Maria Roberts speaks to executive director Celina Chin about HKCO’s 2019-20 season and how she plans to strengthen the foundations of the orchestra by investing in new talent
In recent years, Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra (HKCO) has made the most of youth development schemes, such as its 40th anniversary International Youth Chinese Music Festival, which brought thousands of young people to the joys of Chinese music. Public concerts are just a few of the many strings to HKCO’s bow: it hosts education activities for schools and the community sponsored by The Hong Kong Jockey Club, The Tung Foundation and Bank of China (Hong Kong) Limited.
The organisation also enjoys a close and fruitful relationship with the Hong Kong Academy for the Performing Arts (HKAPA) and collaborates with music conservatories around the world on internship training schemes. What’s more, it gives real opportunities to its new recruits: in 2020, three former HKAPA graduates now working at HKCO (Luk Kin-Bun, Belle Shiu and Wu Chun Hei) will curate two themed concerts, just one example of how HKCO is placing trust in young talent.
Likewise, its Chinese composition and conducting competitions are opening up access to Chinese repertoire across the continents to all nationalities. To nurture young talented conductors, HKCO has delivered masterclasses in conducting Chinese music in association with HKAPA for more than 10 years.
Explains HKCO executive director Celina Chin: “HKCO has always been active in training young musicmakers. We have enjoyed a close partnership with HKAPA over the last decade or more.
“In 2020 HKCO will stage The Fourth International Conducting Competition for Chinese Music with HKAPA. Prizes including USD15,000 (€13,347) for the winner, as well as concert opportunities with HKCO and Chinese orchestras in Singapore, Mainland China and Taiwan. In recent years, we’ve been very happy to have non-Chinese contestants from Italy, England, Poland and Japan and we look forward to seeing more non-Chinese contestants joining the competition in 2020.”
And while much of the work at HKCO is about building on the traction of the past decade, the 2019-20 season has a rather different twist to it. On the schedule is a concert version of the musical Matteo Ricci: a fusion of classical Chinese and Western storytelling, it tells the story of Father Matteo Ricci’s mission in China in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Having already had its premiere in Hong Kong in April 2019, this time around Chew Hee Chiat, HKCO’s resident conductor, will be in charge of the new arrangement of the music.
Says Chin: “Riding on its success, Damian Lau (director of the musical) invited HKCO to jointly present the concert version of this musical. Though the cast of this concert version will be the same as the original musical, the whole production, including, but not limited to, stage and lighting design, will be totally new.
“Another production worth mentioning,” continues Chin, “is Ji. This concert production will be in relation to Taiji [Tai Chi], the commonly-used name for Taijiquan, an internal martial art, Chinese meditation system and health practice. However, Taiji is far more than Taijiquan. It is a ‘supreme ultimate’ state of undifferentiated absolute and infinite potential, the oneness before duality, from which Yin and Yang originate. Local brilliant artists like Yuri Ng (stage director), Ng Cheuk-yin (composer) and Linda Fung (ballet dancer) will join hands together with HKCO and Taiji Master Xing Qi Ling to create an unforgettable experience for local and overseas audiences.”
“HKCO has always been active in training young musicmakers”
The new season features full-strength concerts from the main orchestra, concerts with offshoot ensembles, and a range of events by younger HKCO members. Works on the roster come from composers like José Maceda, Chinary Ung and Chou Wen-chung.
Says Chin: “The orchestra will kick off the season with a concert of Morning Star Lilies Forever, sharing the stage with Shaanxi Broadcasting Chinese Orchestra and the Mizhi Wind and Percussion Ensemble. This concert is a splendorous tribute to the region in northern Shaanxi and of its rich folk customs, blended with Indigenous and contemporary folk music. We’ll also be holding concerts to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Hong Kong Cultural Centre.
Another concert will present a beautiful fable that relays the tragic love of a mortal man and a female ghost from Liaozhai. There will also be popular concerts on legendary female Chinese heroines Hua Mulan and Mu Guiying.”
The 2019-20 season at HKCO is linked together with the theme of ‘Oneness’, is that a geopolitical statement, or something more personal to the orchestra?
Explains Chin: “The theme relates to the one constant state that is the linear axis of time and the centre of concentric circles that implies Oneness. Artistic director and principal conductor for life, Maestro Yan Huichang, explains this concept as an idea that encompasses the past, the present and the future.”
Expanding on the theme, Chin adds that ‘Oneness’ is also about teamwork. “At HKCO we are unified in our belief of the value of our chosen form of art and the pursuit of excellence. Each orchestral season is a track record of our dedication to staging characterful performances. This is reflected in the design layout of our 2019-20 season brochure – there are eight different cover pages to the brochure, representing that we are a conglomeration of musicians from all parts of the world – or ‘the four sides and eight directions’, as the Chinese idiom goes.”
Likewise, the theme relates to where the orchestra finds itself right now: “HKCO is on a path to forge ahead without a stop in constancy. It is committed to exercising its professional spirit and striving for peak performances in music, our targets and actions are all rolled into one. As an orchestra, we want to keep abreast of trends and the times, whilst dedicating our efforts to the creation of a local Chinese music style that blends tradition and modernity.”