The last seven seasons have seen music director Jaap van Zweden and the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra going from strength to strength. In 2019/20, van Zweden and the HK Phil embark on a star-studded season with some of the world’s greatest soloists as well as local talent.

Jaap van Zweden © Cheung Wai-lok
Jaap van Zweden
© Cheung Wai-lok

Last year, the ensemble that attracts over 200,000 music lovers each year initiated an interesting experiment with music by Gustav Mahler, offering tickets for a uniform price across all seats, and thus encouraging audiences to experience Mahler’s symphonies from a new angle. This season, all is under the banner of big festivities: Opening their 46th season is one of four programmes dedicated to commemorating the 30th anniversary of the orchestra’s venue partner, Hong Kong Cultural Centre. Here, conductor and orchestra are joined by Seong-Jin Cho, prize winner of the 2015 Chopin Piano Competition, in a truly emotional programme featuring Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto, the Act 1 Prelude of Wagner’s Meistersinger and Prokofiev’s tragic Romeo and Juliet

In November, the hall’s actual “birthday” month, the first programme is performed entirely by Hong Kong musicians. Louise Kwong, Ping and Ting Piano Duo and Kuokman Lio are joined by the Hong Kong Philharmonic and Children’s choirs, performing Poulenc’s Concerto for two pianos, Brahms’ Schicksalslied and the world première of Theme and Variations, a piece especially written for the occasion by Hong Kong’s emerging composers. A week later, visitors can hear the wonderful Renée Fleming reminisce about summer evenings in Tennessee in Samuel Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915, framed by Wagner’s Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde and Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony. Another China focus rounds off the hall's birthday celebration with the Hong Kong première of Qigang Chen’s violin concerto Le joie de la souffrance, performed by Ning Feng under Principal Guest Conductor Long Yu.

Renée Fleming © Andrew Eccles | Decca
Renée Fleming
© Andrew Eccles | Decca

Later in the season, the HK Phil and van Zweden join venues and artists worldwide in celebrating the 250th anniversary of Ludwig van Beethoven's birth in its Beethoven 250 series, comprising complete cycles of the composer’s piano concertos and symphonies. Celebrated pianist Lang Lang opens the series with the Piano Concerto no. 2, together with the Egmont Overture and the First Symphony. The second concert in the series sees one of the most significant Beethoven performers of our time, Rudolf Buchbinder, with the First Concerto following a rare outing of Beethoven’s Ruins of Athens overture

Chinese musicians shape the evening of the third Beethoven programme, with Louise Kwong singing Ah! perfido and Rachel Cheung playing the lively Rondo in B flat. The remaining programmes see the Fidelio Overture and Third Symphony paired with the Third Concerto, played by Víkingur Ólafsson. Symphony no. 4, following the majestic “Emperor” concerto performed by much-praised blind pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii, will close the Beethoven focus – but only temporarily as the series stretches across two concert seasons, giving a promising glimpse of things to come.

Rudolf Buchbinder © Marco Borggreve
Rudolf Buchbinder
© Marco Borggreve

In a further thirteen concerts, the orchestra teams up with a number of leading soloists for sparkling programmes: The Labèque sisters perform Philip Glass’ Concerto for two pianos, showing their remarkable musical connection in a programme also featuring a new HK Phil commission by local composer Kai-young Chan. Another new commission, this time by Alvin Lok-hei Tam, opens a concert that then brings face to face the Fifth Symphonies of Prokofiev and US composer Christopher Rouse, which Jaap van Zweden premièred with Dallas Symphony two years ago. 

Then, in spring, Leonidas Kavakos will join the orchestra on stage for Dmitri Shostakovich’s epic First Violin Concerto and van Zweden’s first interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s “Pathétique” at the helm of the Hong Kong Phil. Further starry appearances include Elim Chan and Martin Grubinger, unleashing percussive potential in Kalevi Aho’s Sieidi, as well as Behzod Abduraimov in Tchaikovsky’s popular First Piano Concerto. Finally, Mahler makes another exciting appearance with a performance of two movements of the incomplete Symphony no. 10 – the first performance in 95 years.

Elim Chan © Simon Pauly
Elim Chan
© Simon Pauly

Besides bringing fascinating music to audiences at home, the Hong Kong Philharmonic will also embark on a number of tours to Japan, Korea, the Greater Bay Area and further cities in mainland China with appearances at the Macao International Music Festival and Shanghai International Arts Festival as well as the flagship Suntory Hall in Tokyo and the Arts Center in Seoul.

In addition to the birthday series, tours and big-name gigs, there are several series running through the season appealing to a broad audience from families to pop fans and cinema enthusiasts. As in the previous season, the Denim series features a tribute to David Bowie by Philip Glass as well as Francesco Tristano’s trademark electro-classical mix, with a world premiere of the orchestral version of his Tokyo Stories and the China première of his piano concerto Island Nation.

Alexandre Desplat © Brigitte Lacombe
Alexandre Desplat
© Brigitte Lacombe

The Holiday & Pops series offers plenty of opportunity to enjoy music in a more laid-back fashion, celebrating National Day with Chinese folk songs and popular hits, adding Christmas sparkle with Japanese jazz star Hiromi, ringing in the New Year in Viennese style and spreading Broadway glam with singer Lea Salonga, the singing voice of Aladdin’s Jasmine and Fa Mulan and star of musicals Miss Saigon and Les Misérables. Silver Screen finally is again set to capture visitors with screenings of cinema hits, accompanied live by a full symphony orchestra. This season, favourites like Star Wars will be shown alongside the BBC’s fascinating documentary Planet Earth II. A programme focussing on the work of multi-award-winning film composer Alexandre Desplat closes the series, conducted by the man himself.

This coming season truly is one of celebration, honouring signature cultural venues, admired composers and local roots alike, offering something for every taste.

Click here to browse the Hong Kong Philharmonic’s entire 2019/20 season.

This article was sponsored by the Hong Kong Philharmonic Society Ltd.