A look at what's in store for Hong Kong's performing arts scene from now until the New Year reveals just how the city is shedding its stigma as a cultural backwater, with little opportunity for arts buffs to slouch on the couch in the face of a packed diary of classical music, dance and drama events. It's that time of year when the endeavours of our major arts groups are bolstered by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) as it loosens the purse strings and imports a clutch of brand-name classical music acts and stages a substantial international arts festival - this year's biennial World Cultures Festival runs for four weeks in October and November, with the theme of 'Enchanting Arts of Asia'. Local dance companies are stepping out with traditional and contemporary works, while English-language theatre groups are offering a potpourri of productions, from the disturbing to the side-splitting. Classical music The Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra launched its new season this weekend with Mahler's The Song of the Earth and continues with comprehensive programming that extends from a core repertoire of Beethoven symphonies to the less familiar fare of Philip Glass' Double Concerto for Violin and Cello, which premieres in Asia on November 18. We won't see Edo de Waart, now in his final season as artistic director and chief conductor, until next April. Meanwhile, the orchestra will be under the direction of a string of internationally established conductors, including Britain's Mark Wigglesworth, Andreas Delfs from Germany, Finland's Osmo Vanska and Dutch maestro Jaap van Zweden. There's also an opportunity to see a bright new light in young Latvian conductor Ainars Rubikis, who has recently bagged a number of awards. Fans of Elgar's Cello Concerto can review Briton Paul Watkins' performance with the Phil on October 21-22 against that given by the Hong Kong Sinfonietta a month later, when local-born cellist Wendy Law will be in the chair. The Sinfonietta's line-up of other concerto soloists includes the young Japanese violinist Fumiaki Miura playing Shostakovich (September 10), British clarinettist Michael Collins in works by Finzi and Copland (September 23), French pianist Alexandre Tharaud in concertos by J.S. Bach and Mozart (October 14), and Mengla Huang, the distinguished young violinist from the mainland, playing The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto (September 24). For those who can't get enough classical, the Joy of Music Festival melds with the Hong Kong International Piano Competition in a gala performance on November 2, featuring piano concertos conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy and performed by Gary Graffman, Tigran Alikhanov, Peter Frankl and Cristina Ortiz with the Hong Kong Philharmonic. The City Chamber Orchestra opens its new season on October 11 with the world premiere of Dancing Reflection by octogenarian Mao Yuan, and Sir Granville Bantock's rarely heard Celtic Symphony, colourfully scored for strings and no fewer than six harps. Household names come thick and fast in October courtesy of the LCSD's Great Music series. Two concerts are already sold out: Itzhak Perlman's violin recital (October 23) and the Vienna Philharmonic under Christoph Eschenbach (October 9). Seats are still to be had for recitals by pianists Nikolai Demidenko (September 29) and Murray Perahia (October 17), plus soprano Anne Sofie von Otter's assorted programme of gems from Schubert to Paul McCartney (October 25). Premiere Performances boosts the supply of chamber music with a cello recital by Steven Isserlis that includes sonatas by Prokofiev and Shostakovich (October 18), and Brooklyn Rider, the genre-bending US string quartet (November 21). Dance Elgar's Cello Concerto reappears in the Hong Kong Ballet's November production (November 4-6) Moments in Time, a triptych of works created specially for the company. The music accompanies A Room of Her Own, an exploration of the psychology at play when gender gaps seem unbridgeable. With choreography by Fei Bo, resident choreographer at the National Ballet of China, the work is having its world premiere, as is Black on Black by the Canadian-born choreographer Kinsun Chan. Peter Quanz's Luminous, which premiered last year, completes the trio. The company serves up lighter entertainment with Copp?lia (September 23-25), one of the most popular comic ballets in the repertoire, and The Nutcracker (December 16-26), the Christmas family treat presented once again in Stephen Jefferies' acclaimed version, now in its 15th year. The City Contemporary Dance Company has two productions showcasing the home-grown artistry of its members. Running from September 23-25, Talk to Him is a mixed bill created by four of the company's dancers-turned-choreographers - Chan Yi Jing, Lam Po, Luo Fan and Yang Hao. The digital-age setting contrasts with the historical roots of The Legend and the Hero (December 9-10), in a production created by Willy Tsao Sing-yuen. Billed as 'an elegy on intellectuals dying bitter and misunderstood in corrupt times under monarchic rule', the work promises resonance with contemporary times. Also with a modern edge is this month's production of Joseph Koo's Classic Melodies (tonight and September 17-18) by the Hong Kong Dance Company, an ensemble committed to the cultural traditions of Chinese dance. The doyen of Cantonese pop songs, Koo works with artistic director Leung Kwok-shing to transform some of his classic melodies into dance. The company also presents Two Swallows (November 11-13), a poetic piece with live accompaniment reflecting on the life of the pioneering 20th-century Chinese painter, Wu Guanzhong. It forms part of the World Cultures Festival that also features the National Ballet of China in excerpts from both the Chinese and European repertoires (October 20-21 and 23), Korean folk dance from the Chae Hyang Soon Dance Company (November 11-12), and the mythically based Song of Pensive Beholding from the Legend Lin Dance Theatre of Taiwan (November 4-5). Akram Khan's solo show, DESH, interweaves the celebrated choreographer's British-Bangladeshi roots and has its Asian premiere as part of the festival on November 18. Theatre There's an abundance of theatre events on the way, with visiting companies bringing mainly commentaries on the darker side of the human condition. Presented by the Hong Kong Arts Festival, Shakespeare's Richard III runs from September 16-18, featuring Kevin Spacey in the title role and a full company of leading British and American actors. There's more of the bard with TNT Theatre Britain's production of Macbeth (October 13-16), while Compania Teatro Cinema, the Chilean company noted for thinking outside the box, presents its dark story of murder and revenge, Without Blood, on September 23-24. Opening on October 13, the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra and Opera Hong Kong blend traditional Chinese operatic and theatrical elements with contemporary sounds in a new work, Dr Sun Yat-sen, written to mark the centenary of the 1911 revolution that ended the Qing dynasty. Based on a libretto by Candace Chong and with music by Huang Ruo, the performance features tenors Warren Mok and Ding Yi alternating in the title role. Enchanting Arts of Asia promises another powerful music theatre experience in Roysten Abel's The Manganiyar Seduction (November 4-5), which combines Indian street music with red-light tableaux redolent of libertine Amsterdam. Performances by local companies begin with Stylus Productions' The Bridge on October 5. Written by award-winning Spanish poet Jos? Manuel Sevilla, this English version is receiving its first airing. The HK Theatre Association stages the French comedy, Le P?re No?l est une Ordure ('Mixed Nuts') by La Troupe du Splendid (with English surtitles) from November 23-26. The cornucopia of Shakespeare continues with Perilous Mouths Entertainment's Measure for Measure, directed by Clare Stearns. Opening on October 12, the play examines the enduring problems of corruption in high office and degenerate behaviour among the young, while in November, Theatron's artistic director Michael Harley buffs up A Midsummer Night's Dream with an alluring promise of sex (off-stage), drugs (the scripted flower juice) and rock 'n' roll (an unscripted onstage band). Running from November 8-13, Rona Munro's Iron from Sweet and Sour Productions is a psychological drama in which a daughter faces off against her mother who is serving time for the murder of her husband. At the other end of the emotional spectrum, the Hong Kong Players are laying on Robin Hood: The Panto. Billed as a riotous night of fun in Sherwood Forest for kids of all ages, it promises to be a perfect end-of-year romp. Two productions at the Fringe Club examine more adult topics: Andrea Kuchlewska's one-woman show, Human Fruit Bowl (October 18-22), uses full frontal nudity to explore the relationship between artists and their models; I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, the 1996 Broadway musical, opens on October 4 in a collaboration between the Hong Kong Singers and director Wendy Herbert. The show makes witty observations about dating, romance and marriage and, although it carries a PG tag for its language, we are reassured that carnality is kept under wraps and violence is limited to the demise of a tub of ice cream.