The Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra (HKPO) has had a stellar year and the upcoming 2009-10 season looks set to thrill audiences once again with world-renowned guest stars, and a varied programme of concerts, pre-concert talks and outreach programmes. A quarter of the orchestra's expenditure depends on sponsorship and donations, and through this support the orchestra is able to stage about 100 concerts a year, reaching an audience of almost 200,000. The 2008-09 season saw some marked successes, with Perry So Pak-hin appointed to the position of assistant conductor to further develop the education and outreach programmes for the orchestra. The young conductor's inaugural concert on May 15 was well received. The orchestra also made a successful tour of Guangzhou, Beijing and Shanghai in January this year. Last year, the orchestra became the venue partner for the Hong Kong Cultural Centre under the Leisure and Cultural Services Department's venue partnership scheme. The scheme helps with the orchestra's programming schedule, allowing for more concerts, pre-concert talks and exhibitions in the foyer, and more space for promotions, such as billboards on the external walls. Internationally acclaimed artists, such as cellist Yo-Yo Ma, pianist Yundi Li, and soprano Sumi Jo took the stage last season, delighting audiences. For the upcoming season, revered soprano Deborah Voigt will open 2009-10 on September 4 and 5, with adored Korean soprano Jo taking the stage on October 27. Violinist Sarah Chang, who made her New York debut at the age of eight and is still in her 20s, will play on April 16 and 17 next year. Next season will see a strong lineup of pianists, including Li and Boris Berezovsky, while the Beethoven programme in May will be a major highlight, with Great Performers' concerts featuring Beethoven running for six nights. With a packed schedule ahead, orchestra chairman Y.S. Liu said the next step was to further develop and expand the orchestra. 'Edo de Waart, who has been with the orchestra for five years, continues to do a tremendous job, and our China tour in January was a great success,' Mr Liu said. 'I have had many conversations with music professionals across Asia and they say we are the best orchestra in Asia. Our aim now is to further develop our reach and programme.' Mr Liu said that while the standard size of an orchestra was 96 players, the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra had 90. 'Especially for major works, such as [those] by [Gustav] Mahler and [Anton] Bruckner, we don't want to have to rely on others; we may expand to 103 players,' he said. The orchestra also plans to expand their travelling programme, to the mainland, the United States and Europe. 'Our plans to have more of an international presence mean that we have been thinking about how to position ourselves,' Mr Liu said. 'We want to be unique - we don't want to be compared to, for example, the Vienna Philharmonic. 'We plan to be smarter in our programming and show commitment to new works by Hong Kong and Chinese composers, perhaps also Japanese, Korean and other Asian composers too,' Mr Liu added. 'This is how we, the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, are different from European orchestras.' The orchestra also aims to do more recordings. 'We haven't done any recordings for six years now,' he said. 'It was Edo's idea to invite Japanese recording companies to Hong Kong, and concentrate on Edo's specialities such as Mahler, Bruckner and Strauss.' The Hong Kong government supplies more than half of the orchestra's total budget and is working closer with the orchestra than in the past, according to Mr Liu, and is trying to build exposure of the orchestra outside of the city. The orchestra also relies on sponsors and donors for its funding, with Swire being the principal patron. 'We have just signed an extended agreement with Swire until 2012,' Mr Liu said. 'Especially this year, we are very glad we have their support.' Last year's sponsored concerts included Yundi Li's Ravel (CNOOC), Yundi Li's Recital (Shun Hing Group), Trey Lee and the HKPO (Sun Wah Group), Bravo Broadway Rock (HSBC Insurance), Yo-Yo Ma and the HKPO (BOCHK Charitable Foundation), The Organ Symphony (Lily Fenn and Partners), and Mullova Plays Brahms (CIC Investor Services). The orchestra also hosts its own fundraisers, with last year's Yo-Yo Ma dinner bringing in HK$1.5 million. There are plans to hold a celebrity dinner concert in January next year. 'We have made a special effort this year with our fundraising and so far we have done well. We should meet the target for the new season, which starts in September. We also have more subscribers for the upcoming new season than we did at this time last year,' Mr Liu said. Education and outreach are important facets of the orchestra's programme. In the HSBC Creative Note programme, the orchestra paid 46 ensemble visits to primary, secondary schools and special education schools, reaching out to about 50,000 students. Sixteen student concerts were also staged, and 10 master classes were organised to help students enhance their techniques. In the Orchestral Fellowship Scheme, which is supported by the Robert H.N. Ho Family Foundation, the orchestra recruits young musicians in China and helps them to develop their artistic careers under the mentorship of John Harding, the orchestra's concert master.