“Music can be a source of courage, healing and unity.” Following these past unsettling and devastating months, the words of Jaap van Zweden, Music Director of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, issued alongside the orchestra’s new season announcement, are balm for the soul. And although the announced concerts are still under a shadow of uncertainty, the HK Phil’s new season is fuelled by hope and resilience, celebrating both Beethoven’s 250th and Jaap’s 60th birthdays, and sends a strong signal to the musical world.

Jaap van Zweden
© Ka Lam | HK Phil

You can give the birthday boys not three but six cheers this autumn and winter. The celebrations begin, aptly, with Beethoven’s feuertrunken and heaven-storming Choral Symphony in October and they see their first culmination in a concert performance of Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio. With an outstanding cast, including Elisabeth Teige, Simon O’Neill as Florestan and Matthias Goerne and Jongmin Park as Don Pizarro and Rocco respectively, it will without doubt improve on the less than favourable reception of the 1805 premiere at the Theater an der Wien.

For the Season Opening in late October, the HK Phil serves Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony as a delicious base of the birthday cake and the remarkable trio of soloists invited for the Triple Concerto makes for a shiny icing: violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, cellist Kian Soltani and pianist Lauma Skride. The cherry on top is Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, played by Mutter the following night. The German violinist also performs Beethoven’s Romances for Violin and Orchestra and presents a chamber concert with works by Jörg Widmann and Beethoven.

Last year, the Hong Kong Philharmonic was voted Gramophone’s Orchestra of the Year, an award that honours the hard work of both the orchestra and its popular chief conductor. Jaap van Zweden made his debut as the Music Director in September 2012 and the recent announcement of the further extension of his contract through the 2023-24 season came as no surprise. For his 60th Birthday Gala in December, the Dutch conductor serves a very special menu: Beethoven’s majestic Fifth Symphony and his oratorio Christ on the Mount of Olives. It is a gloriously dramatic work, full of humanity and divinity, fear and courage, and it has been a real treat seeing so many orchestras dig out this rarely performed piece for the composer’s anniversary.

Last but not least comes van Zweden’s Eroica in January. The Third Symphony with its opening gunshot-like chords, revolutionary fire and moving Marcia funebre has always been an audience favourite and brings an exultant end to the (interrupted) Beethoven celebrations.

Jaap van Zweden and the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra
© Ka Lam | HK Phil

Van Zweden parties on with some of the world’s best soloists. Rudolf Buchbinder returns to Hong Kong for Ravel’s jazzy Piano Concerto in G, Jan Vogler performs Dvořák’s Cello Concerto in a programme paired with Mahler’s mighty Titan Symphony and Alice Sara Ott plays Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 21 with its tender and delicate Andante.

Other tempting concerts include a Tchaikovsky programme conducted by Long Yu, Principal Guest Conductor of the orchestra, that sees Maxim Vengerov taking on the Violin Concerto which is so fiendishly difficult that its dedicatee, Leopold Auer, declared it unplayable. In January, guitarist extraordinaire Miloš transports the audience to sunny Spain with Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez and Ralf Otto conducts Brahms’ A German Requiem with a stellar pair of soloists: Christina Gansch and Thomas E. Bauer. Instead of commemorating the dead, Brahms searched for words of comfort for those still alive and it was his Requiem for the living that won the deeply religious composer international fame.

Praised for their rich string sound, Romantic masterpieces are in good hands with the HK Phil. Christoph Koncz, principal violinist of the Wiener Philharmoniker, is rapidly establishing himself as a conductor and he brings a gorgeous programme with him to Hong Kong. Before he ends the concert with Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony – a bleak reminder of this season’s abrupt ending – Sabine Meyer indulges in Carl Maria von Weber’s Clarinet Concerto no. 1. In the season’s penultimate concert, van Zweden conducts Robert Schumann’s Third Symphony, the “Rhenish” which brims with life, and Jukka-Pekka Saraste concludes what will hopefully be an uninterrupted year with Bruckner’s Symphony no. 9, another unfinished work, dedicated “to the beloved God”.

It wouldn’t be the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra if it didn’t have a few aces up its sleeve. The season sees a couple of world premieres – a Piccolo Concerto by Ozno, a Double Concerto for Violin and Cello by Chun-wai Wong and a newly commissioned work supported by The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Composers Scheme – and interdisciplinary programmes with live illustrations or the Hong Kong Ballet. There are also a handful of wonderful children’s concerts, including “The Dinosaur Footprints” with works from Saint-Saëns’ Fossiles to John William’s film music from Jurassic Park and Mussorgsky’s Night on Bare Mountain – equally tempting for the young at heart.

If you want a taste of what’s to come, you can rewatch the HK Phil’s 2020-21 season preview concert here. It was performed live on Saturday 4th July.

Click here to view the full season listings. 
This article was sponsored by the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra