In case anyone hasn’t noticed, 2020 is Beethoven’s anniversary year, and the Hong Kong Sinfonietta has joined many in celebrating Beethoven by making his symphonies and concerti the centerpiece of their 2020/21 season. Next up after the Pastoral is the Violin Concerto, played on 11th July by Stefan Jackiw – whose performance of the concerto in Dublin in January was described by us as “one of those musical marriages made in heaven... one of the best performances I've heard in the National Concert Hall.” The concerto is paired with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no. 4 and another Asian premiere: Alfred Schnittke’s mercurial Polyphonic Tango.

Hong Kong Sinfonietta © HK Sinfonietta Ltd
Hong Kong Sinfonietta
© HK Sinfonietta Ltd
Sergei Nakariakov with flugelhorn © Thierry Cohen
Sergei Nakariakov with flugelhorn
© Thierry Cohen

You can hear five of Beethoven’s nine symphonies and four of his five piano concerti at various times in the season. On November 15th, Michel Dalberto plays the Piano Concerto no. 1 in C major and Piano Concerto no. 3 in C minor, conducting from the keyboard. On October 31st, Colleen Lee tackles the Piano Concerto no. 5 “Emperor” in a concert which pairs it with the Symphony no. 7, bringing together two of the composer’s most optimistic works. Saturday January 30th sees the biggest Beethoven event, the Piano Concerto no. 2, played by Julien Libeer, preceding the great Symphony no. 9 “Choral”. Libeer returns on the Sunday afternoon for a recital of Brahms and Schubert together with Busoni’s wonderful arrangement of J.S.Bach’s great Chaconne from the D minor Violin Partita.

Beethoven’s Symphony no. 4 is conducted on July 24th by the Sinfonietta’s Music Director Emeritus Yip Wing-sie, together with Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme, a work that would normally form part of the “Cellomania” series but, in this case, has been adapted for flugelhorn, to be played by Sergei Nakariakov, who also gives a trumpet recital on July 27th.

Christoph Poppen conducts the Symphony no. 8 on September 26th in a concert which features another concerto-like set of variations: pianist Alexander Krichel plays Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, based on the immediately recognisable theme of the A minor Caprice.

Christoph Poppen © HK Sinfonietta Ltd
Christoph Poppen
© HK Sinfonietta Ltd

Poppen also conducts the last of the Beethoven symphonies – but not the least – to be highlighted here: in a concert on November 7th, he conducts the Symphony no. 5 with its pounding of fate – perhaps the most famous opening four notes in the whole of classical music. This was to be the second “Cellomania” concert of the season, featuring Maximilian Hornung as soloist (the opening concert, with Edgar Moreau, sadly, has been cancelled). At 34, the German cellist is notably older than Moreau, but still young compared to the average international soloist; he shares Moreau’s intensity and we’ve been giving him consistently enthusiastic reviews. Hornung takes on the Shostakovich Cello Concerto no.1, considered one of the toughest in the repertoire.

Another major international soloist visits Hong Kong in October: on Saturday 24th, Denis Kozhukhin plays the great Rachmaninov Piano Concerto no. 3 in D minor, with Perry So conducting. The concert includes Schubert’s Symphony no. 4 and the Hong Kong premiere of Toshio Hosokowa’s Voyage X, giving the audience a chance to listen to the shakuhachi – an instrument of the flute family which originated in 7th century China – integrated into an orchestral ensemble. Kozhukhin returns on the Sunday afternoon for a recital of Tchaikovsky, Montsalvatge, Schumann and Ravel.

Denis Kozhukhin © Marco Borggreve
Denis Kozhukhin
© Marco Borggreve

A pair of concerts on August 29th and 30th brings music from favourite ballets, while December 4th sees a “Symphonic Musical” entitled Pica Pica Choose, a commission by the Hong Kong Sinfonietta which combines music, singing, movement and drama.

To close the season, Yip Wing-sie conducts a New Year Carnival on February 19th, celebrating the new year with a programme of lighter popular classics (mixed with animation and stories) leading up to a medley of Beethoven symphonies.


[Update: this article initially started with a description of the season's opening "Cellomania" concert with Edgar Moreau, which has been cancelled very recently. We have updated the article accordingly. Our apologies for any confusion.]