Arts preview: 'Mai' ends with French composers

Sam Olluver

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 June, 2013, 10:19pm

Hong Kong Sinfonietta


Le French May is a bit of a misnomer for the annual arts festival, as it kicks off in April with a rolling carpet of events that officially reach their conclusion on June 23. But the festival's finale concert takes place a day earlier, when the Hong Kong Sinfonietta, conducted by its music director Yip Wing-sie, performs a programme of music by French composers.

If it seems strange to include Shanghai-born Chen Qigang among their number, then it should be explained that he was one of many mainland musicians caught up in the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution, subsequently catching up on lost time in a remarkable burst of creativity after the fall of the Gang of Four in 1976.

While fellow composers such as Tan Dun and Bright Sheng moved to America to make their names, Chen emigrated to Paris in 1984 and became a French citizen in 1992.

Since then, he has received numerous accolades: he was invited to be the music director for the opening ceremony of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, and was the last pupil of Olivier Messiaen, the doyen of 20th-century French composers.

Such associations with colour and quality replay in the popular work that opens the programme: Wu Xing (The Five Elements) is an engaging suite scored for a large orchestra with a battery of percussion instruments to portray Chen's aural landscape of water, wood, fire, earth and metal.

Belgian violinist Yossif Ivanov is the featured soloist for the evening. The 26-year-old has been picking up prizes at international competitions since his early teens and already has several recordings of French music to his credit. He'll be performing on a Stradivarius violin called The Lady Tennant, dating from 1699, which was loaned to him in 2009 in recognition of his talent.

Ivanov will play Ravel's Tzigane, a rhapsodic showpiece that reflects the Hungarian roots of the violinist Jelly d'Arányi, who commissioned the work. Exuding gypsy flavours, the piece was originally written for accompaniment by the luthéal, a now defunct piano attachment that could produce sounds akin to the cimbalom, Hungary's zither-like folk instrument.

Ivanov will be backed by Ravel's own orchestrated version of the accompaniment for the performance.

The violinist will also be playing Chausson's Poème, which is described by the composer as "different from anything that has appeared before". It's a demanding work for a soloist.

Yip is looking forward to accompanying Ivanov in this repertoire. "Yossif plays with great sensitivity," she says.

"He has a superb technique and produces a very refined tone, something which is highly suitable for these two works," says Yip.


Hong Kong City Hall Concert Hall, June 22, 8pm, HK$140, HK$220 and HK$340. Inquiries: 2836 3336