Look at the programme of the 2017 Hong Kong Arts Festival and you’ll immediately be struck by the quality of the performers. Not that everyone is an international superstar, although Vadim Repin, Piotr Anderszewski and a few others fall into that category. Rather, it’s that there is an array of performers and ensembles who are at the top of the tree in each specific type of music, dance or theatre – and the Festival contains a broad array of musical forms.

<i>Dream of the Red Chamber</i> (San Francisco Opera) © Cory Weaver | San Francisco Opera
Dream of the Red Chamber (San Francisco Opera)
© Cory Weaver | San Francisco Opera

Interested in Czech opera? Head for Leoš Janáček’s Makropulos Case, performed by the opera company named after Janáček, coming from his birthplace Brno and featuring the very top Czech language singers. Classical ballet? The Bavarian State Ballet give five performances of the ever popular La Bayadère. Dance that’s a bit more modern than that? Try the late Pina Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal, dancing two contrasting examples of her great works: Café Müller and The Rite of String. The Austrian masters Mozart and Haydn? Who better than Camerata Salzburg. Grieg’s Peer Gynt? The Oslo Philharmonic, of course.

<i>La Bayadère</i> - Bavarian State Ballet © Wilfried Hösl
La Bayadère - Bavarian State Ballet
© Wilfried Hösl
As you’d expect, there’s also an array of Hong Kong talent. The Hong Kong Sinfonietta play Ravel and Shostakovich. Countertenor Chan Ka-Bo, now based in Estonia, returns to his birthplace to sing two lovely sounding concerts in the serene setting of the classical Chinese Nan Lian Garden: one of early music (containing favourites like Monteverdi’s Si dolce è’l tormento and Dowland’s Music for a While), the other of Romantic and modern works. The highest profile Chinese-accented event is a breathtakingly staged co-production by the Festival and the San Francisco Opera: on March 17th-18th, the Hong Kong Philharmonic performs Bright Sheng’s Dream of the Red Chamber, an opera with based on Cao Xueqin’s literary classic. There are also two authentic Chinese operas, the “Kun opera” Blossoms on a Spring Moonlit Night and the Cantonese Emperor Wu of Han and his Jester Strategist. For the full local talent experience, head for the Jockey Club-sponsored Hong Kong Odyssey, an evening of song, music and poetry about Hong Kong put together by HK artists and composers.

If your musical tastes take you East but not so far East, head for the festival’s opening concert, with the Borusan Istanbul Philharmonic Orchestra playing Rimsky Korsakov’s Scheherazade – as well as James MacMillan’s Violin Concerto, the soloist for which is Vadim Repin, for whom the concerto was written. A second concert the following night features more orientalist work: Mily Balakirev’s fantasy Islamey and Ottorino Respighi’s Belkis, Queen of Sheba.

The Makropulos Case, Janacek Opera, NTB © NdB / Marek Olbrzymek
The Makropulos Case, Janacek Opera, NTB
© NdB / Marek Olbrzymek
As well as The Makropulos Case, Janáček Opera NTB are also giving two concerts of Czech music. The first, on February 26th, is of Dvořák’s Stabat Mater, a life-affirming ten part cantata believed to be the composer’s response to the death of three of his children. The second, on February 28th contains two of Janáček’s most popular works: the martial Sinfonietta, with its opening huge brass fanfare, and the immense Glagolitic Mass. The Oslo Philharmonic and Vasily Petrenko play two concerts comprising mainly Scandinavian and Russian music, with acclaimed cellist Truls Mørk joining them for concerti by Shostakovich and Elgar. Louis Langrée and the Cincinnati Symphony complete the orchestral line-up.

Chamber music fans are catered for Taiwanese-born violinist Ray Chen, who plays a recital which includes sonatas by Beethoven, Saint-Saëns and Ysaÿe, and by top Russian string quartet the David Oistrakh Quartet, while early music fans should opt for Rinaldo Alessandrini and Concerto Italiano performing Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers.

Ray Chen © Julian Hargreaves
Ray Chen
© Julian Hargreaves
As in previous editions of the Hong Kong Arts Festival, there is plenty of contemporary dance. As well as Pina Bausch, top visiting artists include Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal and tap dancer/choreographer Michelle Dorrance. There’s more dance at the Hong Kong Jockey Club Contemporary Dance Series, now in its sixth year.

If your taste is for the eclectic, the Festival won’t leave you unsatisfied. March 18th and 19th, the last two days of the festival, are labelled “World Music Weekend”: the African kora, a 21 stringed instrument described as having a sound “somewhere between the harp and delta blues guitar” is performed by Malian virtuoso Ballaké Sissoko, Maria Berasarte performs Portuguese fado (unusually, in Spanish). Kudsi Erguner performs Ottoman and Sufi music. Emir Kusturica and The No Smoking Orchestra promise a “collision of gypsy punk rock and Balkan folk”.

Perhaps most improbable of all, at least for those who remember 1969, is “Gainsbourg Symphonic”, in which Jane Birkin commemorates the 25th anniversary of Serge Gainsbourg’s premature death with a concert arranged for full orchestra – in this case, the Hong Kong Philharmonic. For the other end of the age range, the video game Tetris hits the stage with a choreography by Erik Kaiel.


This preview was sponsored by the Hong Kong Arts Festival