William Dart, The New Zealand Herald
Henry Wong Doe returned from New York to play Stravinsky’s Piano Concerto with the Auckland Chamber Orchestra recently, alongside works by Antheil, Cresswell and Dean that made the occasion one of the most intriguing programs of the year.
Although Wong Doe is based in the Big Apple and teaching at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, he had not played the Stravinsky piece before and had cautioned that “it’s a really wild piece”.
“It’s written for just piano and wind instruments and is very much like chamber music. It’s intensely rhythmic but there are interesting melodic lines coming through, especially in the orchestra.”
Student days at Auckland University in the 1990s now seem well in the past, but for the sensitive, young Wong Doe, the School of Music was a new and welcome world. “So many of my musical skills were sharpened there but socially I really enjoyed being with musicians – especially after Auckland Grammar [School], where music had been very much a separate part of my life.
Wong Doe chose not to go to Europe for further studies, as many friends did, but opted for America, which seemed “a much more open place with a greater variety of schools and teaching.”
He finally went to Indiana University in Bloomington.
Ultimately, Wong Doe would complete his doctoral studies at the Juilliard School, with a thesis and presentation based on the mechanical piano or pianola, a curious instrument that has attracted composers from Stravinsky to Conlon Nancarrow.
His graduation presentation, at Carnegie Hall in New York, alternated his own performances with those of a mechanical instrument and there were revelations. “I played Ligeti’s 14th etude, followed by the pianola version. Afterwards, people said that, even with my inaccuracies, it was the more enjoyable performance. An instrument playing itself isn’t so very exciting.”
Few New Zealanders have had as much experience on the competition circuit as this man. After coming sixth in the 2000 Sydney International Piano Competition, he was the audience favorite in Israel and Italy. Now aged 36, he can relax. “When you get too old to do them competitions, it’s almost a blessing,” he smiles.