The stars keep shining

The Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra couldn’t have its usual outdoor Swire Symphony Under The Stars concert this year – so instead, its asking the stars in the ensemble and the hong kong community to shine. 

IAM speaks to chief executive Benedikt Fohr, director of artistic planning Timothy Tsukamoto and resident conductor Lio Kuokman.

At this time of year the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra is usually preparing for its huge Swire Symphony Under The Stars (SUTS) concert. With popular classical music, fireworks and tens of thousands of fans, it’s one of the city’s cultural highlights.

But, of course, 2020 isn’t like other years, and so the HK Phil has had to re-imagine its signature event. While usually they perform under the stars, this year the orchestra is placing its own musicians and audience centre stage, giving them a chance to shine.

“While the current COVID-19 situation prevented such a large-scale gathering from happening this year, we still wanted to present this signature event, with the same excitement as the original live outdoor performance,” explains director of artistic planning Timothy Tsukamoto. “So we decided to keep the SUTS name, but rather than the stars in the sky, this year’s stars will be the audience members themselves, experiencing this concert from their homes as a live-streamed event.”

Adds resident conductor Lio Kuokman: “The concert will also feature the stars of the orchestra, including concertmaster Jing Wang, principal cello Richard Bamping, principal horn Lin Jiang and principal clarinet Andrew Simon. We are doing everything we can to continue to share music and connect with everyone in this unusual moment.”

The onstage part is easy to understand, but how do you make stars of your audience? Answers Tsukamoto: “We introduced a new campaign – ‘Your Starry Moment’ – inviting people to send a photo of someone or something special in their life – for example, a loved one, a pet, or a special object. We will then make a collage of these photos, which will be set to music and presented in the concert, creating a uniquely personal experience for these participants taking a starring role.”

Lio Kuokman conducting the HK Phil © Ka Lam
Lio Kuokman conducting the HK Phil © Ka Lam

Lio – who has just been appointed as resident conductor – will lead the concert on 12 December. The programme opens with Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, followed by Mozart’s Figaro Overture. And, as Lio mentioned, the HK Phil musicians will star as soloists, including Jing Wang performing Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons; and Richard Bamping taking on the first movement from Tan Dun’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon Concerto. Other pieces in the programme are Bizet’s Carmen, Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana, and Debussy’s Clair de lune.

This will be Lio’s first concert with the HK Phil since his appointment was announced. Not yet 40, his most notable role to date was as assistant conductor under Yannick Nézet-Séguin at The Philadelphia Orchestra.

“We sought a conductor who is home-grown and had previous experience working with the HK Phil as well as other international orchestras,” explains Tsukamoto, when asked about Lio’s appointment. “Following his conducting debut with the orchestra in 2011, he has developed an excellent working relationship with the HK Phil musicians and has established a strong connection with the Hong Kong community.

“Furthermore, Lio is a fun and charismatic musician. I have very much enjoyed planning concerts with him. We are confident that Lio will successfully represent the HK Phil and  passionately promote classical music in Hong Kong and abroad.”

Adds Lio: “The HK Phil is one of the first orchestras that I was fortunate to make music with. I am grateful to have this opportunity to spend more time in Hong Kong; I want to connect deeply with the community here, and bring music to a more diverse audience in Hong Kong.”

One final question – when will normal concerts be possible in Hong Kong again?

“We believe concerts can be possible, probably at a smaller scale,” answers HK Phil chief executive Benedikt Fohr. “Under the precautionary measures I described earlier – and with a limited number of admitted audience members – we are now scheduling concerts every week. The main impact right now is the compulsory 14-day quarantine measure if people enter the city. This makes it difficult for international artists to come to Hong Kong.

“At the moment we are reviewing programmes for January and February 2021. For May 2021, we have scheduled a major tour to Europe. We will see how the situation goes and determine if the tour can take place. It depends not only on the quarantine in Hong Kong, but of course also on the situation in Europe.

“The main thing is to keep thinking positively – we know that live music, art and culture will always be an important part of our human existence!”