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Classical music

Hong Kong musicians win big at harmonica ‘Olympics’ in Germany, sweeping first prize in six of 15 categories

Three-quarters of the 130 participants from the city are students, with many paying their own way to attend the meet

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 November, 2017, 8:31pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 November, 2017, 10:22am

Hong Kong emerged as the top winner at the recent “Olympics” for the harmonica, with the city’s musicians sweeping 20 awards, including the first prize in six categories.

Some 130 harmonica players from Hong Kong took part in the Eighth World Harmonica Festival, which ended on Sunday, and featured 15 solo and ensemble competition categories.

Three-quarters of them are students, from primary and secondary schools or tertiary institutions.

Many paid their own way to attend the meet, held once every four years in Trossingen, the German town where the first harmonica was produced in the 19th century.

Dr Ho Pak-cheong, a Hongkonger and jury member at the competition, said Hong Kong harmonica players had always been active in the competition, but “it’s unprecedented this time in terms of number of participants and awards won.”

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“This year, we got a record number of participants who basically paid their own way [to come to Germany], including some of them with their parents,” said the orthopaedic surgeon, who was a winner in the 1997 competition. He added that only seven musicians represented the city 20 years ago.

Three groups from Ho’s alma mater, King’s College Harmonica Band, took the top three prizes in the youth category.

The only all-girl ensemble in the competition, from Hotung Secondary School, made history by taking the top place in the orchestra and free style categories.

“I think it’s the first time in the history of the harmonica competition for an all-girl band of some 30 members to win a top prize,” Ho said.

“Their sound was more ‘delicate’ compared to the all-male groups … in fact male performers, especially soloists, tend to play tunes that sound louder and ‘fuller’,” he added.

Ho, whose son C.Y. Leo is an internationally-known harmonica player, said the most inspirational outcome of this year’s contest was that three of the first-prize winners from Hong Kong were aged below 16, which meant they had great potential to further develop their skills.

He urged older harmonica players to be role models for younger musicians, saying that school alumni from Hotung and King’s had “put in a lot of effort” during rehearsals and performances in the run-up to the competition in Germany.

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Johnny Kuan, chairman of the Hong Kong Harmonica Association, added that works by two Hong Kong composers, Hui Cheung-wai and Charles Kwong, were performed at the festival.

“The reception was very good, including a standing ovation in a performance with master Yasuo Watani [one of the world’s leading harmonica players] as soloist,” he said.

Asked if the city’s harmonica players should consider a performance of the national anthem, March of the Volunteers, Ho said he would be keen to organise it.

But, he added, given recent discussions on how the national anthem law might be enforced in Hong Kong, he would have to first check on the “technicalities” involved in the performance.