By Seneka Abeyratne –
The Symphony Orchestra of Sri Lanka (SOSL) presented a program of classical music entitled Premières Concert at Ladies College Hall, Colombo on November 10, 2012 with Keiko Kobayashi (guest conductor); Tanya Ekanayaka (pianoforte); and Eiji Suzuki (première composer); sponsored by LOLC (main sponsor), Devar Surya Sena Trust, and Japan Foundation.
This is the monsoon season. A couple of hours before the concert, there was a cloudburst and several roads in the city went under water. But most of those who had purchased tickets fought their way through the floods and snarled-up traffic to get to the show on time, for they wanted to hear Tanya Ekanayaka play, come hell or high water. I had to look hard to spot an empty seat when the final bell rang and the hall lights started dimming.
All’s well that ends well. The music, on the whole, was delightful and the SOSL delivered another spirited performance. But why were the hall doors left open? No doubt it was very warm and humid inside (sadly, the hall has no air-conditioning), but on the other hand, the sounds of nature (pattering rain, sporadic thunder) served only to confound the acoustics, their aesthetic appeal notwithstanding.
After the rousing national anthem (curtain warmer) came Straus’s Overture to Die Fledermaus, Op. 362 (The Bat). Perhaps the cartoon show Tom and Jerry in the Hollywood Bowl (1950) has done more to immortalize this joyful piece of music (popularly known as the Fledermaus Waltz) than any other advertisement – a tough call for the conductor though, given the constantly changing tempo and prismatic arrangement of rubati, accelerandi, rallentandi, and other directives. Even a slight slip could throw the orchestra off balance momentarily. But there were no such lapses. Keiko Kobayashi, the esteemed Japanese conductor who has been closely associated with the SOSL since 2008, was spot on with her cues and the orchestra responded buoyantly to her bravura style of directing. To watch her synchronizing the swishing of her baton with stylized body movements and emphatic nods was a treat.
Next, the main event: Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37, with the distinguished soloist, Tanya Ekanayaka, at the keyboards. This young and hugely gifted musician, with good looks to boot, is something of a rara avis for she is not only an internationally acclaimed concert pianist, having performed at such prestigious venues as St Martin-in-the-Fields and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, but also a composer (her compositions are often included in her concert programs) and a pedagogue (with a doctorate in linguistics and musicology and currently a part-time faculty member at Edinburgh University).
Tanya Ekanayaka could be viewed as a pianist from the top drawer due to her ability to blend sparkling technique with poetic imagination and artistic flair. She is a true artist, for she possesses a variety of coloristic resources. But even the best of pianists would balk at having to cope with poor acoustics, high humidity (which coats the fingers with a film of sweat and makes the keyboard sticky), and the ageing grand piano at Ladies College Hall, which not only possesses some recalcitrant keys but is also far too bright. But if these things were bothering her, she did not show it, for she played with such grace, composure, and subtlety of touch.
The stiffest hurdle for the pianist in this robust, emotionally-charged C minor concerto is the celebrated cadenza towards the end of the first movement, and she cleared it with consummate ease. Her touch was sublime, and her interpretation, deeply introspective and coloristic. The slow movement contains a hauntingly beautiful melody to which she gave a lofty, artistic interpretation. In the ebullient third movement, she slipped into top gear and performed the rondo with rhythmic élan and delicate brushstrokes worthy of a Fragonard painting.
Well done, Tanya Ekanayaka! It was a thrilling performance from beginning to end, cemented by a powerful rapport between conductor and soloist. The strong supporting role played by the orchestra was also commendable.
After the interval, we heard the world première of Song Lines by the renowned Japanese composer, E. Suzuki, who was also present at the concert. It is a majestic orchestral piece (in three parts), incorporating elements of Sri Lankan and Japanese folk melodies. The rhythmic quality of the music was mesmeric and superbly captured by the orchestra, thanks to some fine conducting by Kobayashi. Then the orchestra played another piece by Suzuki (a last-minute addition to the program) which, evidently, he had finished composing that morning! It was quite beautiful and melodious, but not having had enough time to rehearse it well, the SOSL played it somewhat tentatively.
The final item was Massenet’s Scènes Pittorresques Suite No. 4 for Orchestra in D major, which is distinguished by its pictorial elegance and lyrical power. The orchestra and the conductor worked hand in glove to provide a keen and lively interpretation of the four contrasting movements: Marche, Air de ballet, Angélus, and Fête bohème. There was plenty of verve and panache, particularly in the operatic fourth movement. All in all a fine concert, which was attended by a wonderfully receptive and deeply appreciative audience.