Meet the Women of Bach to the Future
Contemporary classical group Western District (clockwise from right: Sarah Martin, Sophia Yan and Monica Johnston) gives Baroque music a modern spin. Ahead of their latest show, “Bach to the Future,” Sophia and Monica talk about updating Bach, creating new twists on 90s hits and their upcoming avant-garde projects.
HK Magazine: How did you get started?
SY: We met through friends in Hong Kong a few years ago, and started up in 2014 when we found we had the same interest—finding creative ways to make classical music concerts a sociable and fun gathering that audiences can discover organically. Our aim is to attract a diverse audience: From young to old, folks who are already classical music lovers, and also people who may not normally go hear Brahms.
HK: So what makes your gigs different from a regular old classical concert?
SY: Our shows are all about exploring the world of classical music, and we always curate a creative mix of works that show the range of what classical music has to offer. We’ve done full-length chamber music works alongside experimental electronic improv. One time, I laid sheets of paper on the strings of the piano to create a rattling sound effect. Our amazing singer, Sarah Martin, even screamed into the inside of a grand piano to create a resonant sound.
MJ: [For the upcoming Bach show] I’ve studied Baroque performance practice and will be playing the viola d’amore—an instrument which was common in his time.
SY: So “Bach to the Future” is pretty representative of the kind of programs we’d like to present. We think it’s a fun juxtaposition of old and new. Plus, the Baroque era has inspired much of the music that today’s composers are writing. It also is an opportunity for amazing mash-ups—we won’t give it away, but let’s just say we have a pretty stellar Bach-style version of a very well-known 90s pop hit.
HK: What do you think of the Hong Kong music scene?
SY: It’s amazing! There’s more and more every day—we really love seeing the community grow, and are excited to be contributing to what’s being created in Hong Kong. We also think it’s a great incubator for experimenting. In our experience thus far, the Hong Kong audience has been quite receptive to checking out our new projects, as well as ideas from other artists.
HK: What’s next for the group?
SY: We have a busy year ahead! “Bach to the Future” kicks off our year-long Fringe series. One of the highlights is our April production of the two-person chamber musical “John & Jen,” scored beautifully for piano, cello and percussion. The story is about a family’s ever-changing relationships. We’re also really excited to present the world premiere of a multimedia project, “City Impressions,” in early April. The performance pairs Hong Kong photographs by David Clarke with soundscape vignettes—ambient city sounds woven into original music composed by Joyce Tang—that we will perform live. It’ll be similar to going to a silent film with live music, but with a contemporary twist.
Check out “Bach to the Future” on Jan 29 at 9pm. Fringe Club, 2 Lower Albert Rd., Central, 2521-7251. $180-200 from Fringe Box Office or at the door, including one drink.