Speech by Ms Grace Lang (Programme Director of Hong Kong Arts Festival Society Ltd) at the 2009 HKAF Kick-off Press Conference

October 15th, 2008

This year’s Hong Kong Arts Festival (HKAF) showcases four brilliant orchestras: maestro Bernard Haitink conducts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra which is consistently hailed as one of the greatest orchestras in the world; the Northern Sinfonia, led by Music Director Thomas Zehetmair, is considered one of Europe's most exciting chamber orchestras; the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra, a group of internationally renowned baroque specialists, was founded by the celebrated Ton Koopman; and the acclaimed Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, now under the baton of Ingo Metzmacher, has a Austro-Germany tradition dating back more than 60 years.

Further celebrating music and all it encompasses, we rejoice in the 12 living composers who enrich the programme. We have created music programmes that showcase masterpieces from the most eminent composers of today. The Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir performs works written by Veljo Tormis, a master of large-scale choral composition, and Arvo Part, a pioneer of sacred minimalism who is legendary for his idiom. Other composers include: Chan Hing-yan, Guo Wenjing, Stephen Hough, Morten Lauridsen, Colin Matthews, Philip Sheppard, John Tavener, Michael Tilson Thomas, Eric Whitacre and Samson Young.

Closer to home, the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra continues to enrich the HKAF programme with its Music about China concert series. Exploring the realm of modern Chinese orchestral music, this year features the works of Guo Wenjing, internationally acclaimed for his originality. We also look forward to hearing the Hong Kong Sinfonietta perform Samson Young’s new work and Chan Hing-yan’s new composition for the harp, Eine kleine Suite uber Engel at harpist Teresa Suen’s recital.

Our recitals are designed to inspire. Teresa Suen plays a classical repertoire most associated with the harp as well as modern 20th-century. For the first time in Hong Kong, authentic instrument specialist Ton Koopman, will play the organ in a recital featuring Bach, Couperin and Buxtehude. Sergio Tiempo plays piano masterpieces by Bach, Chopin and Prokofiev with a fiery temperament and formidable virtuosity that has earned worldwide acclaim. And mainland Chinese bass-baritone Shen Yang, winner of the 2007 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World, devotes an evening to singing the poetry-inspired German songs that sparked the genre known as Lieder.

The revival of baroque opera is a worldwide trend and the 37th HKAF is pleased to offer Handel’s operatic masterpiece, Alcina. Jazz greats Chick Corea and John McLaughlin reunite 40 years after playing in Miles Davis’s unforgettable band, one of today’s brightest star Lisa Ono celebrates the sounds of 50 years of bossa nova and the spellbinding Omar Sosa collects myriad sounds to present something entirely new in jazz and world music.

2009 is the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China. Following on from the overwhelming success of the Beijing Olympics, we recognize the major role China plays in the world and nowhere do we see this more than in the development of its outstanding cultural productions. The National Ballet of China, internationally recognized for its fabulous rendition of Raise the Red Lantern brings us The Peony Pavilion, adapted from China’s most passionate love story. Director Li Liuyi with choreographer Fei Bo rise to the challenge of adopting stylised kun opera movements into Western classical ballet. In contrast to traditional dance and theatre, the Beijing Paper Tiger Theater Studio is a contemporary theatrical group that explores independent expression in today’s Chinese theatre. This startling show Cool (2007)will have a lasting impact on its audiences.

Interpretations of great literary works allow us to see things in a contemporary and different way – Peter Hall’s revival of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion is a perfect example. In an equally fascinating reinterpretation, The Wooster Group revives Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones and successfullyrelocates the play in a contemporary context. The lyrical Shanghai Yueju Opera Theatre presents their interpretation of three yue opera classics and a mix of famous excerpts full of romance.

Whilst celebrating the existing performing arts canon, we also actively support the creation of new works. We feature the most interesting and evocative works from several Asia Pacific groups. Choreographer Ea Sola’s The White Body is an emotionally charged and political work. Inspired by Lu Gui Bu (Book of Ghosts), written by Zhong Sicheng in the Yuan dynasty, Danny Yung invites four Asian traditional arts masters to showcase the beauty of tradition and the critical vision of contemporary theatre. The Asia Pacific Dance Platform promotes the creativity and dynamism of contemporary dance in the region and features signature pieces that merge culture, history and dance.

In Black Swan, a modern interpretation of SwanLake, we are invited to consider the contemporary nature of the traditional tale. Interpreting and exploring the unknown is a challenge that Oscar-winning actress Juliette Binoche and internationally acclaimed choreographer Akram Khan accept with relish in their innovative dance theatre work, In-I. Finally, Murder in San Jose is a finely written psychological thriller created by the award-winning local playwright, Chong Mui-ngam.

This year’s HKAF is a resounding celebration of the performing arts. I encourage you all to embrace the 37th HKAF; to wonder, marvel and celebrate the existence of art and music in our lives.

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