A world-class conductor has waived his undisclosed but substantial performance fee for two free concerts "as a special gift to Hong Kong". Vladimir Ashkenazy, one of the most recorded classical pianists and conductors, will direct the Hong Kong Philharmonic to perform two free concerts tonight and tomorrow at the Grand Hall on the Centennial Campus of the University of Hong Kong. All 1,600 tickets were snapped up shortly after registration opened last week. "All I want to do is to be of service and do something for the city, for the country and for the situation. It's just natural," he said before a rehearsal on the Pok Fu Lam campus. The two concerts were scheduled after the cancellation of the 4th Hong Kong International Piano Competition originally scheduled for this month, with Ashkenazy as chair of the jury and the Hong Kong Philharmonic as the accompanying orchestra. "We made the decision with the concerts and invited Ashkenazy to conduct before he told us he would waive the fee. That made his gesture even more charming," said Michael MacLeod, the Phil's chief executive, who has known Ashkenazy since the 1980s. "He's a gentleman and generous in his knowledge and time and it exemplifies his love for Hong Kong that he'd waive the performing fee, which makes the free concerts possible," he said, declining to disclose the fee. Ashkenazy said he had given free concerts before - "always for a good reason" - including performances in his native Russia, which he left in 1963 for the West. Asked if he felt at home in Hong Kong, the maestro laughed: "Almost. There is a very important reason for me to conduct for free because your situation is rather complicated now, and that's why I hope to bring about an atmosphere of generosity through music and the spiritual value in it." The two concerts, billed as a "very special gift to Hong Kong", will feature three famous works by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius and the Second Symphony by Sergei Rachmaninov, all of which Ashkenazy has recorded. MacLeod said the programme was apolitical. But Ashkenazy believed the Sibelius works especially would resonate beyond the musical notes. The concert opener, Finlandia , is a full-blooded work expressing the Finn's sentiment against the Russian occupation in the early 20th century. "The Karelia Suite , too, had the same aspiration, and I performed it once with the European Union Youth Orchestra in St Petersburg, which is not far from Karelia in eastern Finland. It was very special," he recalled. The Switzerland-based conductor said he would like to see the Occupy protest crowd when he could find a moment. "I simply want to be there and to be one of them in a way, and want to contribute something positive," said the 77-year-old maestro. "Whatever I can contribute to the conscience of the people, I'd be happy to. "I lived in the Soviet Union. I know how difficult politics can be. But nothing is hopeless. One can always try," he said. "If you look at the history of mankind, efforts to make things humane and acceptable to everybody usually succeed in the end." Want more articles like this? Follow SCMP Lifestyle on Facebook !