Cambodia – Day 4, concert day of O Cambodia


Here’s a rehearsal video (you might need QuickTime) …

Part One:


Part Two:


Still on my To do list: record quiet ambience at Meta House (easier said than done, because the room’s hardly ever empty); record Keo Sophy playing the roneat / xylophone; record Him Savy singing a lullaby for Gillian’s research; record an interview with Anton. 

Get going as soon as we arrive by drinking an iced coffee with the musicians.  Lovely, but not on the list.  So whisk Anton up to his office for the next forty minutes and ask him questions. 

Anton’s from Southern Germany and he’s been here for over a decade.  He shares interesting perspectives about life in Cambodia.


Anton Isselhardt

Back downstairs at rehearsal, I love hearing rehearsals.  Early on in the day the musicians do private practice, all in the same room.  They’re so focused, in their own bubbles, working on individual figures, over and over (at tempo, slowly, with different dynamics, with extended notes during the phrase and finally back at tempo and volume).

The projector’s arrived and Gillian’s numbered her scores so that she can precisely shift from slide to slide during the concert.  Amongst the slides there are images of barbed wire, broken glass in window frames, birds flying in a jagged flock and then the words, regulations from Tuol Sleng, the torture facility in Phnom Penh, and the story of a refugee who lives in Wellington now.

Here are the texts to Gillian Whitehead’s and Jack Body’s works:

 The beginning of Jack’s work is based on the Cambodian National Anthem, it reminds me of Copland’s Appalachian Spring, optimistic and open – more appropriate for today then forty years ago.

It’s fascinating witnessing how these works have come together – with precision and nuance.  The musicians’ musical memories are sooo impressive.

They run the whole programme, with Gillian on projector duty and me at the back of the venue, to comment on balance.  Good work!

Hotel for rest and scrub up before tonight’s 8pm start.

We’re clean, changed, and back at Meta House, just after 7pm.

I should describe the gallery.  Iy’s a long, narrowish space (maybe 5m x 15m) w a tiled floor, and glass doors and wall at the rear.  On the walls is an exhibition of photos – Arctic Bound: 1,000 miles across Canada by Canoe by Ben Woods (very different to this melting heat).

The audience start to gather outside, in the heat and at about 7.45 Anton opens the doors.  They flood into the air-conditioned room, changing the ambient sound of the room quite considerably.

photo-9 The audience arriving outside Meta House

 Within twenty minutes the gallery’s pretty full, the audience made up of ex-Europeans and Cambodians.  Anton introduces the concert’s concept. We applaud the musicians (sooo excited!).

Gillian’s placement of slides works well – giving the spoken texts and photos (taken by her and Jack Body on a previous visit).  The audience is very quiet, although we’d been warned that this might not be the case as Cambodian audiences can be restive, if not engaged.

Towards the end of Him Sophy’s work, The First Strike, he’s written for Him Savy to play both bamboo flute and  Western, metal flute.    He’s written the flute line at a similar pitch to the violin and cello lines.  Ash and Justine’s bows are immaculately matched in speed and pressure and the flute adds wind to the strings – blendilicious.

Him Sophy’s piece and Jack Body’s O Cambodia are loudly appreciated (sadly Jack’s not here to hear this).  There’s a short leg-stretching interval.  I meet up with Nina, a Danish expat who runs a guesthouse in Phnom Penh and, to great delight and relief, Dan Poynton (hurray x 3 and more).  All around are buzzy conversations about the concert – it’s generating a lot of energy.

Gillian’s work, the river flows on … fills the second half.  It tells the story of Sokha, who moved from a village ouside Siem Reap to Wellington via a refugee camp.

Him Savy dances at the end – Apsara  style, looking like the stone carvings we’re to see in the temples at Angkor.  The silhouettes of the dancers are angular – elbows, knees, toes, fingers.  The movements are fluid – minimal, nuanced, subtle.

The audience stands in appreciation at the end and many stay behind after, crowding around the musicians with smiles, questions, comments.

I go outside to capture observations from people as they leave.  Will include this audio in the programme.

Anton’s organised a delicious German  Abendessen – sausages, potatoes.  Dan P joins us to eat and then escorts our tuktuks back to the hotel, on his motorbike.  Big smiles and hugs all round.


Applause for Gillian Whitehead at the end of the concert.  from the left behind her, Justine, Ashley, Him Sophy & Him Savy


Blurry photo of Gillian Whitehead with our friend and wonderful musician, Dan Poynton, expat from New Zealand.

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