Stellar cast helps ease box-office pressure for festival organisers

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 February, 2008, 12:00am

Conductor Lorin Maazel of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, pianist Andras Schiff, jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman and choreographer Pina Bausch are some of the big names gracing this year's star-studded Hong Kong Arts Festival.

The city's annual celebration of the arts started last night with the Stuttgart Ballet's Swan Lake at the Cultural Centre, while the National Theatre of Great Britain's double bill Chatroom and Citizenship played at the Academy for Performing Arts.

The festival has to raise more than HK$40 million through private sponsorships, donations and ticket sales to break even, despite the government chipping in HK$15.73 million and the Jockey Club contributing a further HK$8 million. Its budget stands close to HK$70 million.

Festival executive director Tisa Ho said headlining a stellar cast of performers helped to ease box-office pressure but it was not a means to an end. 'I think stars have always been important for the festival and the box office is always important,' she said.

'But how to keep that going is not necessarily just by [having] star names. It's really about engaging our audience's imagination, keeping the festival exciting and fresh, and making it an event that people look forward to.'

According to festival organisers, more than 70 per cent of this year's performances are a full house while close to 94 per cent of tickets have been sold.

Ho said the challenges ahead were similar to those the festival faces now: 'There are only so many venues and dates and we do our best within those constraints.'

And will they be able to sustain the same level of star appeal that is evident in this year's programme lineup? Ho said: 'You'll have to wait for next year's announcement.'

Over the next four weeks more than 1,000 overseas artists and stage crews will descend on the city for close to 100 performances and events, including master classes, meet-the-artist sessions, youth programmes, a symposium on funding models and associated events.

Verdi's Rigoletto will be staged by the Teatro Regio di Parma, Vladimir Jurowski is to conduct the London Philharmonic Orchestra, pianist Joanna MacGregor will give a one-off recital and Peter Brook is to direct Fragments, a theatre piece based on Samuel Beckett's writings.

Among local talent, director Tang Shu-wing will be tackling Shakespeare's tragedy Titus Andronicus, and Pius Cheung is presenting a marimba recital.

The festival's marketing department said some shows were sold out within weeks after the box office opened in October, including Japanese keyboard player Hiromi Uehara and her band Sonicbloom's Time Control, and Hommage a Bela Bartok by the Hungarian State Folk Ensemble. All of these programmes now have an extra performance. But Ho said there were tickets left for some of 90 paid performances. 'Everybody thinks that all tickets are sold out, that is not true,' she said. So don't give up on the festival even if you haven't got a ticket yet. Keep trying.'

The festival runs until March 16.