OBITUARY

Russian conductor with many strings to his bow

He led the precursor to HK Phil and spent three decades in medicine

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 November, 2014, 7:07am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 November, 2014, 7:07am

Dr Solomon Matthew Bard
1916-2014

Few could have achieved what Renaissance man Dr Solomon Bard did in a lifetime.

Bard - doctor, conductor, archaeologist, author - died peacefully in a Sydney hospital on November 7 at the age of 98.

Born in 1916 in the town of Chita, Siberia, which was then part of Tsarist Russia, Bard and his family emigrated to China in 1924, settling in the northeastern city of Harbin , Heilongjiang province, which was then the biggest Russian enclave outside the Soviet Union.

There, he was exposed to music early on, studying violin with his uncle. He soon joined the Harbin Symphony Orchestra.

But life changed in 1931 when Japan invaded the northeast, known as Manchuria, during the Mukden Incident. His parents moved to Argentina, while the 15-year-old Bard and his brother went to Shanghai, where he sat an entrance exam for the University of Hong Kong. He began a medicine degree at HKU in 1934 and graduated in 1939.

But soon after, he was to encounter the Japanese army again. Bard said when Japan invaded Hong Kong in 1941, it led to "the most humiliating time of my life".

A member of the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps, Bard spent three years as a prisoner of war in the Sham Shui Po internment camp. He made the best of it, organising three "Bard Concerts" for the inmates - and the Japanese officers - with other POWs, who played anything they could get their hands on: guitars, clarinets and makeshift "cellos" fashioned from oil cans.

They took a risk to raise a laugh, with Bard weaving Rule Britannia into the music he arranged - which was apparently met with rapturous applause even by those in uniform.

He went on to lead the amateur Sino-British Orchestra in 1947, which became the Hong Kong Philharmonic in 1957. As chairman, in 1973, he announced the Phil would turn professional.

Meanwhile, Bard decided to give up his other career, in medicine, retiring from the HKU Health Service in 1976 after 20 years as its founding director.

It was time to try his hand at something new: archaeology, which he had studied for six months in Australia in 1967.

Bard spent seven years as executive secretary of the Antiquities and Monuments Office before he returned to music in 1983, becoming assistant music director of the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra.

A decade later, he moved to Australia to take up roles with the Strathfield Symphony Orchestra and the Sydney Jewish Museum.

But he often returned to Hong Kong to conduct the Chinese Orchestra. "I still care about what's going on in Hong Kong … [It] is always in my heart in a big way," Bard said on his last visit in 2009 to launch his autobiography.

A memorial service will be held today at the South Chapel, Northern Suburbs Memorial Gardens and Crematorium in Sydney. Bard is survived by a son, daughter and three grandchildren.