04 July 2009

A Ritzy Night of Song and Blues!

Kuala Lumpur, while seemingly straightforward to the unsuspecting, can hold quite a few surprises. The other night for example, when a friend and I and his visiting friend from Cambridge met up for dinner at the night market in bustling Bukit Bintang, hauled into a street eatery by a crazy Chinese grandma in a barbie pink frottee minidress and the graceful walk of a male mine worker, I did not expect to attend an evening of classical violin and then later on, haute cuisine for virtually no money in the same building as the Ritz.

After having some satay skewers in really yummy satay sauce, and after buying my favourite Chinese red-bean paste filled mini-buns from the Chinese bakery at the corner, in lack of not finding the lady selling the awesome red date juice (popular especially among Chinese) at her stall, we walk five minutes off the bling bling of the market into a quiet side street. The jazz club No Black Tie instantly looks very Japanese, with black square tiles leading across white rounded stones and carefully planted bamboo to a solid elegant wooden door/gate that must be imported from Japan.

The bar inside gleams by subtle elegance, impressing by understatement. A veil keeps out the sound from the bar from the theatre area. We order a glass of excellent wine, a Mojito and my own cocktail-loving self tries the Lycheetini (Martini + Lychee syrup and floating Lychee on a pick – only in Asia!!!).

There is a break in the performance (tonight: classical evening) and we sneak up to the gallery where a table right in the middle at the front is practically waiting for us! The performer is a charismatic Italian woman on the violin who we later find out teaches music in KL. She is accompanied by a young Malaysian/Chinese? pianist who she works with. The latter's parents were watching in the front row and must be so proud of her! That's even more impressive considering that classical music or jazz does not seem to have that big a community here. Yes, there's the Malaysian Philharmonics at the Towers (and I still haven't been) but I do not believe that this style of music is much appreciated in Southeast Asia as it is in say, Japan or Korea.

It's sad to see that there are maybe only six tables of people in the darkened audience room for quite a great performance. To be honest, I haven't been to a classical event ever since I left Vienna and moved to London. Yes, you can attend concerts in the crypt of St Martin-in-the-fields (the big church on Trafalgar Square) or in a church in Sloane's square or even go to the Royal Opera but it costs so much (without the evening gown already!) that as a student, I did not really follow that up. Jazz and blues must be a bit cheaper and more accessible to get to with gigs in Camden etc., perhaps I should make an effort once I'm back!

Nevertheless, the captivating sound of the violin, so universal in its magic makes a familiar chord in me resonate with memory. It is a sound that will always remind me of Vienna, I guess. The first piece after the break is this famous medieval tune which I am sure all of you know, in 14 variations, really interesting what Correlli (like 140+ other composers who were obsessed with the tune) did with it. Then we hear two tangos and some Southeastern European dances collected by Bartok who she describes as “ethnomusicologist”, going to the most remote villages in order to look for “unspoiled” folk music.

It's awesome, somebody brings flowers for the two musicians at the end of the performance and my US-American friend, suggests we get pictures and talk, whereas his Cambridge friend and me were slightly embarassed at the thought of asking for pictures with the artist, who turned out absolutely great about it, even suggesting to do it on the stage (!). She asks us where we are from and it is such a relief that there are people who know Vienna is famous for its music not for kangaroos! Our American friend eventually asks for business cards and we move on to another venue he knows about.

It's inside a posh mall where Louis Vuitton, Dior etc. are back to back in the same building as the Ritz-Carlton. Everything is polished white marble and brass and we feel slightly underdressed in our casual shirts, flip flops and backpacks. We first get lost in the hotel part of the building and the Cambridge friend remarks that, “even the cleaner looks at us thinking, 'Get a hint from the white marble and the big paintings and mirrors!'” :D

Eventually, we find the plaza of the mall, with restaurants around and a central bar that, judging from the 200 or so elaborately described drinks (including Austrian Mozart liqueur) and at least as many separately listed wines, definitely know their trade. I go for the Tahitian vanilla coffee on ice though as it's already midnight and I feel like chilling (which is why actually I shouldn't drink coffee anymore). With it, I order an amazing Tiramisu with a pistaccio biscuit which has been taken out of the oven at the EXACTLY perfect time (as sb who loves baking and was deprived by quality baking during years in London, I was stunned), my friend orders a banana split and the Cambridge friend orders the most delicious berry bake ever, fresh berries, warm cake. And all that haute cuisine including my drink for just 10€ each! We later get a card with a picture of the three head chefs, all Asian and very professional cooks. One's first name is Johann, we muse if he's half-Austrian maybe, he looks like he could be.

Unforunately, we seem to be the only audience attending the stage after midnight. The singer has a great voice and gives a personal note to well-known songs. The bassist looks as if he's contemplating for how long he'll have to continue playing in empty malls. The pianist, I don't know about him. The advantage is that we get amazing food and get our chosen music (and can study expensive fashion we will never be able to afford without having to feel embarassed by the presence of people who can). My friend, shouted “Mariah Carey: Hero!”, his Cambridge friend and me blush again. Ten seconds later, the singer announces she's going to see Hero for us!!! Oh dear. I blush even more.

She delivers the first lines, “There's a hero/If you look into yourself/No-one reaches out a hand for you to hold/There's an answer/If you reach into your soul/And the emptiness you feel will disappear” and I instantly have to joke, “That sounds like me, doing filing!” Haha!

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