower or a football match, with no less commotion.  

True enough, while we were in Tunisia, we hired a tour guide who could bring us to the salt lake of Chott el Jerid where we could watch the sunrise, a sight that is bestowed upon us for millions of years.  Chott el Jerid is a dried up salt lake at the border with Algeria in southwest Tunisia.  With only about

Monday 8 December 2014

D'Berto - The Best Seafood Restaurant in Spain!

Spain is a country that has insanely good food almost everywhere you go, and to crown an establishment (not only by me, but by every food critic in the Iberian Peninsular) as the best seafood restaurant is a royal feat.  It has to boast not only the best cooking but also the best ingredients, and it is not a title born out of snap judgment.  Welcome to Restaurante d'Berto.

d'Berto would probably win the title of the most obscure fine dining location - in O Grove, Galicia, Northwest Spain, no less.  I first met Berto months before I visited his restaurant,

Sunday 7 December 2014

Rashaville: rural tourism, an immersion in country life in Serbia

After my concert in Belgrade, Serbia, I had the immense fortune of meeting Russ Stanoylovic, a larger-than-life character who now runs a rustic ranch and hotel outside Belgrade with his amicable Chinese wife. Through my agent, Srdjan Stojanovic, who is no less a legendary character in the Serbian music circle, I was arranged a visit to Russ' ranch, affectionately called Rashaville.  

Some 60km outside Belgrade, or about an hour of scenic drive, a large banner spans across the country road

Friday 3 October 2014

Studenica Monastery, one of four UNESCO Heritage Sites in Serbia

It is staggering to see how many Orthodox monasteries there are in Serbia.  Except for one or two modern structures, these monasteries all originated from the Middle Ages, built roughly from 12th century to 16th century. 

It is said that Christianity was spread to Serbia around the 4th century.  The most important monastery standing now is the Studenica (pronounced as Stu-den-ni-tcha), some 200km south of Belgrade, the capital.  Only part of the route is covered by the highway network; most of it winds about small towns and villages, and mountain gorges.  My advice is to

Oyster farm in Morlaix, Brittany, Northwest France

Brittany is well-known for its seafood, particularly Creuse oysters.  Creuses from the northern coast is exported all over the world, and could fetch handsome prices in select supermarkets and restaurants.  Are they worth the price you pay? - or are you simply paying middlemen? 

The famous oyster farms are located in Cancale, about 70km north of Rennes, the capital of Brittany.  It is a great place not just for the regular Creuse - I will get to that in another post.  However, in recent years, it has become a bustling tourist town, so I head out in search for more hidden spots along the

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Bulnes, one of the remotest villages in Europe

Here's another suggestion for your next Spanish vacation: the province of Asturias.  After you've had enough seafood and beaches along the Mediterranean Sea or the Bay of Biscay, the breathtaking Asturian mountains will surely give you a whole new perspective of Spain. 

Almost parallel to the coastline of northern Spain is the mountain ranges of Naranjo de Bulnes (the Orange of Bulnes).  No idea why it alludes to orange as neither the colour nor the fruit is seen in the mountains, but Bulnes must be one of the most extraordinary destinations for tourists.

Several superlatives must be mentioned: Bulnes is one of the most remote villages in Europe, and it can now be reached by

Editorial Boileau - one of the greatest Spanish music publishers of all time

Editorial Boileau, or affectionately known simply as Boileau, has been and is still one of the most well-known and important music publishers in the world.  Based in Barcelona, it champions the publishing of Spanish music over the last 100 years. 

Pianists and musicians will not be foreign to its books with the signature light beige cover.  It is also one of the most easily readable and durable scores I have come across.  I have amassed a collection of its earlier publications as well as newer ones.  This past July, as an incentive to some

Wednesday 10 September 2014

Interview with Mark Ainley

Few personalities in the classical music world garner as much serious attention as Mark Ainley, whose daily updates on his Facebook page "The Piano Files" demand thoughtful consideration from piano-philes all over the world.  If there is ever an internet jukebox for the greatest piano performances, it would have to be Mark's brilliant selections. 

Facebook has become a successful platform for sharing knowledge, useful or otherwise, and our generation has come

Cava tasting at Pere Ventura, Sant Sadurni d'Anoia

No visit to Barcelona is complete without a tour of the Cava vineyards.  The province of Catalonia, of which Barcelona is the capital, is a heaven for foodies and wine lovers.  The Spanish bubbly - or Cava - is as much the soul of Catalans as Champagne to the French, or Riesling to the Germans; and here in Catalonia, Cava making is regarded as a time-honed family-kept tradition, not a cut-throat branding war that are played out by conglomerates.  Here in the Cava country, families and traditions still matter, and pledging allegiance to a wine maker is no less a sport than picking a football team.

This isn't my first time to Sant Sadurni d'Anoia, the capital of Cava making.  I have paid numerous visits to different wineries and vineyards, but one stood out among the rest:

Monday 8 September 2014

With Koji Attwood in Paris

Pianist and pedagogue Koji Attwood has been a close friend since my Juilliard days, and is still one of the pianists I most admire and respect.  When we weren't dissecting the shoulder of a Neapolitan jacket or recipes from previous episode of Iron Chef, we dissertated on the nuances of certain Horowitz recordings or Scriabin harmonies, over Chinese food or industrial strength espressos in Little Italy.  When we

Sunday 7 September 2014

Artisan Glassmaker Gerard Välvet

Right outside of Barcelona are three Cistercian monasteries that form a well-trodden pilgrimage route called the Cistercian Triangle.  The three monasteries, Santes Creus, Poblet, and Vallbona de les Monges are each planted in remote small towns steeply rooted in history and agricultural excellence.  While visiting Vallbona de les Monges, a town of less than 400 inhabitants, I stumbled across an interesting workshop across from the monastery.

Situated on the "main" road that looked to have been dug and paved in the Middle Ages, the high wall of the monastery

Saturday 6 September 2014

Tête-à-tête with Luis Aragunde, Mayor of Cambados, Galicia

My two concert trips to Cambados in Galicia (northwest Spain) had me totally convinced: not only is this truly an Albariño wine capital, it is also a seafood heaven. 

I also had the good fortune of making some new friends here, among them the honorable mayor of Cambados.  He was one burly, imposing man only countered by a gentleness and humour rarely wonted from a man of his stature.  His quiet manners masked the deep love he has for his hometown. 

Sunday 17 August 2014

Brunei Darussalam

I had the exceeding fortune of visiting and performing in the country-state of Brunei Darussalam, or quite simply known as Brunei.  Geographically situated on Borneo, the third largest island in the world after Greenland and New Guinea, it shares the island with Malaysia and Indonesia. 

In this small and peaceful country, the majority population of Muslim Malays lives side by side with the Chinese and a significant community of expatriates.  While the temperature of hate in the rest of the world has gone up to Pluto, the people here get by with each other like a well-harmonized

Saturday 16 August 2014

Qingyang Guzhen (青岩古镇), southwestern China

Qingyang Guzhen (青岩古镇), roughly translates to Old Town of Qingyang, is one of most important old towns preserved in the province of Guizhou in southwestern China.  Built in mid-14th century, it began as a military stronghold, but soon attracted a group of intelligentsias and craftsmen who shaped much of the culture as seen today.  In modern history, it was an important command post of the communist army, as well

Friday 15 August 2014

Metula, Northern Israel, at an arm's length from Hezbollah

Finding a peaceful sanctuary these days isn't easy.  After my concert in Tel Aviv and a visit up north to the Sea of Galilee, I attempted to drive even further north - yes, towards the border with Lebanon, where the Israeli and the Hezbollah had stopped exchanging bombs since the Lebanon war in 2006, in what is now mostly vineyards and agricultural oasis.  Local wines from the nearby Golan Heights provide a perfect match for the fresh produce, and it seemed like a perfect place to get away from the piano.

The northern-most town of Israel is Metula.  Funded by

Thursday 14 August 2014

Pontevedra, a quinessential Galician town

My summer performances had brought me to Galicia, northwest Spain, where I based myself in the pretty town of Cambados for a few good days.  Exploring the region is easy, with quick connections to the regional motorway (or autovia in Spanish) and scenic country roads.

20 minutes southeast of Cambados is the ancient town of Pontevedra.  Situated at the mouth of a river, there had been intense trading activities since antiquity.  It later became one of the main ports of Galicia.  It is a popular myth that Greek

Wednesday 13 August 2014

Cambados for foodies

Starting from my base in Cambados, I began exploring the culinary delights of this beautiful Galician town and its neighbours.  Here in the southern part of Galicia, bordering Portugal and with a long coastline, the main focus is no doubt about seafood.  A glimpse of the morning activities in Cambados will pretty rule out any doubts.

我來到西班牙西北部的坎瓦多斯 (Cambados),除了是為了漂亮的風景外,亦是為了那裏的美食!坎瓦多斯位於加利西亞省的

Tuesday 12 August 2014

Island of Ouessant, Brittany

Also known as Ushant, this little island off the coast of Brittany is the perfect holiday escape.  Accessible by private chartered plane and passenger ferry, visitors are allowed only two modes of transport on the island: one's own feet and bicycles. 

This is one of France's most westerly points, and it holds significant maritime history for Brittany and also for France.  The most guarded architectural treasures are the lighthouses, most if not all of which are still in use.  As the island ushers roughly 50,000 ships into the English Channel each year, the lighthouses are far more than decorations for the landscape: the Créac’h lighthouse (the one with colours resembling a

Monday 11 August 2014

Bacharach: meet me half way on the Rhine River

To call the Rhine River in southwest Germany a mere fascination would be an understatement like calling a pointillist painting a drawing of dots.  The Rhine is a river with a thousand castles, and a thousand stories, and they testify to the importance of this historic waterway since time immemorial. 

A classic Rhine River tour begins at the confluence of the Main and Rhine, roughly 30 minutes drive west of Frankfurt.  The tour then follows the river northward, passing through towns and castles on both banks of the river.  Small car and

Sunday 10 August 2014

Cambados - wine capital of Galicia

I was fortunate enough to be invited to perform at the beautiful town of Cambados, situated in the northwest corner of Spain an hour away from the Portuguese border.  Everything about it is typically Spanish - there is no other purposes of coming here except to enjoy life. 

Except it isn't just Spanish, and there are more than a few reasons to come here.  Unlike the rest of Spain, northwest Spain - or the province of Galicia - was never really conquered by the Muslims in the 8th century, and its distancing from the rest of Spain meant that it has preserved its own language, Galego, and even a people and culture of a unique character. 

Cambados is a town of about 14,000 inhabitants who thrive on being the capital of the Albarino wine, one of the most famous Galician exports.  And good wine is inevitably paired with good food, and the bay and rivers of Cambados provide lots: lobsters, clams, cockles, mussels, razor clams, crabs of all shapes and sizes, as are a blinding array of fishes. 

The town is also salted with beautiful Pazos, or manor houses; one of which is now the luxurious Parador hotel.  Bordeaux might have its chateaux, but Galicia will rival with its Pazos. 

My first visit was in February 2014 and was followed by another concert in July.  In typical fashion I visited the numerous historical sights, wine bars, restaurants, and the bay.  There will be a series of blogposts on restaurants and vineyards of Cambados, including interviews with the mayor (pictured below) and the manager of the Parador.  Stay tuned!

Two airports serve daily flights from Barcelona: Santiago de Compostela on the north and Vigo on the south, both less than an hour's drive on beautiful scenic roads to Cambados.  Check out budget airline Vueling

今年夏天很榮幸地被邀請到坎瓦多斯 (Cambados) 這個美麗的小鎮演奏。坎瓦多斯位於西班牙西北部的角落,距離葡萄牙邊境大概一小時車程。這個充滿純西班牙風情的小鎮絶對是享受美好假期的天堂!
要了解更多這個漂亮小地方的風土人情,必需先明白到她的歷史背景。不像西班牙的其他地區,當西班牙在公元八世紀被穆斯林人攻打的時候,坎瓦多斯所屬的加利西亞省 (Galicia) 從未被征服,這段獨有的歴史使她可以保有自己的語言以及許多當地獨有的文化,令她成為今天一個充滿西班牙原産風情的地區。
加利西亞是一個出産葡萄酒的地區,而主要出產 Albarino 萄葡的坎瓦多斯是加利西亞的釀酒中心,好像波爾多市是波爾多地區的首領一樣。Albarino 萄葡酒是加利西亞其中一個聞名世界的出口產品,它造就了一萬四千個坎瓦多斯居民的完美生活。有美酒當然不少得佳餚去配襯,坎瓦多斯一帶的河流就正正地為這個地區提供了源源不絶的海產,不論是龍蝦花甲青口,或是螃蟹蟶子鮮蝦,你都可以在這裏找到,難怪當地所有人都成為饞咀的食家!
歐洲很多地方都保有許多莊園大宅的古老建築,坎瓦多斯亦不例外,但跟她獨特的歴史一樣,她的莊園建築有她獨有的名字,叫做 Pazos,就像在波爾多把城堡叫做 「chateaux」一樣。而主要把酒店開設於具有歴史意義的古老建築的 Parador 酒店集圑亦把這裏的其中一座 Pazos 改建為酒店,成為我這個旅程一個很好的落腳點!
自從我第一次來到坎瓦多斯後,我已深深地愛上了這個既悠閒恬靜又多姿多彩的小鎮。經過今年夏天的第二次到訪,我認識到更多當地的加利西亞文化,亦到訪了更多的歴史遺跡、美麗的海灣,並品嚐過更多餐廳酒吧的地道美食。我將會撰寫更多關於加利西亞的旅遊點,當中包括 Parador 酒店經理的採訪,請密切留意!
坎瓦多斯附近的兩個機場(北面的 Santiago de Compostela 及南面的 Vigo)每天都有班機從巴塞隆拿前往,從兩個機場出發都只需少於一小時的車程,沿途更可欣賞醉人的田園風光。機票價格及時間可瀏覽廉航伏林航空的網頁:http://www.vueling.com/es

Official website (in English) 坎瓦多斯官方網頁(英語): http://www.cambados.es/eportal/portal/index.php?id_seccion=16.

Hunter Valley vineyards

For those who don't travel much to the land down-under, bear in mind that Australia is a ginormous country for a tourist to tackle; it is in fact the 6th largest country in the world.  The two-hour drive from Sydney to Hunter Valley barely covers a hair of the country. 

November is a glorious time to visit Australia.  It is the start of the summer but before the arrival of the holiday crowd in December.  The gorgeous Hunter Region landscape could not be any more beautiful.  We stayed at a beautiful vineyard hotel at the center of Hunter Region, and surrounding us were miles of ripening grapes, winding country roads, and the occasional sound of vineyard machineries that looked very much like props for the Transformer movie. 

Over the course of three days we stopped by various wineries, where friendly proprietors and wine-makers sum up their oenological knowledge and passion in a glass of their finest product.  The Hunter wines that we have tasted are fragrant on the nose, astringent and fruity on the palette with an oaky aftertaste that favour pairing with cheeses and other local goodies.  In the younger wines, tannins are quite brought out but the older ones have mellow and velvety tannins that brings to mind Rhone Valley or the Savoie in France. 

Hunter Valley sits 160km north of Sydney and is well connected with the motorway.  Both the red and white varieties are worth trying, and allow a generous holiday of a few days to a week to explore the region.  Here is a website dedicated to Hunter Valley tourism: http://www.winecountry.com.au/