Hong Kong Composer’s World Premiere Rehearsal Dashed by Typhoon Saola

by Madonna

Rehearsing for a world premiere is typically a crescendo of anticipation and artistic dedication. However, for the Hong Kong Sinfonietta, renowned composer Charles Kwong, esteemed guest conductor Clemens Schuldt, and accomplished pianist Colleen Lee, the crescendo was abruptly silenced by the untimely arrival of Super Typhoon Saola.

Scheduled for the day before the ill-fated concert, the rehearsal took an unexpected turn as the looming typhoon cast doubt over the event’s feasibility. Charles Kwong, who had eagerly awaited over two years for this significant moment, had composed a 20-minute, single-movement piano concerto commissioned by the Hong Kong Sinfonietta during his tenure as the orchestra’s “artist associate” in 2020-2022.

Originally slated for a premiere in 2021, the concerto’s unveiling was thwarted by the Covid-19 pandemic’s ban on public performances. Kwong had taken to Facebook earlier in the week to extend a heartfelt invitation to fellow musicians, recognizing that this would be his farewell concert before embarking on a two-year research project at Zurich University of the Arts in Switzerland alongside his wife, Sharon Chan, co-founder of the artistic experimentation platform Project21st.

As the week progressed, the forecasts from various storm tracking sites converged, predicting an impending direct hit from Typhoon Saola on Hong Kong. This unsettling prediction cast a shadow of uncertainty over the planned concert, but rehearsals continued.

The persistence of the rehearsal was driven by the unpredictable nature of the storm. At 2 p.m. on Thursday, the musicians, Kwong, and Schuldt assembled at the Hong Kong City Hall Concert Hall. At that time, only a standby typhoon signal No. 1 was in place, with no indication from the Hong Kong Observatory regarding the issuance of a No. 8 storm signal, which would determine whether the concert could proceed.

Kwong maintained an air of optimism, remarking, “There is still a chance that the concert will happen. Otherwise, it would be very hard for any of us to focus on the rehearsal!”

Guest conductor Clemens Schuldt, who had specially flown in for the event, voiced his unwavering commitment to perfecting the performance despite the looming typhoon. Pianist Colleen Lee, who had dedicated weeks to mastering the technically demanding concerto, echoed the sentiment, acknowledging that the fate of the concert rested in the hands of the unpredictable weather.

As the musicians delved into their rehearsal, tension filled the air, heightened by the violins’ intense upper-register melodies and the strategic use of portamento. The tempestuous weather outside seemed to mirror the inner turmoil of the performers.

At 3 p.m., disheartening news broke: the government had decided to suspend the start of the new school term the following day, hinting at a possible worst-case scenario. Later that evening, Charles Kwong announced on Facebook that the concert was officially canceled.

However, the musicians pressed on, determined to create a recording of their performance as a token of their dedication to Charles Kwong and the artistic journey they had embarked on.

In the midst of the storm’s tumultuous presence, the performers sought solace in their music, embodying the unwavering spirit of artists devoted to their craft, even in the face of nature’s formidable forces.

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