January 9, 2014 5:16 pm

Hong Kong New Music Ensemble, Y-Theatre, Hong Kong – review

The city’s young musicians are surprisingly adept at creating a grittily urban soundworld
Hong Kong New Music Ensemble©Kurt Chan

Hong Kong New Music Ensemble

Perhaps the key revelation since the Hong Kong New Music Ensemble’s first appearance in 2008 is that this all-too-polished city has a true urban edge. Much of it is imported, to be sure, and it would be misleading to call it mainstream, but in the past few years plenty of foreign sounds have fallen here on receptive ears.

This largely explains the week’s events at The Modern Academy in Chai Wan, an industrial area in Hong Kong’s Eastern District, where nearly 30 young musicians have gathered in something of a new-music training camp. Rather like Bang on a Can’s summer festival at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, students spend their days in hands-on sessions with local and international ensembles and their evenings learning by example.


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The lesson for concert audiences, though, was how much grittier the local groups could sound in comparison with their international colleagues. The sampling was admittedly unscientific – Roxy New York, a highly rhythmic tribute to the departed dance club by the Hong Kong-born, Princeton-trained Samson Young, asked for little of the luminescence of that composer’s Transparent Wunderland – and yet Tuesday evening’s performance of Roxy by the Hong Kong-based Romer Quartet offered a stylistic acuity that had been missing from an otherwise evocative Wunderland, rendered by the Hamburg-based Ensemble Resonanz the night before.

On Tuesday’s programme, the Romer returned to flesh out the HKNME in Steve Reich’s Eight Lines, another piece palpably born of an urban, if comparably consonant and elegant, tension. An edgier, fingernails-on-the-blackboard experience came after the interval with Fausto Romitelli’s An Index of Metals, with conductor Manuel Nawri leading an HKNME embellished this time with brass instruments, electric bass and guitar, soprano soloist Jasmine Law, and visiting sound engineer Sebastian Schottke and his Academy students.

Apart from a vocal line, it was hard to tell precisely what Romitelli’s surreal “video opera”, with its accompanying triptych of visuals by Paolo Pachini and Leonardo Romoli, had to do with opera. Nor, apart from the bracing “noise aesthetic” of rock music, did it share much of that genre’s sensibility of immediate emotional gratification. Instead, Romitelli’s final piece is full of sonic irritations morphing over time into a single immersive experience where any momentary unpleasantness fades away. Much like the works of Young and Reich preceding it, Romitelli’s Index became a cumulative entity where normal perceptions no longer applied.


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