In harmony

As the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra concludes its 45th anniversary season, Juliette Barber joins Executive Director Celina Chin to reflect on its highlights and look to the 2023-24 edition

As the 2022-23 season comes to an end, can you share with us any highlights from this edition?

The 45th anniversary season included numerous highlights, but the opening concert remains a standout moment. The evening opened with Temperament and the Wheel of Time: The Cosmic Relevance of Chinese Traditional Music, a highly imaginative piece of orchestral music that takes the audience on a unique audio-visual journey of Chinese music. It brings together elements from previously created music videos (featuring Chinese festivals and the 24 Chinese traditional solar terms) with different media technologies in a truly unique experience. 

Being one of the first projects in Hong Kong to be funded by the 2022 China National Arts Fund Stage Art Creation Fund Project, the Trail of the Blue Dragon Community Concert was successfully held with one subscription concert and nine free community concerts for a diverse range of communities across Hong Kong.

Another highlight was winning the Award for Arts Promotion and Education at the 17th Hong Kong Arts Development Awards. This was in recognition of the orchestra’s efforts to promote Chinese Music through education in its Chinese Music 360 Programme, sponsored by The Hong Kong Jockey Club.

Earlier this year, the Covid-19 restrictions were lifted which meant that the orchestra was able to start touring again. How do you feel the touring landscape has changed, if at all?

 Right after the restrictions were lifted, our ensemble was invited to perform in Toyko and Osaka in Dec 2022.  At the invitation of Singapore’s Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, HKCO presented The Chorale of Spring at their Huayi – Chinese Festival of Arts during the Lunar New Year. In April, the full orchestra toured Japan and made its debut at four prestigious concert halls in Tokyo, Sapporo, and Hyogo and Aichi to promote the culture of Chinese music to the world.

Not only did we feel excited to tour again, but we also felt the audiences’ excitement and eagerness to participate during these tours. During our tours of Singapore and Japan we received standing ovations after each concert. People’s enthusiasm towards live performances will never change regardless of how advanced technology becomes, they both have their place as streamed and onstage concerts offer different experiences.  

In March the HKCO was involved in the first-ever live concert on the helipad of a cruise ship in Hong Kong, using 5G technology to broadcast the performance live to a global audience. Can you tell us a bit more about this?

To celebrate the inaugural cruise from the home port Hong Kong after international travel opens, HKCO joined forces with Resorts World Cruises and 3 Hong Kong to stage an onboard concert, performing on the ship’s helipad, with the dazzling Victoria Harbour nightscape as its backdrop. The performance was broadcast live over 5G to a global online audience. This innovative event was the first concert in Hong Kong to be broadcast live from a cruise ship using the leading 5G infrastructure and demonstrated how the integration of technology and art can enhance the audience experience. This cruise concert also introduced Chinese culture to people around the world and was a perfect example of Hong Kong being the event capital of Asia. We are looking forward to more events making use of this technology in the future.

Preparations for the 20th anniversary of the Hong Kong Drum Festival are now under way.
What have you introduced this year to make it even more memorable?

The Hong Kong Drum Festival was first held in 2003 featuring a series of community-based activities with the aim to get Hong Kong back on its feet after the outbreak of the SARS epidemic. Since then, it has become a signature cultural event in town. This year, the orchestra is grateful to have strong support from its sponsors and will further expand its outreach to engage with all sectors of society, including senior citizens, young people, underprivileged groups, young people in custody and ethnic minorities. HKCO will do this through a variety of community activities such as drum lessons, workshops, performances and competitions. We also welcome people from all around the world to participate at the online campaign #DrumChallenge.  

The “One Beat. One World: Connecting through the Drum” Drum Carnival and 5G Live Concert (14 October) is an iconic event which takes place at the West Kowloon Cultural District, the cultural landmark of Hong Kong. Renowned drum virtuosi from Japan, Korea, Africa, Uzbekistan, USA and intangible cultural heritage drum ensembles from mainland China will perform with the HKCO. NGOs have been invited to set-up booths at the carnival and winners of the Synergy 24 Drum Competition will be showcased as well. We hope to spread the positive energy to the world through live broadcast. 

You have recently announced your 47th orchestral season. Can you share with us some highlights?

Opening the new orchestral season is The Palace of Eternal Life on a Moonlit Night. This is another of our collaborations with Zhang Jun and uses our full-scale modern Chinese orchestra to tell the poignant love story between Emperor Ming and Imperial Concubine Lady Yang of the Tang dynasty. 

For the Hong Kong Arts Festival, HKCO will present its signature programme Music About China featuring the specially commissioned A Timbral Dialogue. This is a dialogue between two imposing musical instruments, the Chinese bianzhong and the Western pipe organ, exhibiting a rare three-dimensional harmony. The orchestra will also present two tribute concerts to iconic figures in Chinese music: Doming Lam and Peng Xiuwen.  Also, the 90-year-old composer of the famous violin concerto Butterfly Lovers, He Zhanhao, will conduct HKCO.

As always, the brochure’s design theme is of significance. Can you tell us more about it?

The design theme of HKCO’s 47th orchestral season brochure focuses on the Chinese character he (뵨) defined as “harmony”. Symmetry between equilibrium and rhythm underlies the beauty pursued in Chinese art. In the same vein, Chinese music has the capacity for temperance and conciliation that evoke a spirit of neutrality and harmony.

Finally, this year you have made use of 5G technology to share HKCO’s performances globally. Are you planning to use this for next season?

Yes, we will definitely continue to use 5G technology to broadcast our concerts live to audience around the world. The Drum Concert on 14 October will be one of the highlighted events. With the concert being held at West Kowloon, we will also arrange broadcast at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall, to allow the underprivileged to watch the concert live. 

By integrating cutting-edge technology, HKCO launched Net Concert Hall in 2021 enabling audiences to enjoy a broad selection of complete concerts and individual performances without geographic limitation. We will continue to introduce high quality concerts to reinforce our online concert collection throughout the 2023-24 season and beyond.