Professor Adrian Walter

Creation & Recreation

Author: Prof. Adrian Walter

Published in Ming Pao on 9 July 2014


Having just completed my second year as Director of the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts my initial impression of Hong Kong as a dynamic and creative space with a rich cultural life has been well and truly confirmed.


Let me share with you some of the innovative performances I’ve enjoyed over the last month. Last Saturday evening I attended a performance by the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra with English percussionist Evelyn Glennie. Her performance, with its sharp edged rhythms combining so effectively with a deeply felt lyricism was extraordinary.  What really captured my attention though was that every work on the programme was a new work, or at least a work composed in the last decade or so – and they were all incredibly well received by the audience.  There was no shying away from the new and challenging for the HKCO and its audience. I am not sure where else you would see such courage and conviction in programming.


This is an approach that the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts also embraces with gusto – original creativity continually drives us in our work with the young emerging artist studying at the Academy. I am sure this contributes significantly to creating a highly receptive environment for new and innovative work. The Academy now has 7637 graduates many of whom are deeply embedded in the cultural life of this city and have undoubtedly done much to shape its development since it opened its doors in 1984.


As part of the Academy’s 30th Anniversary Year Celebration we presented a performance of the The Taming of the Shrew by Shakespeare.  On the surface this would not seem unexpected for a performing arts academy, but let me tell you more. The play was presented in Cantonese with the ‘play within the play’ set as a Cantonese Opera, all in all involving 178 Academy students, alumni and faculty staff.  Where else but Hong Kong could such an original, innovative reimaging of this work occur, capatilising on Hong Kong’s position as a unique point of intersection between Eastern and Western cultural practice.  As one enthusiastic audience member noted, it could easily have been taken to the West End for a season and would have proudly showcased the unique creativity of this city.


Nurturing talented and creative young performers is a critical part of achieving the outcomes that we all strive for in building Hong Kong as a dynamic cultural hub. This was wonderfully demonstrated last week in a concert presented by the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra. This concert featured a rising star of the Hong Kong piano world, Johnson Li, an eleven year old student of the Academy’s junior music programme and student of Eleanor Wong. The young pianist looked relaxed and in control from the very opening tutti. The orchestra sensitively accompanied him giving him every opportunity to shine. The conductor Jun Märkl was outstanding in the way he worked with this young performer – a fine musical mentor in action. The whole audience was entranced by the rapport that clearly existed between conductor and soloist.


The need to nurture young performers has also been a vital part of the preservation and reinvigoration of Cantonese Opera in Hong Kong. Last month I was fortunate to attend the opening performance of the Cantonese Opera Young Talent Showcase presented by Ba Wah (香港八和會館) which presented the work of some of the emerging stars of this most engaging of arts forms.


If you look through an average weeks performance calendar for Hong Kong you soon realise that this is only a small sample of the rich array of offerings  that are presented week on week in Hong Kong across so many art forms.


I couldn’t close however without mentioning the performance I attended by the Hong Kong Dance Company ‘The Butterfly Lovers’. Celebrating the 55th anniversary of this well-loved work it was presented in a new version interwoven with a newly created choreography by Yang Yuntao.
This takes be back full circle to my reflections on the HKCO performance – what an extraordinary creative space Hong Kong is – something we need to celebrate and most importantly safeguard and nurture for future generations.


Where have all the composers gone?

Author: Prof. Adrian Walter
Published in Ming Pao on 2 July 2014

While we still celebrate those outstanding creative individuals who can compose music for the concert hall the industry now offers a broader range of opportunities for those skilled in the craft of composition. Someone with such skills is able to ‘craft’ music for a particular end use, be that for a music library, adverts, computer games or one of the many of areas of demand within the creative industries –the musical equivalent of a graphic artist.

The later part of the nineteenth century saw the rise of the artist as ‘hero’– the performer who could transcend physical limitations and whose god like prowess became the source of legends. As the twentieth century progressed so too did the demand to specialize and define yourself by that specialization.

We now celebrate Johann Sebastian Bach as a ‘star’ composer but in his own time he was equally respected as an organist and improviser, as a manager – a jobbing muso! The same story can be repeated for Mozart, Rossini, Mahler, Rachmaninov and Prokofiev. These were highly versatile creative artists and performers, who were also adept business people, entrepreneurs and arts managers.

While we celebrate the genius of Mozart he also spoke the common musical language of his day. There are many little known names who were contemporaries of Mozart who created large amounts of new work for an ever demanding market place. Who has heard of Johann Christian Cannabich composer, director and creator of hundreds of works including symphonies, concerti and occasional music? Much of which indeed influenced the work of Mozart. By taking the ‘star’ out of their temporal and social context we loose the true sense of a thriving creative industry in which many versatile creative artists are involved.

Two great impediments to the 21st century creative mind are the concept of the ‘star’ and the concept of specialization. Two attributes deeply embedded in the modern psyche. The idea of the ‘star’, the competition winner, have more to do with contemporary celebrity culture and business imperatives than creativity and artistic excellence or broader industry demands.

How do children learn to use language? They write stories about the family holiday, their sister’s wedding, the trip to the beach. Are we imagining by asking our children to do such activities that they will become Nobel prize winning authors? What more natural way for a child to use their newly acquired language and communication skills than to use them creatively as a way to express themselves and to explore and understand their worlds.

We need to reclaim the creative space within our educational programmes. We need to see composition again as a creative process for all young music students to explore. The time for specialization and the market to support such specialization has passed. As well as ‘composers’ we need those skilled in the ‘craft’ of composition – versatile, adaptable and creative young artists who are highly skilled but not limited by the specialized nature of that skill.

Young Talent Time


A very special Academy concert took place on the weekend which put the spotlight on the Academy’s young talent. The concert featured two of the Junior Music Programmes’ choirs, the Chinese Music Ensemble and the Junior Symphony Orchestra. A cracking performance of a movement from Mendelsohn’s 4th Symphony highlighted the quality and depth of training our young musicians receive. This was again highlighted in the performance by the Chinese Music Ensemble that someone commented would make us proud wherever they performed.

There are clearly some wonderful things going on in this most important area of the Academy’s work – if you get the chance please join us for one of our Junior Music Programme events during our 30th Anniversary Year. I am sure you will be as impressed as I was and most importantly have a wonderfully entertaining time.

photo 3[3]照片

The Bard’s Birthday Bash

Celebrating Shakespeare 450th birthday was a wonderful way to highlight the upcoming Academy production of the Taming of the Shrew, one of our major 30th Anniversary Year events. This extraordinary and innovative production draws together all the Schools at the Academy and truly fulfils the Academy’s vision of creating a cross disciplinary creative learning space in a city that is renowned as a unique point of intersection between Eastern and Western cultural practice. I am sure everyone will be intrigued to see how we weave a play within a play showcasing the extraordinary Cantonese operatic tradition.

Our Chair of Drama, Professor Ceri Sherlock, drew attention to Shakespeare’s work as a creative, collaborative innovator who was worldly wise and understood the demands of the industry. Shakespeare had that special ability to be able to deliver what the audience wanted while at the same time creating works of art that challenged the entrenched and pushed the boundaries of traditions – one thinks of Bach and Mozart in the same vein!

For me Shakespeare was first and foremost a consummate storyteller, something all of us in the performing arts aspire to be, whatever our medium of expression.

Join us on the 9th and the 10th of May for this special event but get in quick as without doubt it will be a sell-out performance.


An Impressively Professional Production

Over the four day Easter break our team at EXCEL presented six high octane performances a day at the Hong Kong International Airport. Based on the Wizard of Oz this ‘tailor made’ production entertained a large number of people being ideally placed in the arrival hall. What better way to while away the time while waiting for colleagues, friends and loved ones to arrive – clearly those at the airport agreed and thoroughly enjoyed the twenty minute show.

The Airport Authority spared nothing and committed to very high production values that made the experience very special for all involved.

Something quite unique that I hope to see continuing into the future – a great relationship for the Academy that gives our students a very special performance opportunity indeed.

Congratulations to the EXCEL creative team led by Alice van Kapel and Charles Teo and of course all the young performers who shone as the stars of the show.

And a big thank you to Rebecca Ho and the Airport team for their support.

Have a look at the YouTube clip at:

Be sure to use some good headphones if you want to capture the full experience.Group Photo with Director (3)Airport 1A

Anniversary Open Day 2014

It was good to see such a strong roll up for our Anniversary Year Open Day. As the day progressed the crowds got bigger – as did the queues! The film and TV demonstration, which let our visitor’s make their own weather broadcast, was very popular – a quite extraordinary insight into behind the scenes technology showcasing our student’s skills.

Some special performances. Opera in the Atrium was very popular with passing audiences, here’s a shot of the Cantonese Opera show;

Open Day 1

Our dedicated Dean of Theatre and Media Arts conscripted his car into the service of the Academy.

Open Day 2


Had a great afternoon with the PAE crew at Sham Shui Po. Our Arts Mobile entertained a very responsive group of local residents at the Fu Cheong Estate. Wonderful support from the District Council and District Office and Bloomberg meant this could happen. A very important part of the Academy’s work.

Here’s ‘La Sax’ in action!



The extraordinary creative community of Hong Kong



This year provides a special opportunity for APA to really showcase its special strengths. No institution is so uniquely positioned to explore the dynamic and creative intersection between Eastern and Western cultural practice. We’re part of China and yet have a strong European heritage and a deep understanding of the associated artistic practices. I have become a great fan of HK contemporary dance since I arrived 18 months ago. Try our Dance 2 programme on May 9 & 10 – I am sure you will be delighted – original creative work at is best.

Kung Hei Fat Choy!