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Belgian violinist inspires Thais

May 11, 2000

A FEW weeks after arriving in Bangkok in November last year to take up a music teaching assignment, Geertje Podevyn was shocked to find that her violin was disintegrating.

The Bangkok weather was so cruel that the violin, an Emile Laurentmade instrument labelled in 1902, was choking from the humidity. Consequently, the different parts of the violin were giving way and Podevyn had to take it to France for repairs.

But that is life, a little adventure for the violin that Podevyn inherited from her grandfather. Podevyn is not totally upset with her Bangkok experience, however. Indeed at the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra’s String Training Institute, she has already created a big impact on its professional training for young violinists.

Podevyn is so dedicated to her teaching that she brings an air of freshness and hope to classical musical education in this country.

Through her energy and knowledge of the world of the classical violin, Podevyn, 35, is making a difference. She is trying to bring out the best in young Thai artists, whose talent is no less than that of their counterparts from Europe. The only longstanding problems facing Thai violinists is that they have had no access to proper training and lack the appropriate temperament, not to mention the absence of the European culture of music.

The Bangkok Symphony Orchestra’s String Training Institute is an answer to these needs. And it is not for profit. Its goal is to provide a training ground for young Thai violinists so that they have an opportunity to develop further as full artists

The musical mind is a terrible thing to waste. In this regard, the institute has been trying to attract experienced teachers from abroad to strengthen its faculty for the approximately 100 students.

At first, Podevyn hesitated about moving to Bangkok. In September last year she was asked by John Floore, musical director of the Limberg Symphony Orchestra (Holland) of which she was a member, whether she was interested in a teaching job in Bangkok. Her knowledge of Thailand then was very little. She only knew the country from photographs of the beautiful temples.

Floore felt that she was suitable for the job because she had been very energetic and serious about her musical career. “Would you like to come to Thailand?” he asked.

Podevyn gave it a lot of thought. She had performed in Japan on a concert tour and it had been good, so the idea of going East was agreeable to her.

She flew to Thailand to talk to Khun Vitaya Tumornsoontorn, the longtime musical director of the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra. The arrangements worked out pretty smoothly. Podevyn told him frankly that she would really like to help at the BSO’s String Training Institute.

“I would come to WORK,” she emphasised. She would want to teach Thai students how beautiful the sound of the violin is.

Traditionally, Thais associate music with sweet melody. But that is not always the case. Music most of the time represents a characterisation of the composers, who convey their particular emotions to particular situations. When Richard Wagner, the German composer, wrote his enthralling operas, he was thinking of going after somebody’s wife. It is this kind of musical interpretation which sticks to the intentions of the composer that is so lacking among Thai artists.

Indeed, the workaholic Podevyn had kept a very tight schedule at her home in Brussels, teaching, rehearsing, practising, performing in concerts and studying. She maintained a studio at her home, located within the compound of her large family’s bakery business.

Podevyn comes from a musicloving family. Her grandfather encouraged her to take up the violin. He would keep a close watch on her practice and would not leave her alone if she could not master the lessons. He received the Emile Laurent violin as a gift from a prisoner his family helped to escape during the German occupation in World War II.

Podevyn took her violin study seriously. She won first prize from the Royal Conservatory of Music in Ghent with distinction and got her Master of Music in Violin at the Conservatory in Liege. She is also a graduate of the Royal College of Music in London and the Royal Conservatory of Liege. She has studied with Rodney Friend from New York, Dorothy Dela from New York, Toroella de Montgri from Spain, and Keshet Eilon from Israel.

Podevyn later taught in the British and European Schools of Brussels and at numerous international youth violin projects. She was also a member of the Limberg Symphony Orchestra (Holland).

Tomorrow evening, she will perform in a trio with Peter Goldberg (clarinet) and Nako Kato Kulachoti (piano) at the ThaiGerman Cultural Foundation Auditorium. The programme is dubbed the “Sounds of Eastern Europe” and features pieces by Jan Wanhal (Trio for clarinet, violin with piano in Eb major, Op 20, No 5), Alexander Arutiunian (Suite for violin, clarinet and piano), Anton Dvorak (Romance for violin and piano Op 11, Aram Khachaturian (Trio for clarinet, violin and piano) and Bohuslav Martinu (Sonatina for clarinet and piano).

Podevyn’s dream is to form a small musical ensemble in Bangkok. Apart from teaching, she uses her spare time in Bangkok to study conducting. The music world of Bangkok is in for a refreshing start.

BY Thanong Khanthong



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