The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra will come under the baton of a Hong Kong conductor for the first time in its 130-year history.
Jaap van Zweden, music director of the Hong Kong Philharmonic, will visit Berlin by invitation next week to conduct three concerts in place of Amsterdam Concertgebouw chief conductor Mariss Jansons, who has taken ill. The Dutch maestro will conduct a fourth concert in Amsterdam.
The trip comes as the city's flagship orchestra celebrates its 40th anniversary.
"That will be my debut with that legendary orchestra and I am particularly pleased that I will take the Berlin orchestra to Amsterdam, my hometown, for the fourth concert," Van Zweden said at the launch of the Phil's 2013-14 season, his second as its music director.
Van Zweden's concerts with arguably the world's best orchestra will be the first by a Hong Kong conductor.
He said the Hong Kong orchestra's standards had risen to very close to those of others he had conducted recently, including the Philadelphia Orchestra and the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington last week. He compared training the local orchestra to a 100-metre sprint, and said: "The first 95 metres are not difficult; it's the last five that are really tough and you need to give me two more years to do it."
Michael MacLeod, the Phil's chief executive, said the anniversary season would mark "the rebirth of our touring", taking the orchestra to Beijing, Shanghai and other cities next March, and to South America and Europe in the next few years.
Another highlight is the debut of former New York Philharmonic maestro Lorin Maazel with the Phil. Jockey Club funds would cover a significant part of the fees to engage the veteran conductor for a two-week programme that included debuting his own arrangement of Wagner's The Ring Without Words and Britten's War Requiem, MacLeod said.
The anniversary concert, slated for January, will feature the same programme that ushered in the Phil's professional era 40 years ago at the City Hall.
Jing Wang, the concertmaster-designate, will showcase his skills in Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante and Schumann chamber works. "We took the risk of appointing him, but this man is really dedicated to his work, so I am confident he will do really well, and I am happy he is Chinese," Van Sweden said.
Except for the change of concertmaster and retirement of oboist Michael Campbell after three decades of service, the new season will feature zero turnover in the player roster, a record in the Phil's history.
"This shows the stability of the orchestra, which is important for us to play together under our inspiring conductor," timpanist and chairman of the artistic committee James Boznos said.