Scotsman Michael MacLeod was appointed chief executive of the Hong Kong Philharmonic in 2011. During his tenure he has overseen successful tours to both China and Europe, and instigated its biggest ever project – a recording of Wagner’s Ring Cycle. He tells IAM how he’s managed so much in such a short time.
What was needed is vision – and an emphasis on that vision to come before anything else. Music director Jaap van Zweden and I believe in the necessity of touring. Someone local might ask us ‘Why do you need to tour when you can play in Hong Kong and not spend this money?’
To this my answer is simple: as a musician, if you are scheduled to play in a hall like Vienna’s Musikverein, you understand that you have to play to the best of your ability. This is because the knowledgeable Austrian audience will undoubtedly compare you to the Vienna Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic and so on – all the greatest orchestras in the world regularly play there. At the Musikverein, if the orchestra is not playing very well, the audience will notice. Playing in the great halls of the world automatically helps the players in an orchestra raise their game.
Touring also equips an orchestra with the camaraderie to be successful: it might be that a second violin player and a double bass player in a 100-strong orchestra never mix socially, whereas when you are on tour you become friends by sitting next to someone new on an airplane or a bus or a train. This sense of team spirit will mean they play better together as an orchestra.
The same is true of a recording agenda: for example, when taking on a recording of Das Rheingold. The two legendary recordings are by Solti with Vienna Philharmonic, and Karajan with Berlin Philharmonic (I happen to have both). If we at HK Phil are recording Ring Cycle with our music director Jaap van Zweden, then we need to sound at least as good as the best versions out there.