Hong Kong Art Enthusiasts: Y.S. Liu


November 15, 2012 | BY Hong Kong Tatler

Our arts columnists Joanne Chan sits down with the chairman of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra

Y.S. Liu's involvement with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra ("HKPhil") is all about superlatives.  He is the first and only concertmaster who became a chairman. He religiously goes to every concert presented by the HKPhil, which means two times a week, every Friday and Saturday. He is on the executive committee of three orchestras in Hong Kong: chairman of the HKPhil, chairman and concertmaster of the SAR Philharmonic and member of the executive committee of the Asian Youth Orchestra.

He was also the first in Hong Kong to have recorded the Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto by Chen Gang and He Zhanhao, which he premiered in Hong Kong in 1969, a historical event for the music scene in Hong Kong. No one would contest that he lives and breathes music. I recently sat down with him as he walked me through the past, present and his visions of the future of the development of classical music and the arts in Hong Kong. 

A little bit about myself: I started learning piano at a very young age. It happened very naturally as my mother was a piano teacher in Suzhou. When I came to Hong Kong at 9, I didn't have a piano and therefore started playing the violin. One of my greatest mentors was Arrigo Foa, a conductor of Italian descent who spent over 30 years in Shanghai before moving to Hong Kong in the early 50's and became the conductor of Sino British Orchestra (now HKPhil). Because of Foa, I played in the orchestra between 1950s and 1970s.
Due to the Cultural Revolution, China no longer allowed cultural products to be exported. There was a demand for recordings of the Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto. As luck would have it, I was invited to play and record the piece with the orchestra and later premiered it in 1969.  

As chairman of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, I would like to continue to raise the standard of the orchestra. This is of course easier said than done. The management of an orchestra is formed by a golden pyramid with the music director, the CEO and the chairman.

The chemistry between the music director and the musicians are all-important and chemistry is something we cannot control nor explain. But we are very lucky to have found maestro Jaap Van Zweden.   He is known to be very demanding but fair and so far the feedback from the musicians have been positive. 

Michael Macleod, our CEO, joined us a year ago. He is well-respected by our musicians and cooperates very well with the maestro. With all these in place, the HKPhil is ready to reach new heights.

The next major step for the HKPhil is maintaining consistency throughout the season. What we lack in the orchestra is not technical skills.  They are great musicians. 

I believe that when musicians are happy, they are good. We are striving to consistently improve the package of the musicians. We might not be able to do it overnight, but that is one of our top priorities. We also try to consistently invite the best possible conductors and soloists. By good conductors, it does not necessarily mean conductors of star status. What the orchestra needs right now are maestros who can inspire our musicians and bring out the best in them. 

Recordings and overseas tours are something we have in the pipeline. The goal of that is not to bring in financial gain, but to significantly raise the profile and image of our orchestra internationally as well as increase our audience base and following. In our five-year plan, the establishment of the Concert Hall in West Kowloon will be a major milestone for us.

On the cultural bureau, I don’t know what the plans are at the moment for its establishment.  

Some art companies complain that the government has no cultural policy in place and having a cultural bureau is an answer. I personally feel that HKPhil has been in the music business for long enough that we know exactly what we want and where we want the orchestra to go.

If a cultural bureau were to be put in place, I wish to see them act as an overall coordinator. For instance, at the moment, the programmes by the LCSD compete directly with our own. We never know who they invite, what program and when. Furthermore, our concert hall booking can be quite upsetting at times, as arts festivals always have priority, and we need to work around their schedules. The ticketing system is also a headache for us, we have no access to the information of our ticket buyers. If the cultural bureau can put the above into order, I welcome its establishment. Of course, more funding is always appreciated. Fundraising for the arts is difficult. And the government knows that.

Apart from music, I exercise more these days: I enjoy playing table tennis, swimming and working out at the gym.

I read mostly leisure books. Spy stories, spy movies and I love travelling.

On success: Success is not measured by amounts of wealth, but by how one's wealth is spent.