The 51st HK Arts Festival

A Feast of Korean Music

Text / Eugene Chan

"Koreans possess the typical strengths of Asians. They are self-disciplined and bold. These are essential qualities for musicians. They have to practice a lot every day and 'let go' [fully unleash themselves] on stage," says renowned Hong Kong conductor Wilson Ng. He is the first Hongkonger appointed as the associate conductor of the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra. Ng will conduct the concert Voices of Hope and Togetherness—A Choral and Orchestral Gathering during the 51st Hong Kong Arts Festival, presenting a programme of inspirational music by two of the world's most respected contemporary composers.

An exceptionally massive production

Conducted by Ng, the concert features the Esmé Quartet, formed by four female Korean musicians, alongside the Hong Kong Arts Festival Chorus, the Hong Kong Children's Choir and the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra. Ng was instantly impressed by the Esmé Quartet when he first watched their performance. "They are extremely focused and co-ordinated, as if they have been practising together for several decades." He says that a conductor such as himself rarely receives the opportunity to collaborate with a quartet. But one of the pieces to be performed at the concert, Absolute Jest (2011) by contemporary American composer John Adams, requires both a quartet and an orchestra, making it a perfect fit for the Esmé Quartet and the Hong Kong Philharmonic.

Having worked in South Korea for four years, Ng has witnessed the rise of Korean musicians across the world. They hold the position of concertmasters in the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France and the Staatskapelle Berlin. The first half of the programme features the Esmé Quartet, while the second half also comprises Korean elements—Le Chant des Enfants des Étoiles ("The Song of the Children of the Stars") by Korean composer Unsuk Chin. "This piece was premiered by the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra. Given that I am the associate conductor of the orchestra, the entire performance will naturally be a Korean party."

Ng says Unsuk Chin might not be a familiar name to audiences in Hong Kong, but she is so respected in Europe that the Berliner Philharmoniker conducted a tour featuring her works. "This is my first experience in conducting her pieces, which are quite challenging to perform. This is because the [scale of the] orchestra has to be massive, costing a huge sum." He says many orchestras are unable to perform her works as numerous personnel and high costs for copyright and rental of music sheets are involved, posing restrictions on performances in Asia. So it's therefore an exceptional opportunity to have the Hong Kong Children's Choir, the Hong Kong Arts Festival Chorus and the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra on stage together, with more than 200 performers in total. Only with an ensemble of this size can the power of the piece be realised. "This might be the last time in Hong Kong," Ng says of the upcoming live performance, which will present an astonishing and rich layering of sound.

Voices of Hope and Togetherness—A Choral and Orchestral Gathering

Detail: https://www.hk.artsfestival.org/en/programme/voices_of_hope_and_togetherness