Hong Kong maestro seeks fresh challenge after two years with one of the ‘big-five’ US orchestras

Lio Kuok-man ends his stint as assistant conductor at the Philadelphia Orchestra with a special collaboration on Asian tour

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 May, 2016, 7:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 May, 2016, 7:00am

A locally trained young maestro is ready for new opportunities after two “inspiring” years with the renowned Philadelphia Orchestra as assistant conductor.

Lio Kuok-man, whose appointment in 2014 at one of the so-called American big-five orchestras was a first for a Hong Kong-trained conductor, will conclude his two-year stint with a big show during an Asian tour this month.

“I will be conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra performing jointly with the Shanghai Philharmonic to celebrate the upcoming new Disney theme park in Shanghai,” the 34-year-old told the Post during a brief stopover in Hong Kong last week.

For Macau-born conductor Lio Kuok-man, music is the air he breathes

The performance will be a special moment for Lio who grew up watching the legendary Disney animation Fantasia of 1940, in which seven of eight soundtracks were performed by the Philly orchestra.

“I am very grateful for the honour of being a member of that legendary orchestra, and working together with the musicians who give it all for the love of music. That’s the very essence of the famous Philadelphia Sound,” he says.

The two concerts in Hong Kong this month will be Lio’s first and probably last on the Philly roster in the city he calls home.

“I was born in Macau, but my professional training as a musician is 100 per cent in Hong Kong, and to that I owe my career,” the first-class honours alumni of the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts says.

His growing professional engagements on the international circuit include an acclaimed debut at the renowned Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg in March and a tour with the Sinfonia Varsovia in Tokyo this week, but he still finds time to continue performing with the local groups that launched his career.

Like in previous years, Lio will conduct the Pan Asia Symphony Orchestra in September and then a full opera production of Carmen with Musica Viva in December. He does not worry that collaborations with such arts groups will affect his prospects of working with flagship ensembles like the Hong Kong Philharmonic, which is recruiting a resident conductor.

I think my two years in Philadelphia are enough – I need to move on
Lio Kuok-man

“Why should I be worried when I am rendering service to Hong Kong at large? But I think my two years of assistantship in Philadelphia are enough for that phase in my career – I need to move on,” he says, adding there are invitations from orchestras in America and Europe plus numerous forthcoming guest conducting opportunities, including the National Taiwan Symphony Orchestra next year as well as the official debut with the Hong Kong Phil.

“I worked with them before, but this time it’s not one of those concerts that start at 9pm but a week of standard rehearsal and performance. That to me is a first, and I look forward to it in the next concert season.”

Conductor Lio Kuok-man takes baton for first time since his appointment to Philadelphia Orchestra

He does not expect anything to come out of his debut with the Phil, in which he will be performing with a much sought-after soprano, Sumi Jo.

“It takes time and a well-rounded programme of a mixed repertoire to build a relationship with an orchestra. A week of work on one programme won’t do,” he says.

The Philadelphia Orchestra’s two programmes “are tailor-made” for Hong Kong.

“None of the subsequent concerts in Shanghai, Beijing, Macau, Taiwan and Japan will feature two solid orchestral programmes to showcase the Philadelphia Sound,” Lio says.

“That is a special way music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin wants to present during his first ever visit to the city, and I think the audience will be quite blown away by those orchestral warhorses.”