Speech by Ms Grace Lang (Programme Director of Hong Kong Arts Festival Society Ltd) at the 2008 Festival Kick-off Press Conference

October 16th, 2007

In Igor Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, we hear the joyous exclamation “and he hath put a new song in my mouth.” In a similar way, the Hong Kong Arts Festival has dedicated the past 35 years to nourishing and bringing joy to Hong Kong audiences with a wealth of ‘new songs.’ Continuing in this excellence, we are delighted to announce the 36th annual Arts Festival, which is destined to be another sumptuous feast for eyes, ears, hearts and souls:

“Praise Him in the sound of the trumpet. Praise Him upon the lute and harp. Praise Him upon the strings and pipe. Praise Him upon the well-tuned cymbals.” (from Psalm 150)

In this Festival, we celebrate ‘contrast’ in its many forms. We have created music programmes that showcase brilliant works from the most eminent composers of this generation – such as English composer Mark-Anthony Turnage, who composes for the London Philharmonic Orchestra – and, complimented his contemporariness with well-loved, romantic classics from the canons of Brahms and Ravel. Equally, in the repertoire of the London Philharmonic Choir, we marry virtuosos John Tavener and Julian Anderson with high Baroque masters, Handel and Purcell. In the soaring soprano voices of Trio Mediaval you will hear modern compositions from Gavin Bryars and Sungji Hong side-by-side with 13th century a cappella. And celebrated maestro Lorin Maazel will conduct the New York Philharmonic, joined by the rising, young Chinese conductor, Zhang Xian.

Our piano recitals have also been given careful thought. Andras Schiff, an “old school” artist playing in the grand romantic tradition, will perform best-loved pieces by Beethoven and Schumann for the Festival, and the young, multi-talented pianist Joanna MacGregor will perform the complete suite of Messiaen’s Vingt regards sur l’enfant Jeus in one evening – a premiere for Hong Kong! Surely, both recitals are rare opportunities not to be missed!

By definition, ‘theatre’ embraces all art forms, without distinction. Whether it is opera, drama or Chinese opera, the stage is, in all cases, a mirror, reflecting the many faces of society. Be it through the voice of the grieving poet Orpheus, in the 2,500 year old Greek myth, or the plays of Guan Hanqing in 13th century China, the theatre is the ‘container’ for the story.

It could be the Roman tragedy of Titus Andronicus, dating back to the 16th century, or the 19th century realism of Henrik Ibsen. From the 20th century Cheng school Beijing Opera, to the dark humour of Samuel Beckett, we are indebted to great writers, who set off into the labyrinth of humanity and come back with stories to tell.

These great literary works are thankfully preserved, and will appear on the 36th Arts Festival stage for all to enjoy. Each is interpreted by a renowned director – be it Robert Woodruff, Tang Shu-wing, Yuen Siu-fai, Danny Yung, Lin Zhaohua or the eminent Peter Brook. In the marriage of music and theatre, we particularly welcome the first visit to Hong Kong of the American Repertory Theatre, who will perform the Asian premiere of their pioneering rock-music-theatre production, Orpheus X. Whilst celebrating the existing repertoire, we actively support the creation of new works. Chatroom and Citizenship, by National Theatre of Great Britain, are modern, sharp and provocative plays that examine what it means to be an adolescent in the UK. Equally, a local interpretation of The Shape of Things invites us to ponder the art of seduction and young people’s view of love. In dance, all performances are a delicate blend of passion, technique and unbelievable artistry. Three of the world’s greatest choreographers will be featured in this Festival, including two works from the late ‘master of masters’ John Cranko: his Swan Lake and Onegin; Pina Bausch and her dance-theatre will offer their 2006 production Vollmond, and one piece, still in creation by Marie Chouinard, will make the Festival the first Asian stop on its 2008 World Premiere Tour – Ode to Joy L.I.V.E. These visionaries are all focal points in the Festival, reminding us of the vital importance of contemporary new works. I conclude, finally, with words from Friedrich Schiller’s Ode to Joy:

“Be embraced, you millions! This kiss for the entire world!”

…and encourage you all to embrace the Arts Festival; to feast with glee, and also support, the rich and diverse world of performing arts!

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