Sounds unusual, but his Bach isn't averse to his bytes

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 March, 2006, 12:00am

Many electronica fans probably regard classical music as a little tedious and definitely uncool - but one of the city's leading musicians plans to switch a few hipsters on to Bach & Co.

Anthony Wong Yiu-ming - a member of popular 1980s duo Tat Ming Pair - is combining contemporary electronica with classical music for a four-night concert series called Bauhinian Rhapsody at the Hong Kong Coliseum next week.

'I think all music comes from classical,' says Wong, founder of production house People Mountain People Sea. 'We want to bring the old world and advanced technology together.'

The concerts have been organised with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra (HKPO), and will feature Simon Kenway (co-musical director of Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge) as conductor and People Mountain People Sea composer-producer Gaybird Leung Kei-cheuk as musical director.

Unlike the HKPO's annual Canto-pop concerts, which have featured the likes of Sandy Lam Yik-lin, Jacky Cheung Hok-yau, Alan Tam Wing-lun and Hacken Lee Hak-kan, this production isn't simply an 80-member orchestra playing pop tunes. It's an integration of orchestral music and electronic sound effects. 'I can't say that no one has done this before, but it hasn't been tried in Hong Kong,' says Wong. 'It's quite difficult.'

One unique feature of the shows is that every performer, including the conductor, will have to follow computer-generated signals. 'This is quite an ambitious project,' Wong says. 'Unlike the previous collaborations between the HKPO and pop artists, we're using a lot of computer programming. We weren't sure if it was going to work, but a trial in January proved that it did.'

As well as playing his own music, Wong will cover numbers by veteran Canto-pop composer Joseph Koo Ka-fai.

He will also perform pop numbers inspired by classical music and James Bond sound-tracks - the inspiration for trip-hop acts such as Portishead, Massive Attack and Tricky.

'For example, one of the songs, Forbidden Colour, was influenced by the French classical composer Eric Satie,' says the 43-year-old Wong. His new single, Venice, features a melody based on a piece by Italian composer Tomaso Albinoni (1671-1750).

Wong's first experience of classical music was a disco version of Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No1 when he was at school. 'It was very popular to remix a classical piece into a disco version at that time,' he says. 'Then I searched for the original version and realised that classical music was beautiful.'

His enthusiasm for electronic music led him to explore the roots of the genre. He found records such as Wendy Carlos' Switched-on Bach (1968) - the first record using synthesisers to play classical music - and Japanese new-age composer Isao Tomita.

Kenway says Wong has a 'powerful vocal presence and his music is very strong. He has a great sense of theatre and style. It will be a challenge because it requires great precision to meld the pre-programmed electronic elements with the freer non-synthetic orchestral sound.'

Wong says his main influence has always been European electronic and minimalist music. With the help of musicians such as Leung, Veronica Lee Duen-han, Jason Choi Tak-choy and Arion, he's been exploring ways to combine classical and electronic for many years.

'This is a project that must happen between me and People Mountain People Sea, and is the perfect venture for us,' he says. 'In the past, we used synthesisers to replicate the orchestral sound, but this time we have a real orchestra.

'We hope this will be our most dazzling work.'

HKPO vs Anthony Wong Live - Bauhinian Rhapsody, Mar 9-12, 8.15pm, Hong Kong Coliseum, 9 Cheong Wan Rd, Hunghom, $100-$400, Urbtix. Inquiries: 2734 9009