THE Hong Kong Philharmonic is expected to announce the appointment of a new musical director this week in a decision that has stirred discord in its ranks. Hong Kong-born Dr Samuel Wong is tipped to take over from David Atherton at the end of the 1999-2000 season, according to sources within the orchestra. Dr Wong, 37, currently heads the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra. His appointment is understood to have been agreed after lengthy and sometimes hot debate behind boardroom doors. Leadership of the Philharmonic - one of the SAR's most heavily subsidised arts organisation, which will receive $92 million in government grants next season - is widely regarded as pivotal to Hong Kong's arts scene. Other candidates were the director of the China National Symphony Orchestra, Chen Zuohuang, and Malaysian Jahja Ling, resident conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra. Dr Wong left Hong Kong at the age of nine when his parents emigrated to Canada. He studied at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto before qualifying as an eye surgeon, and conducted orchestras in his spare time. His medical career was put on hold in 1990 when he was offered the job of assistant conductor at the New York Philharmonic. Dr Wong is also principal conductor of the Ann Arbor (Michigan) symphony orchestra, and has guest conducted throughout Europe, Asia and North America. He is known to favour a 'people's orchestra' approach, believing orchestras need to play a greater role in society, going into hospitals and schools to perform. Some musicians within the Philharmonic have expressed concern over such an approach. 'What does that mean? Does it mean shoddy performances in obscure places? Orchestra members should be consulted on the direction the Philharmonic takes. We don't know anything about what's going on,' said one. But the executive director of the Asian Youth Orchestra, Richard Pontzious, welcomed the news. 'If it is Dr Wong, he'll bring lots of excitement and a new sense of direction,' he said. 'There will be lots of physical, showy pieces audiences will enjoy very much.'