Music Festival Merges Asian Performers, Western Romanticism

As Cambodian pianist Rong Sereyvann explained this week, it takes more than technical ability to expertly play a Mozart concerto, as he is preparing to do next week during the 12th International Music Festival in Phnom Penh.

“If you strictly focus on playing the notes, it’s fine,” he said. “But if you try to grasp the emotion Mozart put in the work, what he wanted to express, that’s more difficult.”

Pianist Rong Sereyvann rehearses Tuesday for his upcoming concert. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Pianist Rong Sereyvann rehearses Tuesday for his upcoming concert. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

This is why Mr. Sereyvann has practiced two hours a day for the past five months for his performance of “Piano Concerto No. 17” in G major, which he will play with a full orchestra on Monday.

Organized by Anton Isselhardt of the Art+Foundation, the festival is a celebration of Asian musicians, but with a focus on European Romantic compositions. It starts tonight at the InterContinental Hotel with the Pantun Trio—a pianist, violinist, and cellist from Kuala Lumpur who will play pieces by Ludwig van Beethoven and Felix Mendelssohn—and will end next Monday with young musicians from four Asian countries accompanying Mr. Sereyvann.

French pianist Etienne Chenevier and Cambodian clarinetist Ikeda Bonsamnang will play familiar classical works together in a concert at Meta House on Saturday night.

“Schumann and Brahms are Romantic composers in European culture, or so they seem to Europeans,” Mr. Bonsamnang said. “But being Cambodian and from a different culture, I had to work to understand those European feelings. This made the pieces difficult to convey, but they are very beautiful.”

The theme for this year’s festival is “The European Dream of Progress and Enlightenment,” with the music coming from a period of great change.

“This is music from a period when Europe was transforming itself,” said Alain Vandersmissen, charge d’affaires for the European Union Delegation, which supports the festival. “Europe was moving very fast towards a science-driven culture that would lead to industrialization of the continent and, unfortunately, also to wars and in the end, to the start of the European Union.”

“So quite an exciting period,” he added. “And I would dare to make the comparison with what is happening in Cambodia, which is now moving fast, transforming fast economically and socially.”

The two works that French pianist Stephan Cassar will play Friday night at Meta House reflect social and political changes of that era: Franz Liszt’s “Lyon” was inspired by a revolt by silk weavers in France in 1832, and Beethoven’s “Les Adieux” was prompted by people fleeing Vienna ahead of the invasion by French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte in 1809.

Indonesian-American pianist Cicilia Yudha will perform Franz Schubert’s “Wanderer Fantasy” in C major as well as a more modern composition by contemporary Indonesian composer Slamet Abdul Sjukur, “Game-Land No. 5,” on Sunday night at Meta House.

On Monday night, a 38-person orchestra comprised of young musicians from the WorldShip Orchestra of Japan, Silpakorn University in Bangkok, the Ho Chi Minh City Conservatory of Music—along with two Europeans, a Canadian and a Cambodian—will perform Beethoven’s famous Symphony No. 5 and accompany Mr. Sereyvann in his Mozart concerto.

All concerts start at 7 p.m.

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