Review: Images of Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 March, 2014, 10:04am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 March, 2014, 10:04am

Images of Hong Kong
HK City Hall Theatre
Reviewed: March 21

This 80-minute collage of works by five young Hong Kong composers - Choi Sai-ho, Lam Lan-chee, Galison Lau, Joyce Tang and Ian Ng - was commissioned and produced by the Hong Kong Arts Festival. At its core was the poetry of Leung Ping-kwan, who died last year.

He wrote under the pen name Ya Si and left a cache of poems housing his considerable passion for Hong Kong. The composers' brief was to embrace the poet's detailed memories of the city by wrapping them variously in acoustic sound, electronica and video projections. Some chose the sentiments of a single poem for their new works; others chose up to five.

The overall impression was that of a confusion of clear ideas, compounded for non-Chinese speakers by the absence of English translations whenever projected or spoken words were used.

Video images appeared sporadically throughout the programme but were used consistently in all three works by Choi. In Love in the Time of Sars, the scenes were poignantly devoid of people but ill-served by the music's minimalist electronic hook. His Freezing Night, Tram Depot was a more convincing marriage between the fast-forward action of trams ploughing across the island and its simple, inventive and well-synchronised accompaniment.

Ng's An Occasional Fretful Stamping of Hooves for piano solo (Melody Chung) was the most successful piece of the evening, begging to be heard again, not least for its attractive contrapuntal features; but the simultaneous projection of water, rock and two graphic characters reminiscent of Gilbert and George in bowler hats seemed incongruous.

Tang's City of Transition and Lam's Footprint took inspiration from a total of nine poems and used identical instrumentation: the Romer String Quartet plus clarinet (Leung Chi-shing ), pipa (Cathy Wong) and sheng (Pang Hong-tai). It wasn't crystal clear, therefore, where among the nine movements one work stopped and the other started. Galison Lau's tango-influenced Se souvenir used the same resources, minus the pipa.

Tang's piece was the most satisfying of the three, with its sense of organic growth and well-defined character. Trams were again the focus, this time as static entities in the soulless setting of the repair depot, where music and images found themselves happily on the same track.

Sam Olluver