Concert review: Victor Khor, the ardent champion of musical and humane causes

When it comes to piano recitals, few pianists in Singapore dare to venture into the peripheries of piano repertoire or perform in unusual venues like Victor Khor. For someone equally at home with the music by Bach, Rachmaninov and Radiohead, it would come as little surprise to hear him play the scores of popular Japanese film composers Ryuichi Sakamoto and Joe Hisaishi, in the unlikely setting of the disco hall in popular nightspot Zouk.

All this was also for a good cause, as his performance raised funds and increased awareness for the Bone Marrow Donor Programme. This was all the more relevant as great composer Bela Bartok and legendary pianist Dinu Lipatti both died of leukaemia before a definitive cure was found, and tenor Jose Carreras was saved by a bone marrow transplant. All it needs now are for potential donors to volunteer and save lives.

The first half belonged to Hisaishi's music, with six pieces performed on solo piano. The Wind Forest, W.Nocturne and The Post Modern Life were mostly slow short works in ternary (three part) form, pop-inspired, fully tonal and amenable to easy listening. Typically meditative to begin with, each developed to a chord-laden central climax before receding quietly to nothingness.

Khor played with a pile of scores throughout, and could have done with an assistant to avert awkward page-turns and accidents caused by draughts, which came close to disrupting the flow of the pieces. Eventually a violinist came forward to steady the leaves and salve the pianist's nerves.

Four other Hisaishi pieces were performed with the Young Musicians Foundation Orchestra conducted by young Taiwanese conductor Brian Liao, which added an extra layer of harmonies. Hatsukoi flowed with a Mozartian simplicity with its Alberti bass, while Ashitaka And Son rose to a climax a la Rachmaninov, boosted by woodwinds and percussion. Princess Mononoke featured a yangqin and a dance choreographed by Kwok Min Li of the Singapore Ballet Academy, with a holographic projection by Digimagic.

Sakamoto's music is arguably better known, through the worldwide distribution of his award-winning film soundtracks. His styles and forms are also more varied. Solo oboe and flute with strings accompanied Energy Flow, while solo violin graced the Ending Theme of Seven Samurai. The imagery of dark clouds and interesting harmonic progressions distinguished The Sheltering Sky, the film based on Paul Bowles's best-selling 1949 novel.

The two best-known scores were performed last. Khor's evenness of fingering brought out well the familiar figurations of Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, the Pacific war movie starring David Bowie, and the melancholic life of Aisin Gioro Puyi was portrayed in the bittersweet music of The Last Emperor. Khor's advocacy of this music approached missionary zeal, and like everything he does, there are no half measures. Musical and humane causes have an ardent champion.

stlife@sph.com.sg