Singapore, Singapore


Dear Readers,

Greetings from Singapore! I’m currently sitting at my computer, being filmed by Channel News Asia. The crew is sticking the camera at me at all angles – now it’s tilted, capturing my face, and now the cameraman is standing up filming me from a higher angle. The camera is gradually moving downwards, and – oop! He kneeled down again! He must be getting my hair right now. I wonder what he’s aiming at.

I wrote the above a few days ago, in the middle of a documentary shoot by Channel News, when the camera crew asked me to get out my computer and do something on it. They were with me on and off for several days, following me to rehearsals, radio interviews, backstage conferences with the conductor, my hotel room, and wherever else caught their fancy. Whenever I mentioned something that seemed interesting to them, they very nicely asked me to do show them how I did it – again, and again, and sometimes yet again, so they could get just the shot of it that they wanted. So if you ever see the documentary, you’ll know what I was typing in the segment on my journal and computer.

I didn’t come to Singapore for the documentary, though. The main goal was to play the Brahms Concerto a couple of times with the Singapore Symphony and its music director, Lan Shui. I’d been to Singapore once before, and I’ve known Lan for a good 10 years, so returning made me feel like I was on familiar ground, halfway around the world from home. Lan and I first worked together in Philadelphia when I was 11 and he was one of a group of young professional conductors taking part in a public seminar at Curtis being run by the great conducting teacher Max Rudolf. I was the guinea-pig soloist for the seminar, and each of the young conductors (one after the other) had to try to keep the Curtis Symphony Orchestra with me through the finale of the Mendelssohn violin concerto. Those were my very first public Mendelssohn performances, and Mr. Rudolf asked me to do weird things to make it tough for the conductors, so I did my best to oblige him.

A word about the climate here in Singapore in the late spring. Do you know the lyric: “Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun”? Well, it wouldn’t surprise me if it had been written about Singapore in May. If you look at the map, you’ll notice that Singapore is south of Malaysia, right on the Equator. I’d like you to know that, at this time of the year, the Equator is extremely humid and WARM. When I stepped off the plane in my winter coat (I’d begun this trip with concerts in Vancouver), it felt like I had just stepped into an oven; I couldn’t tear that coat off fast enough. And it has stayed that way – very equatorial, virtually the whole time I have been here. Being neither canine nor English, I have chosen to stay mostly indoors all week – as have most of the Singaporeans.

The heat and humidity haven’t stopped people from coming to the concerts, though. Or from celebrating a Buddhist high holy day this morning in the restaurant area beneath the large fountain in downtown Singapore. Or from shopping up a storm in the huge malls that are a central part of economic life in Singapore. It’s just that most of these activities have taken part in air-conditioned spaces.

From here, it’s home for a couple of days, then a business trip to New York, followed by a retirement-home performance of new repertoire that I’ll be playing next year. The next day my friend Natalie Zhu – the terrific pianist who does recitals with me – and I will be off for a week at a new chamber-music festival on Amelia Island in northern Florida. I’ve never been there before, and I’ll write you about it as soon as I have a chance. Meanwhile, happy end of May.

Yours sincerely,

Hilary