What initially began as a simple restoration of a dilapidated piano has transformed into a night of music featuring three gifted pianists at the Kantha Bopha Auditorium in Siem Reap.
When The Piano Shop, a local music store founded by Italian pianist Gabriele Faja, was commissioned to repair a grand piano at Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospital, it didn’t expect to find a Steinway & Sons piano made in Hamburg, Germany way back in 1982.
Faja says: “One day, a staff from the hospital called and asked us to fix a piano, which hasn’t been used for many years - around four or five years. Now, the piano has come alive. It’s a really expensive piano which costs around $100,000.
“I was surprised to see it. Then I thought, ‘Hey, maybe we could hold some events [with this piano].’ So I talked with other pianists and we made it possible. All proceeds from our events go to the hospital foundation.”
The Kantha Bopha Auditorium was built by the late Dr Beat “Beatocello” Richner, a Swiss-born doctor and cello player who built the auditorium to create space for music events. The auditorium, which seats 600, is relatively unknown in Cambodia.
The Piano Trilogy marks the first musical event at the auditorium since Dr Richner’s passing.
“He [Dr Richner] built this beautiful place yet it had never been graced by music until his death. I never played with him or for him, but I knew that he was still playing music on the side, besides his job as a doctor,” says Faja.
He recalls a conversation with Dr Richner where they discussed how certain genres of music require an attentive and hushed audience - something he says is rare in Cambodian music events.
Organisers should focus more on concerts where the audience can fully connect with the artists, he says.
The Piano Trilogy concert is set to mesmerise the audience with the fusion of jazz and classical music as played by pianists Metta Legita from Indonesia, Philippe Javelle (France) and Gabriele Faja (Italy).
“We will employ the same rules as we have employed in our previous events: use of mobile phones and cameras will be banned. We’ll try to create a more organic connection with the audience.
“With only 20 minutes each and a brief break in between performances, the pianists will play music for the audience. This is a very short concert. Every musician will be showcasing different musical styles. We hope they like it,” he continues.
Faja was born to musical parents - his father was a conductor and his mother a cellist - and lived in London for 12 years where he completed his education at the Royal College of Music.
He took a rest from playing music to concentrate on his businesses in Cambodia, founding the music school Soundskool Music and The Piano Shop.
“At present, we operate at several locations with two shops in Phnom Penh and one in Siem Reap. I stopped playing the piano for four years to focus more on my business. This year, I decided to take the stage again,” says Faja.
Though classical and jazz music are more popular in Western countries, the Piano Trilogy, Faja says, expects to welcome local music enthusiasts and Western tourists who visit Siem Reap.
“We know a lot of our Khmer students will be there. I think we’ll have a mixture of local and foreign audience. Many locals I spoke to said they were willing to pay to watch the concert.
“Their enthusiasm caught me by surprise as I had assumed they would not care much about such events. But they proved to be more interested in it than foreigners,” he says.
He noticed that interest in playing the piano among Cambodians has gradually improved. Right now, his music schools accommodate at least 400 students, most of whom come to learn the piano.
Since 2012, he says student attendance has gone up, with parents investing in piano lessons which they believe is an important part of a well-rounded education.
“Previously, I only taught foreign kids - French, Japanese - but now, all my students are Khmers,” he says, adding “we don’t just teach musical techniques but also the importance of discipline, focus, dedication and playing with emotions”.
Though many locals come to learn in his schools, he recognises that “not everyone wants to become a musician, maybe only 0.1 per cent does”.
“I have seen more events that celebrate classical music in the last few years at the Chaktomuk and Chenla theatres. Now they also showcase operas and orchestras. Cambodia is starting to open up to more Western classical events,” he says.
The Piano Trilogy - Siem Reap will be held at Kantha Bopha Auditorium on Friday, January 10. Tickets are sold at $8 with all proceeds going to the Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospital Foundation.
For more information, visit the Piano Shop Cambodia’s website: www.thepianoshopcambodia.com.