Reality TV…. in a theme by the Berliner Philharmoniker

October 30, 2008 at 3:42 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

I caught the broadcast of “A Trip to Asia: On the Road with the Berlin Philharmonic” on BBC Four shown sometime in early September this year. Curious, BBC Four in Singapore? I ain’t gonna tell you how I did it. Anyway, I had expected it to be just a routine concert tour by a major European orchestra to asian cities. Wiener Philharmonic had done it, LSO had done it, Concertgebouw had done it,… and the list runs on. So no big deal isn’t it?

It didnt take long before I’d realised that this is no ordinary concert broadcast. The film basically provides a deconstruction of individual members of the Berliner Philharmoniker, through a series of interviews, peeling away the layers of confidence and exuberance which they portray through their concerts. Slowly, the film reveals some of the inner fears, tension, internal contradictions, and sometimes ghosts of the forgotten past. A horn player relating how she was “Ms Unpopularity” in school, a second violin speaks of “the struggles of not being able to pick up the subtlies of playing in an orchestra which had developed a rich culture”, of being ashamed of his asian heritage and not being about to assimilate into everybody else. The principal oboist shared how he used to stutter as a teenager, and how his instrument became his medium to becoming mainstream. Similar sentiments echoed through several more members from the various sections of the orchestra. Rattle speaks of the Jekyll and Hyde within his musicians. The concertmaster speaks of the sound of orchestra back in Karajan’s days still ringing in his ears and his continual quest in search of that sound again. The level of sheer frankness and directness, at times an overload of information, is just overwhelming and leaves much food for thought.

This concert tour is also the make-or-break period for three young budding musicians including a piccolo player, a percussionist and a violist. undertake their probation period upon passing the grueling auditions, where they were graded by the musicians, or “lifetime honorary members of the Berlin Philharmonic Society” they call it. Much of this has to do with the unique system of democracy which acts as a basic infrastructure for the workings of this orchestra. Members are elected by other members upon which their positions in this, arguably the best orchestra in the world, are confirmed and secured through another series of balloting, at the end of the probation period.

Some interesting anecdotes taken from the interviews:

Thomas Timm (Leader of 2nd violin): When I was young, I was described as what you might call being “odd”.

Noako Shimizu (Principal Viola) : My husband says, “Why do you make such an effort? No one hears you anyway. ” Those words could kill some of the others. They are so proud!!!

Raphael Haeger (Percussionist) :  Its a big change when someone new joins. Its like an adopted child suddenly joins a big family. Everybody has to shift along the table.

Albrecht Mayer (Principal oboe) : People often say that musicians are egocentric. What else should be be?

Wilfried Strehle (Viola): Karajan was right, when he said that the so-called weakest one at the back determines the standard and the quality.

Who got through the probation and who did not? Watch and find out.

Official website:

BBC synopsis:

Boom Town Media :

Berliner Philharmoniker’s website:


Kota Tinggi – A Reprise Part 3 : A sad kitty interlude

July 29, 2008 at 6:19 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

After a long “hiatus” from the topic, I decided that I should continue with the fieldtrip report…


After visiting the locality of Cryptocoryne sp. “Kota Tinggi” and C. schulzei, we headed north to  move to our last crypt destination for the day. Before that we decided to stop over near Jermaluang for lunch.

On the way to this rustic old town, we came across this :

What a gorgeous looking creature he was, alas dead, by the road. Head was squashed on one side and caked to the road. Not a pretty sight at all.  It was already mid-day and the body was also stiff as a log. But there weren’t any flies hovering around. This adult male must have been freshly dead, probably ran over during the night before while trying to make a crossing. Prionailurus bengalensis, better known as leopard cats are such a rarity to spot in the wild nowadays. Once common all over Mainland Asia from India, China and down to the tip of the Peninsula where we are situated now, wild populations have declined to a deplorable state. They are very shy nocturnal animals, often solitary making them even harder to spot, let alone track. Known as 石虎 which literally means “stone tiger” in Mandarin, they were once hunted as a delicacy in Taiwan. They have now become officially extinct on the island. Elsewhere, lost and destruction of habitat, like what’s happening in Peninsula Malaysia, has caused the same, if not greater devastation.

This was once all leopard cat country. Now it’s just miles upon miles of endless palm oil plantation. Flora and fauna alike, many organisms fall victim to the destruction of Man. There are people who are strongly against the collection of live specimens of plants and animals from the wild. Pilfering they call it, but have we, self-proclaimed masters of this land, been able to provide for and protect all that’s been left to our care. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all against senseless exploitation of nature and poaching. But sometimes I wonder which is the greater of the two evils; removing a living thing from its natural environment in attempt to keep it alive in hope to prolong its existence in the world we live in albeit not giving it a chance to fight for its own survival, or by using laws to ensue their slow and painful, but almost certain demise, as we watch together helplessly as they disappear from the wildeness, just as the wildeness disappears around them. Can conservation laws really change their fate? As we stand by the roadside and listen to the swansong of this sad leopard cat, I can’t help but think that they can’t.

 Seldom do I allow such a sense of helplessness to overcome me. As we bake under the midday sun, I could feel a chill deep within my heart. While the others get into the car, I carried the little fella into the bushes on the side of the road and said a little prayer for him. He has moved on, and so must we…



to be continued…

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