For the last week, I’ve been on vacation in Hong Kong, a city which is in many ways very similar to New York: lots of tall buildings, impossible to drive or park in, but bliss for a subway-loving non-driver and a “we’re not quite the same country as the mainland” mindset.
This trip was supposed to be about having downtime and bonding with the in-laws, but you know, you can take Oteri out of the city’s music scene but you can’t really take the city’s music scene out of Oteri. So I’ve been testing pipas (hoping to bring one home), scouring the book stores and the CD shops (no records, alas, even though I spotted a sign that announced LPs from a suspended walkway in the mazelike San Francisco-esque SoHo neighborhood and my jaw almost dropped, but it was closed), went to the opera Sunday night (albeit a Cantonese opera), and was a guest on Hong Kong Radio yesterday talking about my impressions of the HK music scene.
Fans of contemporary American music might be dismayed to learn that there is very little representation of our ranks in the classical CD department of Hong Kong Records (one of the city’s best): no Cage, Carter, or Feldman, one Glass, a couple Reich, three John C. Adams, and the new Joan Tower chamber music disc (yay, Naxos!). But the scene is far worse for Hong Kong’s own contemporary composers whom I have been desperately seeking out. One CD, in the Chinese music section; nothing in the classical section.
MTT is coming to town in a month’s time with the San Francisco Symphony and will be performing Copland and Ives, which is far more than could be said for the majority of programs by the local HK Philharmonic whose seemingly unwavering commitment to the standard repertoire makes some of the more recalcitrant American orchestras seem like bastions of the avant-garde in comparison. Ditto for the radio, where during an interview ostensibly about new music I was asked to name my favorite piece by Mozart!
Unquestionably, the real musical discovery thus far was the performance of the Cantonese opera I attended: Princess Chang Ping, a whomping 4 1/2 hour, seven-act marathon composed in the 1950s but featuring a good bit of musical material that is much older. The idea of an inviolate musical work is rather alien to this tradition. But, since it is ever morphing, it is a tradition that is very much alive. The performance was sold out. And even though there was an occasional cell phone conversation or munching on roasted yams in between arias, the audience was more attentive than many a subscription-series attender back home. Some even sang along. Try that at the Met and see what happens…