The Hong Kong Sinfonietta finds itself at a crossroads as it enters its landmark 20th musical season – with long-term musical director Yip Wing-sie having announced she will stand down at the end of the 2019/20 run, while a replacement is yet to be named.
But if now is a time to take stock, Hong Kong’s second flagship Western orchestra has left itself little opportunity for reflection. The coming 12-month run was revealed online on April 5 – nearly a after the 2018/19 cycle played out to the sound of Beethoven’s fourth piano concerto.
The traditional printed program will only be distributed on opening night – next Saturday, April 13 – when Yip herself will open the season conducting the world premiere of homegrown composer Austin Leung, HKS-commissioned Life Episode II.
HKS was founded as an amateur organization in 1990, and Yip has led the ensemble for more than half of its lifespan – sitting in charge for 16 of the 19 seasons which have passed since HKS turned professional in 1999, the 20-year anniversary the ensemble will celebrate this year. Yip’s tutelage has seen the 56-piece orchestra firmly established on not just regional, but international stages – having led almost annual tours for the past 15 years. She will continue as Conductor Emeritus.
“I think our players can now be really proud to be a part of this orchestra,” Yip told me last year. “When we first started, they were not sure. They didn’t have the confidence to tell people ‘I’m a musician from the Hong Kong Sinfonietta’.”
As HKS prepares for the uncharted waters of its third decade, there’s a sense of business as usual, with a host of familiar faces set to appear and popular concepts to return.
April 13’s star attraction will be Jean-Frédéric Neuburger, returning a decade after his HKS debut to perform Schumann’s only Piano Concerto. Another French soloist excitingly back for more is Jean-Guihen Queyras, to present two programs as part of Le French May, on May 30 and June 1 – including a set of unaccompanied Bach cello suites paired with new works, Tchaikovsky’s flamboyant Variations on a Rococo Theme and the Asian premiere of Tristan Murail’s new concerto De Pays et d’Hommes Étranges, co-commissioned by HKS. September 7 will welcome the fourth visit of Japanese violin virtuoso Sayaka Shoji.
Also bemusingly back by popular demand is iconic pig cartoon character McDull, who will host a series of educational concerts from August 2-4, while September will see HKS mount its fifth presentation of Stravinsky’s theatrical work The Soldier’s Tale in collaboration with renowned local choreographer Yuri Ng, for an autumn tour of Japan and Taiwan, dubbed A Soldier’s Story 5.0: The Devil Returns.
A clutch of classics
Back in Hong Kong, Yip’s tenure will play out with more than 20 mainstage shows, normally hosted at venue partner Hong Kong City Hall, over the next 12 months – with smaller chamber engagements, community concerts, master classes and lunchtime programs typically announced later.
Other headline soloists include the critically revered, UK-based Sitkovetsky Piano Trio, who will showcase Rachmaninoff’s Elegiac Trio No 1 on November 14 and Beethoven’s Triple Concerto on November 16. August 31 will see Denis Kozhukhin tasked with tackling Rachmaninoff’s notoriously daunting Piano Concerto No 3 – a piece so demanding it supposedly sent star pianist David Helfgott mad – while February 2 will welcome the HK debut of Pavel Kolesnikov performing Chopin’s soaring second concerto.
Earlier, the sweaty season will welcome the second edition of the relaxed HKS Cool Summer Festival, with a noteworthy weekend of Tuba for the Know Your Brass program on July 5 and 6, and a celebration of pop culture themes for the Movies, Musicals & More show on July 19-21 – sporting hummable tunes from West Side Story to Skyfall.
More studious listeners will appreciate a dense program pairing choral works by modern Estonian composers Arvo Pärt and Veljo Tormis with Mozart’s menacing Requiem, performed alongside the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir on November 30.
Looking into 2020, on February 8 HKS will also present the world premiere of Alexander Goehr’s The Master Said – featuring live Mandarin narration – introducing next year’s Hong Kong Arts Festival, while Yip’s final season will close on March 21 with the Asian premiere of another HKS-commission, Julian Anderson’s Litanies for Cello & Orchestra. Symbolically guest conductor Christoph Poppen will wrap the cycle to the sound of Beethoven’s legendary Eroica symphony
Indeed – if Yip has to share the fanfare with anyone, it’s Ludwig van Beethoven, the revolutionary composer who celebrates his 250th birthday in 2020 – and marked by HKS with a full festival-style program on March 14 and 15. Titled Beethoven the Immortal, the educational weekender will present the first and firth piano concertos and fifth and seventh symphonies – conducted and introduced by the charismatic personality of Jason Lai and starring soloist Colleen Lee, both former HKS Artist Associates.
“Orchestral works by Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven are the essentials for any orchestra,” said Yip. “In our new season, we are very happy to be presenting programs which showcase the greatness of these masters along with some ‘spices’ from composers of our generation. This mix and match approach has proved to be very successful with Sinfonietta’s adventurous audience who are always open to new ideas.”
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