This concert program was curated by the Hong Kong-Chinese composer Charles Kwong. Artistic Manager Clemens K. Thomas spoke with Charles Kwong about Hong Kong, its new music scene and the variety of composers there.
Dear Charles, you were born in Hong Kong in 1985 and grew up there but spent a large part of your studies in England. In what way is your biography typical for a Hong Kong-Chinese composer of your generation?
We do, in fact, have a strong tendency to choose English speaking countries (namely the U.K., the U.S., Canada and Australia) as destinations for studying abroad. However, this is not only the case with composers but a tendency in many professions and is largely due to our history with the British and the convenience of being proficient in English.
Nevertheless, you decided to return to Hong Kong after your studies. What is so special about this city?
I can talk endlessly about what makes my hometown special. But I would like to highlight one thing that deserves more discussion, especially in a musical context, and that is the coloniality and decoloniality that Hong Kong experienced. While discourse on decoloniality might seem only to apply to ex-colonies, I find many of its ideas acutely address many of the crises that currently confront global society as a whole. This is because many of these challenges are in fact the very problems of late modernity. Such a perspective has helped me understand more of certain aspects in the art and culture of my hometown, which might otherwise seem peculiar or even bizarre to outsiders.
In the series “Spotted:” we look for local characteristics in a global present. Is there such a thing as a Hong Kong-Chinese musical identity? And how did you proceed with the program selection?
Art is inseparable from the personal history and experiences of an artist. On a personal level, my history with Hong Kong certainly plays a role in my musical identity. But this musical identity shouldn’t be the same narrative of musical nationalism as found in previous centuries because geographical differences nowadays should no longer limit what musical cultures and influences a composer is exposed to. I think it is very difficult nowadays to generalize about the musical styles or characteristics of a certain group of composers by their geographical origin or ethnicity. To me, the Hong Kong musical identity should not be a collection of musical traits but the visions of how each of us regard and situate our art in response to the opportunities and challenges we face in this city.
In the program, I don’t attempt to provide an overview of “Hong Kong contemporary music” (because it is impossible). I feature several other young composers of my generation who in my opinion have high artistic merit and have a different depth of engagement with Hong Kong in their life stories. Instead of conjuring a unified musical impression of Hong Kong, I hope the program presents distinctive individuals who share a similar origin. Therefore, no sweet-and-sour pentatonicism nor “Oriental texture” is guaranteed and Hong Kong can be heard in many different imaginative ways.
In cooperation with PROJECT21st.
Reinhold Braig, sound direction
The concert will be recorded by Deutschlandfunk Kultur