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Hong Kong Philharmonic principal viola Andrew Ling (left), principal clarinet Andrew Simon (second from left), and chief executive Benedikt Fohr (second from right), and Y. S. Liu, chairman of the Board of Governors of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Society, receive the Orchestra of the Year Award at the 2019 Gramophone Classical Music Awards ceremony on behalf of the orchestra. Photo: Gem Rey/HK Phil

HK Phil named 2019 Orchestra of the Year by Gramophone magazine; Jaap van Zweden, music director, hails history makers

  • The first Asian orchestra to be voted winner, HK Phil owes its victory to its recording of Wagner’s The Ring Cycle, made live over four years starting in 2015
  • Recording ‘a magnificent achievement’, says magazine’s editor in chief, while HK Phil’s chief executive says the accolade shows its ‘truly world-class quality’

The Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra has been named Orchestra of the Year 2019 by Gramophone, making it the first in Asia to win the title since the prestigious classical music magazine introduced it a year ago.

The 45-year-old professional orchestra trumped nine others, including the Boston Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and London Symphony Orchestra, thanks to its live recordings of Wagner’s The Ring Cycle under music director Jaap van Zweden.

A 14-disc set, Wagner Der Ring Des Nibelungen, was released by the Naxos label in November 2018. The orchestra gave concert performances of the four parts of The Ring from 2015 to 2018.

Of the Gramophone accolade, van Zweden said: “The HK Phil is especially proud since we are making history by being the first orchestra in Asia to receive this prestigious and highly acclaimed honour.”

Jaap van Zweden conducts the Hong Kong Philharmonic. It is “the perfect example of an ensemble galvanised by an inspirational music director to give of its best”, says Gramophone editor in chief James Jolly.
The orchestra’s chief executive, Benedikt Fohr, said the accomplishment “is a powerful demonstration of the HK Phil's truly world-class quality”. He acknowledged all those involved in the recordings “who realised this enormous project with great energy and supreme artistry”.

According to Gramophone, the award “celebrates ensembles that have made significant recorded contributions in the past year and reflects the excellence of music-making across the globe”. It is decided by public vote; last year’s winner was the Seattle Symphony Orchestra.

Jaap van Zweden, the orchestra, and soloists in Wagner’s Das Rheingold, part one of The Ring Cycle, receive the applause of concertgoers in 2015.

James Jolly, editor in chief of Gramophone, says the Hong Kong Philharmonic is the perfect example of an ensemble galvanised by an inspirational music director to give of its best. “The Ring Cycle, conducted by Jaap van Zweden and recorded live by Naxos, is a magnificent achievement and clearly prompted numerous music lovers from all over the globe to vote for this outstanding Asian orchestra.”


The HK Phil, which receives an annual subvention from the Hong Kong government – in the 2017/18 season it totalled HK$82 million – says it is “on a quest to expand its international reputation”. The orchestra is scheduled to perform in Japan and Korea in 2020 and is planning to tour Europe in 2021 and the United States in 2022, where van Zweden is also music director of the New York Philharmonic.

The Gramophone Classical Music Awards presentation ceremony was held in London on Wednesday, with Dame Emma Kirby winning the Lifetime Achievement Award, pianist Vikingur Olafsson – who will perform with the Hong Kong Philharmonic in March – named Artist of the Year and Betrand Chamayou scooping the Recording of the Year for a CD of Saint-Saens piano concertos and pieces for solo piano.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: HK Philharmonic wins orchestra of the year