When the Hong Kong Sinfonietta took its final curtain call of the season last week, the orchestra had completed a run of more than 60 performances over the past 12 months. And with its sporty banner - Believing Music Can - its 2008-09 programme seems flushed with optimism, as well it might be with audience figures for last season's concerts showing an average attendance rate of 92.7 per cent. 'It's been quite encouraging,' says Margaret Yang, the orchestra's chief executive. Yang, however, has to deal with the draining difficulties that beset its development. The ink was barely dry on the draft of next season's brochure when a soloist cancelled, prompting a frantic search for a replacement. But that was just a storm in a teacup compared with the ongoing challenges to the orchestra's financial and operational infrastructure. Just finding a venue is a continuing headache: like the city's other key music and performing arts groups, the orchestra has no place to call home. 'Like many other performing groups, we want a home for the orchestra, a proper place to rehearse and - better still - to rehearse in the venue that we're going to perform in,' says Yip Wing-sie, the Hong Kong Sinfonietta's conductor and music director. 'Our players would like a place where they can store their belongings, have a place to eat between rehearsals and some studios in which to practise.' A partial solution to this problem is the Venue Partnership Scheme (VPS), a proposal from the Home Affairs Bureau that gives arts outfits a pecking order in reserving venues. '[But] the VPS is not really a partnership,' says Yang. 'It's just a glorified booking system. It's not a residency.' 'We have a feeling that Home Affairs really wants to carry out this scheme,' says Yip. 'But the people who are actually doing it are in the Leisure & Cultural Services Department, so they're the ones who have been a little bit reluctant to get on with it. There are conflicts because that department is also presenting its own programmes.' The orchestra's government funding source recently changed from the Hong Kong Arts Development Council to Home Affairs, which meant it lost its subsidies for booking venues. The government offered to plug the gap, but based its calculations on the orchestra's activity record for 2004. 'In 2007 we were booking more venues than in 2004, yet the encashment was 2004 money,' says Yang. 'That's one of the reasons we thought that if it is going to continue, we can't go on tour next year.' Both women acknowledge the government's attempts to provide additional funding via grants for inflation, growth and cultural exchange, generating a total disbursement of HK$17.5 million for next season. Yang says it might have been a different story if these funds had been forthcoming in 2003, a year after Yip's appointment. 'Whether it's enough for us now to do what we want to do is another question,' Yip says. Apart from taking no overseas engagements and accepting more pit work for opera and ballet, next season's format remains the same as last season's, with concerts arranged under the headings of Appreciate, Learn and Relax. There's little sense in making radical changes since, as attendance figures show, it's a formula that has served the orchestra well. The Artist Associate scheme also continues, with Hong Kong composer Samson Young coming on board to write three new works for the orchestra, the first scheduled for the season's opening concert on April 19. Entitled Afterglow, the piece combines orchestral and electronic sounds, continuing the Hong Kong Sinfonietta's mission to present audiences with new experiences. 'People in drama and dance have gone much further and faster in the contemporary scene than musicians in terms of experimental work and fusing different performance genres,' says Yip. It's not just modern pieces Yip wants to nurture; full-blown romantic works call for larger string forces than the orchestra has at its disposal but she's undeterred. 'I'm trying to build up the repertoire, mainly from the later part of the Romantic era and also in the 20th century - the kind of repertoire that our orchestra doesn't play that often,' she says. Programming Rachmaninov's Symphony No2, all four piano concertos and the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini in just three concerts shows she means business. Two hits return from last year. McDull, the cartoon pig, makes an appearance in the orchestra's McDull Project 3, having generated sales of more than 12,000 tickets last season. There are also more performances of Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf as a live accompaniment to Suzie Templeton's stop-frame animation film of the same name. 'Last time we had only three shows and the number of people who saw [the film] was under 4,000,' says Yip. 'We're doing it in the hope that more adults will come and see it, partly because of the Oscar it's recently won and partly because it's not entirely for children.' Easy-listening programmes include a show built on hit TV music, following last year's Know Your Favourite Orchestral Tunes, a CD of which went on sale last week. Yip's aspiration for the year ahead is to work more regularly with her players and to steer the Hong Kong Sinfonietta towards being a full-time orchestra. She wants to generate more public appreciation of the contribution the orchestra has made to the city. 'I look forward to people coming to a realisation of what we have been doing for so long and how it's leading to the development of Hong Kong. Every time we talk to somebody and they ask us a question they asked eight years ago, I feel so frustrated.' One sentence on the front page of next season's brochure catches the eye: 'I believe music can make the impossible possible,' it proclaims. Determined management-speak, or shallow marketing hype? Time will tell.