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Hong Kong Philharmonic: The fabulous journey of two Dutchmen

img  Tobias Fischer

After 8 prolific years in bringing the artistic and musical stature of Hong Kong to new heights, Maestro Edo de Waart will be stepping down from the helm as HKPO's 7th music director at the end of this 2011-2012 season. He leaves behind him a legacy, which has been unlike any other in the 116 years of history of the HKPO. Under de Waart's leadership and his imbued relationship with the HKPO, the music of Gustav Mahler, for example, has assumed a new identity within the hearts of local concertgoers and enthusiastic Mahlerites. The orchestral and vocal repertoires of Rachmaninoff, Strauss, and Wagner, likewise, have grown into topics of favourable headlines in press and media outlets, as a result of the blossoming evolution of the HKPO. Finally, opera buffs have enjoyed a new dimension of operatic experience brought onto the concert-stage, in which Maestro de Waart invites a stellar cast of world-class singers to assume acclaimed roles with the HKPO in Beethoven's Fidelio, Strauss's Elektra, Der Rosenkavalier, and Salome, and Wagner's Die Walküre, to name a few. Eight years of untiring and visionary commitment by Maestro de Waart revolutionized, in major part, the status of classical music in the hearts of many residing in Hong Kong. It has evolved into an art-form that is approachable and appreciated, both to the learned public and new listeners alike. Unquestionably, Maestro Edo de Waart has transformed the HKPO artistically on the world-map and shaped Hong Kong as the finest musical Mecca in Asia.

In March 2010, when Maestro de Waart announced he will step down as HKPO's music director in 2012, administrators and representatives of the HKPO spent the last two years diligently searching for this one outstanding candidate to assume the next music directorship. An immediate question, one may ask, is: "what requirements was the HKPO looking for in this artistic director designate?" Although this was not openly discussed with the public to the fullest detail, it can be understood that this candidate must have the vigour and vision to sustain, perhaps even to elevate, the artistic and musical grounds in the lineage left by Maestro de Waart. Thus, artistic merits, stamina, and vision are just the “basic requirements” this one candidate must have to fit part of the bill to this job. But that is not all – equally, this candidate should appeal, to both the public and fellow musicians and colleagues, with an aura of musical energy and camaraderie. In essence, the HKPO search committee was looking for this element of aura that is essential to a music director, but ironically, not something trainable or which all conductors have. These stringent requirements short-listed a few impressive candidates, the roster of which included Vladimir Ashkenazy, Andreas Delfs, Sir Mark Elder, and Alexander Lazarev. However, one individual stood out, and it was his two weeks-long performances last November that really “sealed the deal.” Perhaps fate casted its spell; the crown victor to assume the helm as HKPO's 8th music director landed on Maestro Edo de Waart's fellow Dutchman, the fifty-two year old Jaap van Zweden.

Maestro van Zweden was awarded the prestigious Musical America “2012 Conductor of the Year Award” this past December. He was bestowed this award not only for his outstanding musical achievements, but more importantly, the impact these achievements imprinted onto the musical community and globe culturally at large. Like Maestro de Waart in Hong Kong, Maestro van Zweden transformed the regional Dallas Symphony Orchestra into one of the finest orchestras in America.  During the press conference conducted with Maestro Jaap van Zweden in Amsterdam, the oncoming music director discusses and envisions a series of ambitious projects ahead. These include:

i) Evoking intense collaboration with musicians, in realizing the potential to transform the HKPO into the “Berlin Philharmonic of the East”

ii) Conducting and promoting Chinese music and new Chinese composers, which Maestro van Zweden has experience with works by Chen Yi, Tan Dun, etc.

iii) Collaborating between the musicians and the audience – an integral feedback loop (in fostering the growth of an organization and its community’s cultural identity)

iv) Maintaining not only Mahler’s music in the active repertory of the HKPO, but also to advocate the compositions of Mendelssohn, Shostakovich and other Classical composers like Haydn and Mozart. If an orchestra can play at a high artistic level the music of Haydn and Mozart, “the orchestra can play anything!”

v) Acquiring an international sound requires bringing the orchestra on international tours. To this effect, Maestro van Zweden elucidates an international tour to South America in 2014 and also to Europe.

vi) Finally, educating the youth and children is the key to the future. Maestro van Zweden envisions setting up an organization led by young people, an organization that will take active participation in the programming of the HKPO and to organize competitions to promote talented players and composers.

This fabulous journey begins officially in September, as Maestro van Zweden takes the helm and leads the HKPO at its inaugural concert for the 2012-2013 season. Time will tell how this “love affair” deepens, as the tripartite relationship of van Zweden-HKPO-public audience evolves in the initial four years. Nevertheless, a new era, under Maestro van Zweden’s leadership, will undoubtedly be another glorious chapter in the history of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra.

By: Patrick P.L. Lam

Photo Jaap can Zweden: Hans van der Woerd
Photo Press Conference: Chow Yu-young

Homepage: Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra
Homepage: Jaap van Zweden

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