This is the first time the Hong Kong Philharmonic has visited Australia in its 43-year history. Its 2017 Tour was led by internationally-renowned conductor maestro Jaap van Zweden, Music Director of the Hong Kong Philharmonic since the 2012/13 season, who conducted with elegance, aplomb and a terrific sense of timing and phrasing
The ambitious programme included the Australian premiere of Quintessence, a new work by Hong Kong composer Dr Fung Lam as well as Mozart’s Violin Concerto no. 4 and Mahler’s Symphony no. 1.
The opening work Dr Fung Lam’s Quintessence whichtries to define and express the Buddhist ideas of striving towards one’s highest goals and attainment. Fung Lam is the orchestra’s Director of Orchestral Planning and the first Hong Kong composer ever to be commissioned by the BBC.
His work began with crashing cymbals and shimmering violins. At times, it was a rather sombre urban exploration with tolling bells and there was a tinkling xylophone. Sudden sharp, astringent strings occurred at various points passing a theme from one solo instrument to the next, contrasted with volcanic eruptions. A haunting flute was also featured and there was plenty of orchestral light shade and shade. A fascinating piece.
The bulk of the first half was the Mozart Violin concerto with guest solo violinist Ning Feng. Feng’s assured bravura playing was full of a fluid, golden tone.The performance was an exquisite dialogue between soloist and Orchestra, the first movement bright, the second movement slower and more thoughtful, the third faster and more joyous with the soloist definitely leading .
The second half consisted of Mahler’s Symphony no. 1 featuring a glorious violin duet in the main section. The large orchestra impressively fitted onto the stage. If one listened closely there were hints in the Symphony of his Songs of A Wayfarer. The first, rather boisterous movement included haunting woodwind with sizzling, shimmering strings.
The second movement had quite a martial air with strident, at times quite emphatic strings. The melody was passed around the various sections of the Orchestra and the movement concluded with a sort of martial dance.
The third movement was sultry and exotic with pulsating flute and harp, not forgetting luscious, singing strings.
A crashing opening heralded the start of the fourth and final movement, full of tumultuous, relentless rhythms with insistent horns and spiky strings. There was a yearning, passionate section, with a dialogue between the two large strings sections. One could hear hints of Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky in the finale.
When the Symphony concluded there was prolonged warm applause.
For its encore the Orchestra performed a rousing rendition of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries with the Orchestra playing at full throttle. One could hear the Valkyries thunderously arriving on their horses.
The Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra performed for one night only, on Friday 5th May, at the Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House.
Running time just over two hours including one interval.