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HK Magazine Archive

Daniel Lo Ting-cheung Takes His Notes from Nature

The composer will debut his new piece “Efflorescence” at the Hong Kong Sinfonietta’s season opening concert.

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 April, 2016, 4:59pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 October, 2016, 5:03pm

You call your new piece a “quasi-concerto for orchestra.” How does that work? I wanted to play on a few of the characteristics of the traditional concerto, so I put in the word “quasi” to avoid the expectations of a full range of features commonly associated with this musical form. A concerto is usually a piece of music for one or more solo instruments accompanied by the full orchestra. But since the 20th century, there have been composers who have worked with apparently contradictorily-titled “concertos for orchestras.” In my case, I wanted to emphasize the soloistic, virtuosic treatment of various individual instruments or sections in the orchestra. That’s why I chose this title. When I first knew that I had to write a piece for the Hong Kong Sinfonietta’s season opening, I wanted to write a piece that was festive, vibrant and energetic, and then I came up with the idea of doing a concerto for orchestra to emphasize the different characteristics of different players.

A lot of your pieces tend to be themed around nature. What appeals to you about nature and the seasons? One of my recent compositional interests is focused on the generation of music as an interactive process, including different kinds of spontaneity within the performers, or even audience involvement. This resembles the systems of nature, which actually include a lot of spontaneity. Back in the classical period, a lot of composers wrote pieces about nature, but the way they were doing it was often trying to mimic or reproduce the atmosphere of nature, a lot like classical paintings. But to me, the most interesting thing about nature is its spontaneity.

Are there many opportunities for new Hong Kong composers in the city or do you have to go overseas? In Hong Kong, honestly, there aren’t so many opportunities. But it’s the same case all over the world. As a composer, you have to travel all over. But the good thing is, nowadays, there are a lot of different festivals and competitions that you can participate in. To me, the most important part of being a composer is that the compositions are being performed. In Hong Kong, there’s only the Hong Kong Sinfionetta, or perhaps the New Music Ensemble, who commission work from new composers. It’s not easy. So I guess the good way is just to fly around the world and get different opportunities from all over.

That doesn’t sound so bad. What’s your favorite city, musically? I would say Berlin. I’ve been to Berlin four times now, and each time I stay for about two weeks. There’s a contemporary music festival in Berlin in March every year, and it’s one of the most prestigious contemporary music festivals in the world. The good thing about Berlin is that the living standard is not very high, so it’s cheaper than London or New York.

You’ve composed for soloists, chamber orchestras and larger orchestras. Do you have a preference? I like big sounds, so I love composing for orchestras and large ensembles. I’m interested in doing performances combining mixed media and vocal music, so the next thing I would like to do is a chamber opera, or a voice ensemble. More recently, I have watched a lot of contemporary operas and I’m very interested in that. So that would be my next thing, I guess.

How does the process of creation vary? I think it’s quite different. I like collaborating with different artists. I just did a performance at the Cattle Depot Artist Village, and it’s a site-specific performance for amplified string quartet, field recordings and interactive speakers. The audience can move around the space and the speakers can interact with the movement of the audience as well as the musicians. In this generation, you can’t really only do acoustic music.