Hungarian conductor Gabor Kali triumphs in Hong Kong’s first international battle of the batons

Kali, 35, walks away with HK$150,000 cash prize and future opportunity to conduct with the Hong Kong Sinfonietta

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 January, 2018, 9:31am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 January, 2018, 5:54pm

A Hungarian has won Hong Kong’s first international orchestra conducting competition after three rounds of performances against 15 hopefuls from around the world.

Gabor Kali, 35, scored the highest mark from an international jury headed by Yip Wing-sie, music director of the Hong Kong Sinfonietta, and Christoph Poppen, its principal guest conductor.

The competition, hosted by the Sinfonietta, drew 310 applications from 49 countries and regions.

“This is happiness for me. I’d say the music work I have pursued all my life has now been recognised,” the Franz Liszt Academy graduate said on Sunday after the victory, which came with a HK$150,000 cash prize and a future opportunity to conduct with the Sinfonietta and orchestras in Taiwan and Germany.

Kali came in ahead of Antoine Glatard of France and Dawid Runtz of Poland, who took second and third place respectively. All three performed local composer Chan Hing-yan’s new work November Leonids before their own choice of a full symphony.

The Hungarian chose Beethoven’s fifth symphony, which he described as a work of “struggle, joy, and triumph”. He said he found the skill level of the musicians on his first visit to Hong Kong “quite close to the central European level”.

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The Audience Prizes went to Runtz and Russian Anton Torbeev, but it was Kali’s depth in rehearsing that won him the Orchestra Prize, voted on by musicians of the Sinfonietta.

“We enjoyed very much the way he rehearsed with us, which was clear and effective,” violinist Yip Siu-hay said.

Pianist Colleen Lee Ka-ling, who performed the second movement of Chopin’s second piano concerto for Kali in the semi-finals on Friday, was also impressed.

“Kali was able to grasp very quickly what I wanted and conveyed that to the orchestra,” she said.

Yip Wing-sie called the competition a “milestone” that would put Hong Kong on the world map of classical music.

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“All three rounds of the competition were on a live relay online for audiences around the world to watch, and I hope they have seen that Hong Kong can host an international event like this with an orchestra capable of delivering a high standard of music playing under different conductors,” Yip said.

“No better music education is better than audiences hearing music sound different under each contestant, and that’s what we hope for our local audiences by bringing in young conductors from around the world to work with the home band.”

The level in the competition was so high that Yip, a winner of the Besançon International Competition for Young Conductors in France in 1985, a victory that launched her career, said she herself would not have made it even to the preliminary round if she were a contestant.

Margaret Yang, the Sinfonietta’s chief executive, announced a second conducting competition would take place in “the foreseeable future”.