Hong Kong-trained conductor scores major international achievement

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 June, 2014, 11:48am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 July, 2014, 2:53am

A Hong Kong-trained conductor has scored another major triumph on the international scene after clinching a top orchestra engagement.

Lio Kuok-man, appointed in April as assistant conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, won the second prize and the audience prize at the Third Evgeny Svetlanov International Conducting Competition in France on Saturday.

It was virtually the top prize as the first prize was unclaimed.

His victory, which came with €10,000 (HK$105,800) and conducting opportunities, makes him the first Hong Kong conductor to claim a top prize in France since Yip Wing-sie, now Hong Kong Sinfonietta music director, won at Besancon in 1985.

Watch: Lio Kuok-man's performance at the competition

"I was a little nervous, especially when [Philadelphia Orchestra music director] Yannick [Nezet-Seguin] congratulated and wished me good luck on Facebook just before the final round," Lio, 32, said from Paris.

The Macau-born conductor was one of 510 entrants to the competition, which has been held every four years since 2007 in honour of the late Russian maestro Evgeny Svetlanov, who died in 2002.

In the final rounds that began on Wednesday, Lio was one of 18 shortlisted candidates to conduct the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France. Eight made it to the semi-final and four to the final.

"Honestly, I don't know what I'd get from the award aside from a certificate and a bottle of red wine," he said. "What attracted me was the opportunity to conduct a superb orchestra and work with the world-class maestro.

"This is the first time I conducted a French orchestra. I did Beethoven's Egmont Overture in the first round, Brahms' First Symphony in the semi-final and Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony in the final, plus a new work that I had only an hour to learn before the performance. The players were very responsive to my lead."

Both the orchestra and its music director, Chung Myung-Whun, voted for Lio to conduct its season-opening concert in September.

"This prize has confirmed my childhood wish of becoming a conductor, like my mother said to me on the phone, 'Congratulations for a dream come true that you had when you were just five'," he said.

Lio will return to Hong Kong in October to conduct Heart of Coral, a chamber opera, and the famous Puccini opera Turandot in December.

"The October performance is actually the pre-tour show for the 2014 Hong Kong Week in Taiwan. I am very honoured to conduct this 100 per cent made-in-Hong Kong production at its premiere last year and now to present it [elsewhere]," he said.