3rd Hong Kong International Chamber Music Festival
The Hong Kong International Chamber Music Festival is enjoying a remarkable rise on the city’s music landscape. Now it’s bigger than ever. By Mark Tjhung
Chamber music has long flown under the musical radar in Hong Kong. The form has typically been viewed as the under-appreciated accompanist to the glamour soloists, the epic heart-wrenching symphonies, and the virtuoso concertos which have routinely enthralled the city’s music lovers. Even up until three years ago, it would have been difficult to imagine two-dozen international artists coming to our shores for a chamber music event. But now Hong Kong has finally caught on to the wave of chamber music that swept the globe throughout the past decade – and central to this change has been the Hong Kong International Chamber Music Festival.
Since debuting in 2009, the festival, founded by Premiere Performances’ Andrea Fessler and Hong Kong-born, Berlin-based cellist Trey
Lee, has grown from an 11-artist, four-concert lineup to one of the city’s single biggest classical music celebrations. “[In the beginning] I don’t know whether Trey and I had very specific goals of what direction we wanted to take the festival in, aside from that we wanted the performances to be world calibre – that the artists were going to be giving performances that you could hear in any of the major world festivals,” says Fessler. “That was really important to us. We figured that we’ll just see how it goes, year after year; we’ll see how it grows organically.”
Fessler originally founded Premiere Performances – the organisation behind the festival – to create a deeper impact on the arts and culture scene of Hong Kong, and since June 2009, the festival has played a significant role in raising the profile of chamber music. “Even since we started the festival, there have been palpable changes in Hong Kong… and much more chamber music,” she says, adding that the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, Sinfonietta, Academy of Performing Arts and broadcaster RTHK have all increased their chamber music components in the last three years.
While this increase throughout the Hong Kong musical landscape is one mark of the popularity of the genre, perhaps a greater indicator is in the exponential growth enjoyed by the festival itself. Now in its third incarnation, the 2012 festival brings together more than two-dozen musicians, performing in almost 20 different events.
This year, acclaimed and influential Taiwanese violinist Cho-Liang Lin takes over from Trey Lee as artistic director and is joined by the likes of the renowned Shanghai Quartet, cellist Gary Hoffman, composer Tan Dun, violist Paul Neubauer and many more. Here are some of
Time Out’s festival highlights…
Opening Night Gala Concert
The festival launches with perhaps its most eclectic programme – one which Cho-Liang Lin says ‘will be about brilliance and virtuosity’. It spans the exciting Argentinean composer Osvaldo Golijov’s Last Round as well as the familiar comfort of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, with a touch of Piazzolla and Bottesini in between. Wed Jan 11, City Hall, Concert Hall.
Chamber ensembles have increasingly become the medium for avant garde and experimental modern music, and this concert celebrates
this with a Bela Bartok double, as well as various contemporary Chinese works. Chen Yi’s Fiddle Suite for Erhu & Quartet is a highlight, although the dramatic closer – Tan Dun’s Ghost Opera – may steal the show. Don’t miss the special talk by Cho-Liang Lin and Tan Dun just prior to the concert. Sun Jan 15, APA, Jockey Club Amphitheatre.
Viennese Legacy I
Viennese classics are a central theme of this year’s festival and this event shines a light on several different chamber ensembles. Beethoven’s Serenade for Flute, Violin and Viola in D Major leads off the programme, followed by Brahms’ Piano Trio in C Minor and Schubert’s only string quintet, the C Major, D956. Mon Jan 16, City Hall, Theatre.
Paris and Shanghai
What better way to nurture romance than fusing the City of Love with its Eastern counterpart? French composers dominate the programme, with Debussy, Ravel, Franck, Saint-Saëns and Chausson all present. But it’s in the performers – particularly in Chausson’s Chanson Perpetuelle, that features both Shanghai soprano Ying Huang and the renowned Shanghai Quartet – where the programme finds its Eastern flavour. It’s perhaps the most intriguing evening of the entire festival. Wed Jan 18, City Hall, Theatre.
Closing Night Gala Concert
The final night of the festival returns to the Viennese theme, but with a revealing Gaelic twist. Beethoven’s little known Scottish Songs provide an absorbing opening to the night, before Schubert’s beloved lieder, Shepherd of the Rock, Mozart’s Piano Quartet in G Minor and Brahms’ Piano Quintet. Thu Jan 19, City Hall, Theatre.
Listen and Learn!
It’s not just big gala performances – the festival has plenty of opportunities to learn more about chamber music. For info on registering for these free events, see www.pphk.org.
1. How to Listen Like a Critic
Want to take your classical music appreciation to another level? The SCMP’s music critic Sam Olluver hosts this workshop to open your ears to critical listening. Sun Jan 8, The Langham
2. Prelude Concerts
If you’re looking for a short (and perhaps first) taste of chamber music, this series of half-hour concerts is designed for you. There’s Dvorak, Janacek and Debussy in three mini-concerts.
3. Community Outreach Concerts
This series takes classical music out of the concert hall and into more unexpected backdrops, like Exchange Square’s Rotunda (Fri Jan 13, Tue Jan 17) or Dr Sun Yat Sen Museum (Sun Jan 15). Accessible, informal and fun!
If you’re interested in Marina Piccinini’s special flute techniques, how Cho-Liang Lin gets that sound out of his Stradivarius or how Paul Neubauer approaches a work, get registered for this series of masterclasses. There are five throughout the festival, where some of
the masters of their field will work with local music students.
Q&A: Cho-Liang Lin Festival curator
Cho-Liang Lin is no stranger to curating festivals. Apart from being a celebrated violinist, winning Gramophone’s Record of the Year award and playing with some of the world’s most respected orchestras, the Taiwanese-American has a formidable record as a festival man, creating the successful Taiwan International Music Festival and overseeing San Diego’s La Jolla Summerfest. Not only is Lin curating the 2012 festival, but he’s also performing in three of the evenings (hopefully with his famed 1715 Stradivarius!), as well as conducting a masterclass and collaborating with composer Tan Dun in a pre-concert talk. We chatted to him about his vision of the event, and the development of the genre the world over.
From the start, what was in your head for this year’s festival?
I wanted to have a Viennese theme. That is a hugely important part of music. Basically Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms, those four giants. But then you don’t want to have all Viennese [concerts], so I created this French programme and a new music concert.
What are you especially looking forward to?
I’m looking forward to opening night. I think that’s going to be really electric. We start with a brand new piece by Osvaldo Golijov, who’s one of the hottest names today. The audience might find it a little unsettling at first, but then we have Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, a tried and true formula. I hope those that are more open-minded will feel, ‘Ok Golijov, I don’t really know that name, let’s hear it’ and then once they hear it they will understand how compelling it is.
Chamber music worldwide has developed a lot over the past decade. How would you compare its position in Asia to America or Europe?
Chamber music is still far behind in Asia. In America, one chamber music festival after another is popping up everywhere and it’s really lovely. Or the BBC Proms, there’s a chamber music section now. So, it has gained a lot of importance worldwide. But chamber music has traditionally been an afterthought in Asia. [I want] to show the audience that major artists can and will play chamber music, [that you can] really get an all-star ensemble together and it can really sound amazing.
What would you like audiences to take from this festival?
I hope the audience will feel they heard something very special that has imagination and passion, on two levels: one is the level of playing and on the other hand they will get to know works they won’t get to hear normally.
Photo: Paul Body