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The Hong Kong Sinfonietta returned to HK City Hall Concert Hall after a long hiatus on 28 March 2021, after both guest conductor Christoph Poppen and soloist Adrien La Marca completed the internationally singular three week long mandatory quarantine. The sense of a fresh start, after months of virtual concerts, was underlined by the world premiere of Charles Kwong's 'a fictional overture'. Native to Hong Kong, this composer managed to transform the orchestra into a kind of sound installation, inspired by Chinese legend, transforming the instruments into a naturalistic tableau. One could literally feel the waves of breeze, rumbling winds and animal sounds in the percussion. With only a clear melodic line at the crescendo at the end of the brief piece, this is a startling work of unusual timbres and a repurposed orchestra.
A more modest but equally satisfying repurposing was to be found in Adrien La Marca's adaptation of Schumann's Cello Concerto for Viola. An instrument rarely featured as solo, and uniquely hybrid, extending into both cello and violin ranges, La Marca's judicious vibrato during the Schumann evolved into a heavier romantic touch for his crowd pleasing encore of a Charles Aznavour classic.
The orchestral concert concluded with what perhaps is the original work of cancel culture, Beethoven's Eroica Symphony, whose composer famously eliminated the dedication to Napoleon Bonparte.
A musically revolutionary work that definitively broke with the classical age, in length, instrumentation and sound world, the conductor seemed to prefer to draw out the agonizing despair of the second movement's funeral march, rather than opt for a high tempo lightning charge of promethean energy for the first movement.
As he alluded in his opening remarks, Poppen views the unferal march as 'mourning for an old system', a cryptic message for place and time poised on the precipice of a great turning point in history.
Copyright © 7 April 2021
Adam J Sacks,
Hong Kong, China