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.
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.
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.
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.
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