My Take

On 20th anniversary of SAR, a cold shoulder for the HK Phil

There are many factors behind the rise of political localism. One reason is surely the mindless neglect by the government of local talent

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 December, 2016, 1:59am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 December, 2016, 1:59am

It’s the Hong Kong SAR’s 20th anniversary next year and to celebrate, you want several nights of classical orchestral music. So who would you bring in to showcase the city if you are the government?

The Hong Kong Philharmonic? That would be the no-brainer choice. But bear in mind we are talking about government bureaucrats. So pick another one.

Our city’s flagship orchestra, though, is not so shabby anymore. It’s been under the directorship of Jaap van Zweden for several years now. Before that, it was led by another musical great, Edo de Waart. Critics agree it has been transformed from what it was before.

If nothing else, taxpayers spend tens of millions of dollars every year on the group, so where there is a special event to celebrate, I want to listen for my money’s worth. Van Zweden is probably the highest paid head of a public body in Hong Kong after the CEO of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority. By the way, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra is reportedly paying him more than US$5 million to share his genius. I hate to know what the New York Phil is paying him. He’s a busy guy!

So if you can’t tell a full note from a half note, you should at least recognise as a Hong Kong person the dollar sign flashing over his head as indicative of van Zweden’s international standing.

HKPhil music director Jaap van Zweden’s contract extended until 2022

But so what, the Leisure and Cultural Services Department says. We are sitting on a lot of other people’s money, and we want everything world class. So it’s the Berlin Philharmonic.

Last time it was here, the Berlin Phil charged the highest amount ever for a classical concert. Presumably, the tickets won’t be cheap this time, either. Not if you are very rich and powerful, though; you would probably get free tickets, courtesy of taxpayers much poorer than you.

I have nothing against the Berlin Phil. But there is no reason to hire them rather than any other top-notch philharmonic around the world. There is, however, an overwhelming reason to have the Hong Kong Phil celebrate the key events for the SAR’s 20th anniversary: its name. And they will, but only as part of a year-long celebration rather than as the headline act.

Perhaps as compensation, the government is paying the HK Phil for its world tour next year.

There are many factors behind the rise of political localism. One reason is surely the mindless neglect by the government of local talent.