Music Beyond Borders, an annual event that brings to Hong Kong a range of artists and rarely heard music from around the world, is now celebrating its 10th anniversary. And the person we have to thank for the series is RTHK producer/presenter Stacey Rodda, a New Yorker who seems to have been destined to bring her international approach to Hong Kong.
"I credit my grandmother's sister and also a huge globe I was given by my parents," she says.
"My great aunt was a women's fashion buyer for a major department store in New York City and travelled the world for business. She was stylish, confident and very much a free spirit who embraced the exotic and used to bring back beautiful things from Spain, India, the Middle East, Hong Kong… Her flat was like a museum and each piece had its own story. I would sit listening to her absolutely entranced and wanted to see these places for myself.
"I have now lived in four countries and have visited four times as many. After leaving New York, I found myself in Spain helping out with a family business - an on-location film production company. After that it was off to London and the BBC World Service, where my radio career began," she says.
Several years later while freelancing at Classic FM in London she heard of an opening for a presenter at Radio 4, the classical music and fine arts station at RTHK. The city may have been far away at the time, but it's been close to her heart for some time. "My great aunt's stories about Hong Kong remain with me to this day. I had read James Clavell's Noble House - I also once worked on a radio version of the novel - and had developed a taste for Peking duck too. I also remember when I was about eight I used to pull apart the little paper parasols that decorated the exotic mocktails my parents let me drink, to find bits of Chinese newspapers. I used to try to piece them together like puzzles to find hidden messages. I feel as though the Far East had been beckoning for years," she says.
"As Hong Kong is a 'world city' and encouraging cultural exchange is a part of what Radio 4 does, I created the Music Beyond Borders project to bring in unexplored and relatively unknown music and artists from abroad, predominantly world and jazz artists, through collaborations with different consulates. The talent has ranged from classical pianists to jazz, world, folk and funk artists."
One person who taught her about the unifying power of music was Riccardo Muti, the Chicago Symphony maestro who will be performing at the 2013 Hong Kong Arts Festival. "He once said, 'Music is the only art that can bring people together, that can help people communicate even if they speak different languages or have different religions.' I couldn't agree with him more," Rodda says.
"As a result of my penchant for different cultures, I always wanted to share what I had experienced with others and looked for an opportunity to do that through my work as a radio producer-presenter. The first such opportunity came in late 2003, when a live piano recital at RTHK's Studio One dedicated to Iberian culture was discussed over lunch at the China Tee Club. The show went ahead and its success allowed me to turn a single concert into an entire project of what is now Music Beyond Borders," she recalls.
Rodda says she is grateful for the support of the many consulates and cultural institutions which have helped her introduce new artists to Hong Kong.
"We're celebrating 10 years now and this year's concerts are being held as part of the New Vision Arts Festival. We're featuring Edison award-winning Dutch saxophonist Yuri Honing, who recorded his own version of Schubert's famous song cycle Winterreise. His trio played for us in 2006 and this time he's coming with his electric band, Wired Paradise. They'll be playing music inspired by Indian author Aravind Adiga's Booker Prize-winning novel, The White Tiger.
"We also welcome back Georg Gratzer and Beefolk from Austria, who played in the project in 2004. They'll bring us Asian-inspired sounds and music influenced by Arabian elements and high-energy Balkan rhythms. And to mark the start of another 10 years of Music Beyond Borders will be the Claude Diallo Situation from Switzerland," she says with excitement.
These Montreux Jazz Festival veterans, she adds, will premiere some new Asian-influenced compositions and are taking part in the project for the first time.
It will be an open-air music session right next to Victoria Harbour, two days in a row. While the hopefully fine weather and sunshine will be free, so is the admission. "I've been in Hong Kong 11 years, but I'll always regret leaving London only a few weeks after they closed Kai Tak. I never experienced flying through buildings."
Rodda lives in Happy Valley in a bright, boutique hotel-like flat which has everything (including two cats) but no noticeable stereo system, not even a single CD.
"I work creating music programmes for hours and hours every day, which I enjoy tremendously. I'm listening to music a lot of that time so I don't necessarily take it home with me. I do own a lot of CDs and LPs, but they are in storage in some of the places I've lived - New York, England, Spain. Much of my life is in those boxes."
Music Beyond Borders, Sat-Sun, 2.30pm-6pm, Hong Kong Cultural Centre, Piazza C, free. For more details, go to rthk.hk/musicbeyondborders