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December 4, 2013 12:42 pm
When Aenon Loo’s Hong Kong Epilogue, a chamber vocal piece conjoined with a screenscape of archival video footage tracing the city’s urban development, first premiered at the opening of the Asia Society Hong Kong Center in early 2012, the work left two clear impressions: first, that the composer had evidently slept with a recording of Philip Glass’s score to Koyaanisqatsi under his pillow; and second, that the piece would have an entirely different effect with a different set of visuals.
Both impressions were confirmed last week when the piece resurfaced as the climax of the Hong Kong Sinfonietta’s two-week residency at ArtisTree, a multipurpose arts venue seated amid many of the city’s advertising and communications firms. Substantially revised and renamed Here are the years that walk between (the piece’s original subtitle), with a new set of visuals by Law Yuk-mui, Loo’s conceptions were both musically expanded and thematically tightened, leaving little doubt over the primacy of the music.
Where the original was content merely to spin a vague emotional discontent beneath a visual surface of ostensive optimism, Loo’s revisions aim deeper and less ambiguously into a sense of historical sorrow. Although the Sinfonietta’s delivery under associate conductor Jason Lai was at times unbalanced – the tolling “requiem” in the chimes seemed to be played by a sledgehammer – Here are the years reached an orchestral fullness that Epilogue could only imply. Soprano Yuki Ip (the original soloist in Epilogue) received admirable support without having to fight for attention. And yet, despite the piece’s newfound fullness, some of Saturday’s most touching playing was in the interplay between individual musicians.
Much has changed since 2012, when Epilogue tapped squarely into the tensions between urban development and historic preservation that dominated discussions of local identity at the time. Law Yuk-mui’s images for Here are the years take a different tack entirely. Requisite shots of the harbour (including an extended parade of feet walking down the Star Ferry gangplank) and superimposed images of night-time neon are counterbalanced by shots from Hong Kong’s 1997 return to China. Intentionally fuzzy shots of Prince Charles and Jiang Zemin, combined with the UK flag – itself a contentious political symbol in Hong Kong these days – being replaced by the flag of China, gracefully unfurl in tandem with an assured postminimalist score that, despite any promise of moving forward, merely moves in circles.
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