Protest 'will not silence' premiere at City Hall

Composer and conductor say powerful maiden symphonic musical will go ahead as planned

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 October, 2014, 3:37am
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 October, 2014, 3:37am

The premiere of Hong Kong's first symphonic musical will go ahead tonight, its composer and conductor have pledged, offering a moment of catharsis from the heat of the protests outside.

The full Hong Kong Sinfonietta - with 54 musicians rather than an ensemble of 20 to 30 players, as at most musicals - will perform the score, while the Actors' Family sings in the Cantonese-language The Passage Beyond at the City Hall Concert Hall.

Composer Leon Ko Sai-tseung said he had seen music made in far worse conditions than those created by the Occupy Central blockade outside.

"I was rehearsing a musical in New York City on September 11, 2001. After that, nothing really frightens me any more," the Hong Kong-born composer said.

"My only concern is the closure of City Hall … Otherwise our motto is, the show must go on," he added with a resolute tone. The City Hall closed its doors for the first time since 1962 on Sunday as police fired tear gas into crowds of protesters nearby.

Yip Wing-sie, conductor of the Hong Kong Sinfonietta, which will perform at the premiere and five subsequent shows until Sunday, said her orchestra was no stranger to adversity.

"We performed during the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak [in 2003] … when the audience and some of our players were still wearing masks," she recalled. "We have prepared this production for a year and my players have gone through eight rehearsals with [the actors]. We are ready to go."

The musical marks the first collaboration between Ko and Yip. The Passage Beyond was first performed in 2009 with a four-member band, including Ko at the piano. It collected numerous Hong Kong Drama Awards.

Yip said she "cried my eyes out" when she first saw the show. But through her tears, she saw the possibility of orchestrating the music for a richer effect.

Bringing in an extra 50 musicians added power to the music and drama to the story. But Ko said the cost was high: "By local and even overseas standards, having such a large band for a musical is a luxury."

Yip said the expense was the main reason big-band musicals were rare. But she believes the gains will be considerable - doubly so in the present political atmosphere.

"The story is about how love can mean letting your loved one go, and vice versa - just like a butterfly, which is only truly beautiful when it is free," she said. "I hope the show will offer a moment for the audience to put away their worries, be moved, and leave … feeling relieved."

For Ko, staging the musical in the midst of Occupy Central made it like a show within a show.

"I think there is a connection between the social movement outside and the cultural programme inside. But no matter what our stand is, we are of one mind in giving our best to the play because it is our duty," he said.