Lecture- Recital: Humor in Late Debussy by Dr. Lucas Wong

Dr. Lucas Wong is no stranger to our Institute of Music as he has conducted masterclasses and lecture-recitals here in UCSI University prior to this. He began his early training at the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts and is a graduate of University of British Columbia (B.Mus) and Yale School of Music (M.M, M.M.A, D.M.A). Dr. Wong has been a guest lecturer on Debussy at the Julliard School and has also given masterclasses and performances at the 2009 Shanghai International Piano Festival, and as well as other institutions. He has also travelled to various venues in China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Canada and the United States, to perform and teach.
Dr. Cheong Yew Choong, the Institute of Music’s in-house lecturer, has performed at the National Institutes of Health in Washington D.C., Thailand’s First Mozart Piano Competition and Festival, the International Piano Festival by People with Disabilities in Osaka and Vienna, and KL Piano Gala. He is one of the three pianists who was invited to play a full-length solo recital at KL Piano Gala in March 2016.

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This particular lecture-recital on Debussy is the third of its series, which promotes the humorous side of Debussy to the fullest capacity. While the event explored this quality in Debussy’s music, it also proceeded to uncover gems from a lesser known composer, Emmanuel Chabrier, a composer admired by the likes of Ravel, Stravinsky, Richard Strauss and Debussy himself.


The pieces performed that night were grouped together in a certain manner to show the similarities between Debussy and Chabrier’s compositions. The night kicked off with ‘General Lavine’ by Debussy which was written based on the American clown, Edward Levine, whose costume was part soldier, part clown. The humour is easy to catch as the piece starts of fairly serious and moves along to something more comical and light as the music continues. This was followed by ‘Bourree fantasque’ by Chabrier. The two pieces were eccentric in nature, and the colours in both pieces were brought out spectacularly by Dr. Wong. It was almost as though Dr. Wong himself had an orchestra underneath his ten fingers, with different instruments bringing out different timbres and mood of the pieces.
Three of Debussy’s Twelve studies; ‘Pour les notes repetees’,’Pour les degres chromatiques’ and ‘Pour les octaves’ showcased the virtuosity of Dr. Wong, with his fingers running like water over the piano with the accuracy of a drill sergeant. ‘Minstrels’ and ‘Ballabile’ were the other two solo piano pieces played by Dr. Wong.
The night excitement increased when Dr. Cheong joined Dr. Lucas in the recital to perform two Chabrier pieces together, ‘Trois Valses romantiques: Waltz II’ and selections from ‘Souvenirs de Munich: Quadrille on themes from Wagner’s Tristan’. The voice balancing was excellent and the two pianists really brought out the humour in Chabrier’s music with the sudden mood changes and articulation.
Before they performed the Quadrille together, Dr. Wong took the liberty of sharing a story about Debussy admiring Chabrier’s music so much, that during a rehearsal he tricked the conductor to repeat the music twice.

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Dr. Wong once again invited Dr. Cheong onstage for the finale performance which was a piece for one piano, four hands. There was an obvious interplay of melody between both pianists. The music held a playfulness that was tangible to the audience watching them, clearly caught along onto the journey that they were taking them on. It was energetic and bursting with fun and the performance led to a thunderous applause in the hall after it ended.
The two-pronged approach of a lecture-recital came to an end, and it was indeed a night that shed light upon the humour that Debussy weaved into the music, making the composer seem almost human and relatable to us living in a different century and time.

“I think it was interesting. It’s a bit like Tom and Jerry music. You run up, I run down. You hit me, I hit you back. I enjoyed it.” – Douglas Foong, 2nd year Contemporary Music student.

This article is written by Jessica Teh; IMus Scholar and 2nd-semester student in the Foundation in Music program.

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