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Classical music

Hong Kong musicians to reflect on colonialism with showcase at Iceland festival

Ten artists and associates of the Hong Kong New Music Ensemble will make their debut at the Cycle Music and Art Festival

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 September, 2017, 8:03pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 September, 2017, 11:15pm

Some of Hong Kong’s top classical music artists are entering the world of contemporary art to reflect on colonialism at a festival in Iceland ahead of the centenary of the end of rule by Denmark.

Ten artists and associates of the Hong Kong New Music Ensemble will make their debut at the Cycle Music and Art Festival this week with three works by Hong Kong composers performed back to back with a German group.

“There are many different artistic voices in a city like Hong Kong, so it’s an eclectic programme of works we want to showcase there,” William Lane, who founded the ensemble in 2008, said.

“We are like the festival’s Hong Kong edition during a week of residence there and will undertake programme building leading up to a concert on September 23, as well as long-term cultural exchange.”

The Icelandic debut for the ensemble follows a visit by four artists from Iceland to Hong Kong last April that spearheaded collaboration for the Cycle festival under a theme of reflections on colonialism in the run-up to the 100th anniversary of the end of Danish control over the island.

“I did my work based on interviews with pianist Tinna Thorsteinsdottir, and with her rehearsal footage I composed Doublé,” said local composer Alex Yiu, discussing his contribution to the event.

“As the baroque title suggests, the first part of the work is biographical on the pianist, but it changes in the second part, in which I have selected footage of major social events in Hong Kong – from the 1967 riots to the recent jailings of student leaders – to go with the music played by the ensemble.”

Yiu was referring to leftist anti-establishment unrest in Hong Kong in 1967 that left 51 people dead, as well as the sentencing last month of three former local student activists over a protest in 2014 in the run-up to the Occupy pro-democracy sit-ins that shut down large parts of the city.

Yiu said the video-music format had been inspired by Occupy, which he had only watched from afar as a student at Goldsmiths, University of London, in England.

“While part of the video depicts a series of political events from Hong Kong, the work itself is an experiment in seeking unlikely connections between seemingly unrelated elements,” he said.

Meanwhile composer and flautist Angus Lee, the musician responsible for the sounds behind visual artist Kingsley Ng’s Moon.gate installation, which has been critically acclaimed in Hong Kong and Taiwan and will now be brought to Iceland, said his “explosive” music complemented Ng’s “contemplative” narrative. But he said it had no political intent despite how listeners may interpret it.

“It’s open to interpretation. The work is more about providing space for reflection and thinking,” he said.

Lane said the festival’s colony theme was not “from a subversive point of view but about history and discussion to make connections and find different responses to that reality”.

On another video-music partnership, Orviilot – by Hague-based Hong Kong musician Lam Lai and Icelandic video artist Sigurour Guojonsson – Lane saw a dialogue between the Chinese diaspora and the city’s composers.

“It is a refreshing reality that many artists like Lam, while part of a diasporic Hong Kong ‘colony’ overseas, contribute to this city through their regular return trips to the city and international artistic connections,” he said.