Hong Kong Arts Festival 2015

Jeers and anger after clapping spoils performance of world-class orchestra in Hong Kong

Jeers, sneers follow thoughtless noise, but German orchestra charms nonetheless

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 March, 2015, 4:38am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 May, 2015, 11:20am

43rd HK Arts Festival Opening Concert
Christian Thielemann and the Staatskapelle Dresden
Cultural Centre Concert Hall

The jeering and finger-pointing familiar to followers of the city's political scene infiltrated its musical shrine on Friday - and this time the chief executive was not on the receiving end. Instead, the invective was aimed at culprits in the audience who spoiled a brilliant musical performance by clapping prematurely.

The moment of shame came as the Staatskapelle Dresden, one of the world's best orchestras, opened the 43rd Hong Kong Arts Festival with a performance of Richard Strauss' Metamorphosen. The work, for 23 strings, was written during the second world war as a lament.

But just as the 20-minute masterpiece faded out into intense C minor chords, an audience member began to clap. That evidently annoyed conductor Christian Thielemann, on his Hong Kong debut.

As the maestro's baton and players' bows were still up in the air on the end note, another audience member broke the silence with thoughtless applause. The Germans looked displeased as they shuffled off stage.

"Get out, you get out," one audience member yelled at the culprit, about nine metres away.

Another across the hall joined the outcry and the duet, in full stereophonic effect, resonated through the 2,000-strong capacity audience as officiating guests, including Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and his wife, left for the intermission.

"I'm sorry, but if I don't do that, I'm afraid many performers will never come here," said the first shouter. He said he had had enough when early applause spoiled a Budapest Festival Orchestra performance of Anton Bruckner's Ninth Symphony at last year's festival.

Chastened by the spat, the audience behaved impeccably through Bruckner's Ninth in the second half. With the full roster on stage, Staatskapelle Dresden showed the German symphonic tradition at its best. The shimmering strings blended with the crystalline woodwinds and the brilliant brass to an effect that defied the hall's acoustics.

Thielemann, at 55, carries on the old German school in totally controlling the music. Some of his reading could be overly articulate, such as the super-slow tempo after almost every climax.

But at full throttle, the top band dumbfounded the audience with the serene ending note on the horns, uninterrupted.