Monday, 31 January 2011

Kuala Lumpur, July 2010 - Part the First

Early last year, a tutor at Birmingham Conservatoire announced at the end of a rehearsal for the Conservatoire Camerata that the City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus was looking for extra tenors for two productions. One was a performance of Howard Goodall's 'Eternal Light - a Requiem', and the other was a trip to Kuala Lumpur for the last week of July, where we'd perform Berlioz's Damnation of Faust in the concert hall under the Petronas Towers.
The terminal at KL airport
The journey was pretty tiring, but went without mishap. The terminal at Dubai, our stopover, was mind-bogglingly massive; stepping out of the plane, one could feel the wave of heat wash past you: at first, I though it the exhaust from an engine, it was so hot. Inside they had a strange background music that grated on the nerves after the third playing. It played continually, many more than three times. I hadn't forgotten it on the way back. Once we had arrived in Kuala Lumpur, we were transported by coach to the hotel. Another tenor, and a fellow student at the conservatoire, kept pointing out the Petronas Towers, which consistently turned out NOT to be the Towers.
The view from my hotel room
The hotel we stayed in - PNB Darby Park - was not the  prettiest of buildings, but it had reasonable facilities, such as tennis courts and a swimming pool on the 8th floor. Both western-style and Malaysian breakfast was available. The first morning, I chose some of the western food, with small pieces of exotic fruit and umami jelly stuff (sorry for the technical jargon) in order to ease myself in. I only recently discovered that the fruit, which was very white with black seeds, was actually dragon fruit; I really enjoyed it. The second morning, I went for the proper thing: Nasi Lemak, having had it for lunch in Little Penang Cafe the previous day. I really enjoyed it, despite it being quite a bit hotter than before! Nasi Lemak is rice, with beef or fish, anchovies, and egg, and other additions. Another thing I enjoyed was Teh Tarik, literally 'pulled tea', which is sweetened with condensed milk then poured at a height from one container to another, frothing it up and cooling it down. I had several, of various degrees of sweetness, and one I had in a cafe one evening was just too sweet, it almost ached! The dessert I ordered in the Little Penang Cafe was Cendol, which consisted of shaved ice, red beans and green rice noodles, with coconut milk poured over the top. Unfortunately, owing to the tendency to blast the buildings' interiors heavily with air conditioning, I had by now cooled down, and I had to take my icy food slowly to avoid freezing my brain.

The stormclouds build up
On the third day, I suffered from 'stomach-can't-adjust-to-so-much-spicy-food-so-quickly' syndrome, and was unable to attend the rehearsal. On the upside, I finished my book, which I was planning to leave somewhere in KL as part of a venture called Book Crossing, where one goes to the website to generate a 'book-crossing I.D.', which one writes inside the book along with a message asking whoever finds it to register on the bookcrossing website. I left mine in the luggage compartment of the coach on the way to the airport for the return journey. My stomach didn't really recover, and I suffered from bouts of diarrhea for the rest of the trip, including during the first of the two performances where I was late entering with the choir after the interval, which was unfortunate. Thereafter I took certain remedies and was much more comfortable during the second performance on the Sunday.
The real Petronas Towers!

I do have a picture of the Petronas Philharmonic Hall in which we performed, but taken with the camera on my phone, so it is not of particularly high quality. I have other pictures, some taken with my phone, others with my camera, but I shall post them another time, as otherwise this post will become longer than reasonable.

In musical news, I will be accompanying a singer in the conservatoire's Lieder Prize prelims tomorrow, and am a little worried about the music: I'm still learning it! We'll perform Ravel's Trois Poeme de Mallarme, which are devilishly difficult, and two songs from Mahler's Des Knaben Wunderhorn, which, although slightly less tricky, are awkwardly written for the piano.

I have just submitted my application to the WAM foundation to teach classical music - mostly piano - in a school in India for July and August! I will hear within about two weeks whether I will be jetting off at the beginning of July for two months of piano tutoring and group workshops. The blog of last year's participants makes for interesting reading, and gives me some ideas as to what I could do when if I get there.

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