Handover feast

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 June, 2007, 12:00am

While the rest of the city works itself into a lather for the 10th anniversary of the handover, RTHK Radio 4 plans to be a little more sedate with its celebrations.

But celebrate it will. Even though Radio 4 head Amy Kwong Sze-yin says it's going to be 'business as usual' in the lead-up to the anniversary, she and her team are using the occasion as an opportunity to embark on a few special projects.

Top of the list - and in keeping with what Kwong sees as an important responsibility for the classical music channel - will be the release of a CD and the airing of a series of programmes celebrating the achievements of Hong Kong musicians and composers during the past decade.

'There are many dedicated musicians here who have achieved a great deal internationally in the past 10 years,' says Kwong. 'They haven't all received media attention, so we see it as our mission to promote them.'

Typical of this hidden talent is award-winning pianist Colleen Lee Ka-ling. In 2005, Lee made history when she became the first Hong Kong musician to reach the finals of the Chopin International Piano Competition. She finished sixth.

Lee is just one of an impressive line-up of musicians featured on the CD, entitled Gifted. Others include the King's Harmonica Quintet, Eric Fung King-hei, the Diocesan Boys School Choir, and prodigies Vanessa Wong Wai-yin, Rachel Cheung Wai-ching and Aristo Sham Ching-tao.

Gifted will be given out free to Radio 4 listeners, overseas radio stations and local schools. Tied in with its release is the airing of an eight-part radio series charting the careers of these musicians.

The Gifted series is just one of the projects RTHK is undertaking to raise the profiles of local musicians and composers. Another is the New Generation concert series, held in collaboration with the Hong Kong Composers' Guild. Local composers are invited to submit their works, and the best will be performed by a professional ensemble, the Fresh Air Brass Quintet.

The New Generation series focuses on youth, and Kwong says that providing a platform for young artists and young listeners to connect should be a major commitment for Radio 4. (According to a recent survey, one in five of the channel's listeners is aged 15 to 24.)

'Classical music has become more popular here over the years,' she says. ' But there are still not many opportunities for young, emerging artists to present their work. We feel it's part of our responsibility as a public broadcaster to do something about that.'

The second part of the New Generation concert series will be broadcast on June 21.

Also in the pipeline at Radio 4 is a new series entitled Musical Celebrations, to be presented by composer Chan Wing-wah. The four-part programme will present an overview of festive music

written by Chinese composers

from the 1930s to the present day. In particular, it will explore the tradition of using special music to mark important events. Faced with growing globalisation and the evolution of a homogenous international culture, Radio 4 regards this as a valuable project. 'Living in a modern society, we're increasingly less sensitive to traditional festivals,' says Kwong.

'We're becoming more international in our tastes and lifestyles - and that includes our festive activities. Now, because of overt commercialisation, we tend to celebrate Christmas and Easter more than the Mid-Autumn and Dragon Boat festivals.'

The impact of modern, inter-national lifestyles has certainly affected the heritage of festive folk music, which was once an integral part of life in Chinese villages. Folk music that villagers once played for harvests, weddings or religious ceremonies is disappearing quickly, Chan says. Some of it is now

being preserved in concert hall performances, but Chan says that the music is less authentic once it's taken out of its original context. Some Chinese festival music has been modified to suit the tastes of western audiences.

'A good example is Tan Dun's interpretation of traditional folk melodies that are gaining popularity in New York,' Chan says.

One of the composers featured in Chan's series is Jiang Wen-je, who was born in Taiwan, raised in China and educated in Japan. Jiang was selected not only because of his outstanding talent and the fact that he won a silver award at the 1936 Berlin Olympics composition contest (possibly the first Chinese to win an international award for a musical composition), but also because he fell foul of politics. Chan says Jiang's best work is confined to the early stages of his career because his later years were marred by persecution under the Cultural Revolution.

Other composers to be featured are Chen Yi, who was a classmate of Tan Dun in Beijing, and a younger group of Hongkongers, including Cheung Pui-shan and Law Wai-lun.

Kwong describes the programme as 'Chinese history in a nutshell', and admits it hasn't been easy to find much of this kind of music written by Hong Kong composers.