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.