There is a tendency in these pages to focus on rock’n’roll, but not to the exclusion of all else. Adding to the vibrant mix of musical entertainments this weekend is the 16th International Music Festival Phnom Penh at Raffles – Le Royale, a series of chamber music concerts by world class musicians.
Way back in in 2004, the Festival theme was 300 Years of Western Classical Music; next year it’s Beethoven 250; along the way there has been Cambodia Goes Baroque (2008), Franz Liszt – A European Visionary (2011) and European and Asian Mythology in Music (2014).
“To present an annual music festival, in my point of view, there is no other way than to set a different topic every year,” explains Festival Director Anton Isselhardt. “This year it’s Female Composers. It is the 200th birthday of Clara Schumann – in her day, it was a revolution that a female could be so successful and so celebrated by the press and by the European audience. She travelled all over Europe as a pianist, later on with her own works also. And even in the shadow of her husband Robert and the huge number of European Romantic composers.”
For the opening night event on Friday, the Bangk Piano Trio (Rolf-Dieter Arens, piano; Chitipat Darapong, violin; Stefanie Waegner, cello) will perform two piano trios, one by each of the Schumanns. The following evening Croatian pianist Srdjan Caldarovic will perform pieces by Clara Schumann, Johannes Brahms – a piece completed while he was living in the Schumann household after a suicide attempt by Robert – and Dora Pejacevic, a Croatian composer who studied in Vienna.
Bangk Piano Trio: supplied
“And there is another very interesting figure, which I truly didn’t know about a year ago,” explains Anton. “Ethel Smyth. She was what we would call today a women’s activist, one of the first in Britain. She was a publisher, a professor, a writer and composer. She composed some symphonic works, some chamber music.” Through extensive research, networks and a little good fortune, a copy of a piano transcription of her Opus 1a was discovered in the British Library, photographed, and sent to Cambodia. “There is even an invoice from the British Library. I didn’t give up – I wanted to have her in this programme.” The Scherzo from that piece will be performed as part of a Sunday matinee by the four-hands piano duo Nakaishi/Sakano alongside other Romantic and Impressionist works mostly from the early 20th Century by composers such as Fanny Mendelssohn, Mel Bonis and Amy Beach.
A highlight of the festival will be the world premier of a piece by 22 year old Cambodian composer Bosba Phan, who recently received a Bachelor of Music in Composition from the New England Conservatory in Boston.
Ici, le jour se leveI, a piece for cello and piano, will be performed by Bangk Piano Trio as the grand finale on Sunday night. I first corresponded with Bosba six years ago when a piece of hers, The Enchanted Pavilion, was performed as a part of the 2013 Festival, Journey: European Art Music in the 20th Century.
Composer Bosba Phan: supplied
She told me in the 2013 interview that her first music education was in the stalls at Psar Toul Tom Pong (Russian market). “We can buy and listen to all types of music from every country … that’s what I did! I discovered artists, western classical music, I saw concerts of pop music stars, classical music in the parks. I have been inspired by the works of Chinary Ung and King Father Norodom Sihanouk, but also the anonymous composers of Mohori and wedding music. Classical music is not easily accessible to most people. To reach the level of quality and perfection that you can hear in a Khmer wedding song or a symphony, we need quality teaching and discipline. Music training or performances must also be accessible to all people, not only the wealthy families.”
Friday 1st at 7 pm: The music of a marriage
Saturday 2nd at 7 pm: Memories of Clara Schumann
Sunday 3rd at 11 am: Delightful masterpieces for piano 4 hands
Sunday 3rd at 7 pm: Grand Finale and world premiere
The Festival is supported by partnerships with The Piano Shop, Raffles – Le Royale, the Heinrich Boll Foundation, the European Union, the German Embassy, and the Cambodian Ministry of Culture.
Festival Director Anton Isselhardt: supplied