Ahead of the launch of its 2013/14 season this Friday, the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra has announced its new concertmaster, Jing Wang, a 28-year old Canadian-Chinese, to succeed incumbent concertmaster Igor Yuzefovich, whose 18-month contract will come to an end this summer.
Currently the concertmaster of the Dallas Opera, a position he took in 2010, Wang will lead Hong Kong's flagship orchestra for 32 weeks starting this September.
Though Wang has never played with the HK Phil, nor did he go through a worldwide recruitment or audition process, his appointment is deemed to be the most appropriate, not least by the man who handpicked him, the orchestra's music director Jaap van Zweden.
"I would like to thank Igor for all his good work with the HK Phil. Knowing Jing Wang's playing in Dallas, I know he will be the perfect fit for the HK Phil," says Van Zweden, concurrently musical chief of Dallas Symphony.
Born in Guilin, Guangxi province, Wang moved to Quebec with his family at a young age, according to the orchestra. He started playing the violin at three years old and made his first public appearance aged six in Marseilles, France, and his concerto debut aged nine with the Quebec Symphony Orchestra.
A frequent prize-winner, including first prize at the Irving M. Klein International String Competition in 2007, Wang, like Van Zweden, attended the prestigious Juilliard School in New York.
Michael MacLeod, the orchestra's chief executive, says the direct appointment of a concertmaster without audition or involvement of orchestra members is within the rights of the music director and is common in Europe and America.
"In many contracts - and I have experienced it - it says the concertmaster is appointed at the sole discretion of the music director. The reason for this is the chemistry between the concertmaster and the music director, which is profoundly important," MacLeod says.
MacLeod toured with Wang and the Dallas Symphony in Europe last month and describes him as a "charming" and "intelligent" individual.
"Jaap knows Wang's playing and whenever the Dallas Symphony needs extra violinists, he'll go to the Dallas Opera concertmaster," he says.
Wang isn't a total stranger to the HK Phil. Andrew Ling, principal of the viola section, was his chamber concert partner at the Rice University and was excited about the reunion.
"We played together for a year and his violin playing is superb," Ling says. "One may find him showy, but his technique is rock solid and [also] flexible - a fun guy to work with."
"When he learned I was returning to Hong Kong, he said he would like to join me one day, and we laughed over that. But now his wish has come true," adds the violist.
Artistic merit aside, some believe it is advantageous for the orchestra to have a concertmaster who is an ethnic Chinese.
Michael Ma, HK Phil's concertmaster in 1992 and now head of strings at the Hong Kong Academy for the Performing Arts, says it is a right move to appoint a Chinese concertmaster to lead the violin sections, which are predominantly Chinese.
Music critic Chow Fan Fu, however, points out that the ensemble has a very complicated mix of players and wonders if the young Wang has had the experience to lead it.
"But having an ethnic Chinese concertmaster will be positive for wooing the affluent mainland corporate sponsors.
"This is something Igor could not perform and he clearly is a transitional figure during the change of music directors," he says.
Yuzefovich says in the past 18 months, he has had "a fantastic time playing with HK Phil".
"It's an orchestra made up of truly wonderful musicians who have a great attitude about what they do. I wish them nothing but greater success on the international stage," he says.
The Russian-American adds that it is his decision to return to the Baltimore Symphony orchestra, as the sabbatical period he is allowed to have will expire this summer. The Monumental Piano Trio, which he founded in 2004, has been waiting for his return.
"I will miss making music with my wonderful colleagues here, so [leaving is] a mixed bag, but I am taking back only positive memories of my work in Hong Kong," he says.
The orchestra member that will miss him most is Kaori Wilson, assistant principal viola, whose son, Kenzo, suffered from leukaemia and was a beneficiary of a fund-raising concert co-organised by Yuzefovich.
"I am very saddened by Igor's leaving. He is a good man and a good leader. I am, and will be, grateful to him for the rest of my life," she says.