Arts Festival kicks off with wave of star Dutch conductor's baton

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 February, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 February, 2009, 12:00am

The Arts Festival opened as 80-year-old Dutch conductor Bernard Haitink waved his baton at the Cultural Centre last night and gave his first performance with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in the city.

'This combination is the first ever,' said the festival's marketing director, Katy Cheng Seung-wing, referring to Haitink and the top-notch orchestra.

The orchestra's last performance in the city was 20 years ago, at the Hong Kong Coliseum, when it charmed the audience with Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture.

Tickets for its two performances yesterday and today were sold out before the festival commenced.

Sixty-five out of the total 121 performances were already sold out on the opening day, Ms Cheng said. Some 90,000 tickets generating revenue of HK$34 million had been sold - 7,000 more tickets than at the same time last year.

'Our marketing strategy is just about right this year, since the promotion activities took place before people had actually felt the impacts of the financial turmoil,' she said.

In addition to the original pool of fans, she said the festival attracted more people through the internet with promotions launched this year.

Charles Lee Yeh-kwong, chairman of the Arts Festival, officiated at the opening ceremony.

He said new venues in the New Territories, and other places that had not been used for public performances before, would allow the event to reach more people.

He cited a cello performance on the 55th floor of the International Financial Centre in Central as an example.

He said the festival could sell as many as 113,000 tickets this year.

Two other performances took place yesterday. They were of the George Bernard Shaw classic Pygmalion - an exclusive Asian premiere - and a modern play by Tim Crouch, one of Britain's most thought-provoking writers.

A programme of interest today is a performance by the National Ballet of China, featuring a romantic Chinese story titled The Peony Pavilion.

The South China Morning Post is a media sponsor of the festival.