|THE HONG KONG CHINESE ORCHESTRA
The Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra was founded in 1977 as a professional traditional Chinese instrumental ensemble.Consisting of 88 musicians, the Orchestra has four sections: bowed-strings, plucked-strings, wind and percussion, which incorporate traditional and modernized Chinese instruments as well as suitable western instruments.
Currently under the leadership of Artistic Director and Principal Conductor Yan Huichang, the HKCO has a repertoire that includes both traditional folk music and contemporary full scale works. To date, the HKCO has commissioned over 1,500 original compositions and arrangements. They include works that delve into Chinese roots by way of existing folk songs or idioms, and more avant-garde works that combine Western and Chinese instruments in such forms as piano, organ, and cello concertos. The HKCO also hosts special festivals that reach out to a new audience in outdoor venues. Among such highly successful events were drum festivals celebrating different provincial traditions in China, and a Guinness record of more than 1,000 erhu (Chinese fiddle) players performing en masse.
The HKCO has developed a wide-ranging and highly-involved educational outreach program for local schoolchildren, and has produced a new book, The Enjoyment of Chinese Orchestral Music (2004), that guides listening appreciation. Before that, it released an educational CD-ROM, The Treasure of Chinese Music: The Huqin, a historical survey of the Chinese fiddle family. It also hosts regular symposia on instrument research, developing new repertoire, and traditional musical roots.
Since its inaugural season, the HKCO has presented over 2,000 public performances. Overseas tours have led the orchestra all over Asia, Australia, Europe, and America. Of special note are three tours to Europe in the past decade. In 1998, the HKCO took part in the Festival van Contrasten in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, appearing on stage with the Amsterdam-based Nieuw Ensemble. On that tour, the HKCO became the first ever Chinese orchestra to performin the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. The second European tour took place in February 2002, highlighted by a performance at Vienna's Musikverein. In June 2004, the HKCO was invited by the Saint-Denis Arts Festival to take part in its “Year of China in France” activities.
With the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, a directive came from the government that all Chinese performing arts develop its own repertoire that should be relevant to the Chinese people. As a result, a new music educational system was established.
In the 1950s, music conservatories were founded all over the country. Not only did they train professional musicians in Western instruments and vocal techniques, but traditional Chinese instrument departments were also established. Conservatory-trained graduates then joined the nation's numerous performing arts troupes, from orchestras, song and dance troupes, to opera companies.
Historically, traditional Chinese instrumental ensembles either belonged to the “chamber” variety, numbering anywhere from two to seven players, or they merely functioned as accompanying ensembles to on-stage troupes. As a response to the rich Western orchestral repertoire of centuries, the concept of a Chinese orchestra (mirroring the operational mode of the Western orchestra, including baton-waving conductor and divisions of instrumental families) was developed.
Since most traditional Chinese instruments do not have a low pitch range, new instruments were researched and invented for the Chinese orchestra. In the bowed-string section, instruments similar in range and timbre as the cello now exist in the Chinese orchestra. Numerous new wind instruments (reed instruments such as the mouth organ, sheng) were developed and strengthened the valve system, along the same principle as how the alto and bass flutes were invented based on the flute.
A unique section of the Chinese orchestra that is not found in its Western counterpart comprises plucked string instruments (Chinese lutes). These instruments are performed either with plectrum or fortified fingernails, and they come in various shapes, from the pear-like pipa to the round ruan. The equivalent to the keyboard instrument in a Chinese orchestra is the yangqin (Chinese dulcimer), which is placed in the middle of the orchestra, equivalent to the harpsichord if it were in a Baroque ensemble.
While the earlier repertoire of Chinese orchestras consists mainly of folk song arrangements, since the 1980s new works were commissioned and performed by professional Chinese (traditional) orchestras in the China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan. Outstanding Chinese composers who have refined their own voices in this orchestral idiom include Tan Dun, Zhao Jiping, Guo Wenjing, Peng Xiuwen, Doming Lam, and Law Wing-fai.