For the Love of Chamber Music: Andrea Fessler


January 21, 2013 | BY Hong Kong Tatler

The founder of the Hong Kong International Chamber Music Festival talks about the challenges in setting up a festival that celebrates “the music of friends” 

Many individuals and countries have dreamt of building an arts festival. A number of them initiated one. Some persevered. A handful succeeded. I liken building an arts festival to entrepreneurship. It is a labour of love. As Vidal Sassoon once said: “The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary.” 

Nine years ago, a Harvard Law School-educated corporate lawyer named Andrea Fessler moved to Hong Kong as a trailing spouse with her husband. Having previously lived in New York, London and Tokyo and a self-confessed "culture junkie", that was the one area of life in Hong Kong that she found lacking.  Two years later, when it was clear that they were not only breezing through Hong Kong as expats but would be putting down long-term roots, Fessler decided to stop complaining and do something.  

Taking inspirations from a classical music organisation in her hometown of Vancouver, Fessler started Premiere Performances of Hong Kong (PPHK) as a registered charity and launched a Rising Stars Piano Series in 2007. She was encouraged by the positive response and took it one step further in a Great Performers Series in 2008.  And the following year, Fessler launched the Hong Kong International Chamber Music Festival in June 2009.  Five years on, the Festival  - and PPHK - is going from strength to strength.

The success of the festival was by no means an easy feat. Two years into the festival, the founding artistic director, Trey Lee, stepped down. Although Fessler is well-versed in classical music, curating and producing a chamber music festival is a different story. In the interview below, she tells us a bit more about how she went about setting up the Hong Kong International Chamber Music Festival.

On the artistic director:
Fessler’s mind was set on finding a world-renowned Chinese musician to take over the role of the artistic director. She first set eyes on Cho-Liang Lin, a.k.a. Jimmy, on a poster that the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra ("HKPhil") was advertising for the “Double Brahms concerto’ starring Cho-Liang Lin and Wang Jian”. She thought to herself that having either of them for her festival would be great. Through a series of coincidental encounters, a meeting was set up between Lin and Fessler (pictured below). They hit it off and the rest was history.

Two years on, Fessler is still very excited to have Lin on board as the artistic director of the Festival. "Jimmy is doing a fantastic job in curating the festival.  He does it with flair and flavour that is very typical of Lin, and he takes the chemistry of the musicians into consideration."
As in any great partnership, Fessler and Lin share the same vision. They both want to build a world-class chamber music festival in Hong Kong, which also provides a platform for promising musicians on the world stage to perform. Their goal gives life to the slogan “You heard it here first”. By including promising young artists - the superstars of tomorrow  - in the festival, as well as in PPHK's recital series, Hong Kong audiences can be exposed to their music and see how these musicians are going places.

On funding 
Another challenge that PPHK has, like so many other arts groups, is fundraising. The inaugural title sponsor of the festival was watch brand Breguet, but they did not renew their sponsorship when the festival slipped into July and focused on getting more families in the audience.  After knocking on a lot of doors, Bank of America Merrill Lynch signed up to be title aponsor for all PPHK events, but they had to discontinue after two years. Fessler frantically started looking again for a new sponsor, and for a very long time was worried that they could not find one. 

After six months of discussions with JP Morgan, the sponsorship finally came through.  This is the first time that JP Morgan in Asia has committed to a firm-wide sponsorship. Fessler attributed JP Morgan’s final green light to the festival's outreach and education programmes. Thanks to their involvement, and to the Hong Kong government’s Springboard Grant which is a 2-for-1 matching grant, the festival has been able to hire more help, expand the outreach and education programme and continue the outreach work throughout the year.

On chamber music: Fessler feels that chamber music (considered "music of friends" by many) has a very promising future in Hong Kong, a place that thrives on social interactions. Moreover, often times chamber music acts as a sketchbook for composers to test out ideas for possible symphonic works.  Unlike complete symphonies that audiences can mostly only enjoy with some knowledge of the piece, there is less of a pre-requisite to chamber music. The latter is also at most times easier listening and more light-hearted.  

Whether you are a classical music connoisseur or amateur, there is definitely something for everyone to explore during this year’s Hong Kong International Chamber Music Festival. Pick up a ticket and choose from six concerts, which will be presented during the festival, from best loved classics, gypsy flavours, to a Chinese New Year special. 

Opening Night Gala Concert (20:00 | City Hall Concert Hall) celebrates the Music of Friends with quartet, sextet and octet of strings, plus four hand, six hand and eight hand piano music.
 Wednesday, January 16, 2013 

Journey to Bohemia (20:00 | Jockey Club Amphitheatre, HK Academy for Performing Arts) features the smouldering melodies of Smetana, Janacek and Dvorak. 
Friday, January 18, 2013

PLAY! Carnival of the Zodiac (15:00 | Jockey Club Amphitheatre, HK Academy for Performing Arts) The next installment of the successful family series PLAY! features an innovative reworking of Saint-Saens' beloved Carnival of the Animals with a Chinese Zodiac inspired-theme.
Sunday, January 20, 2013 

Mozart - A Family Portrait (20:00 | Jockey Club Amphitheatre, HK Academy for Performing Arts) Two generations of creative genius are featured in this evening's concert, sponsored by Interlude. Monday, January 21, 2013 

Hélène Grimaud Piano Recital (20:00 | City Hall Concert Hall) French piano superstar Hélène Grimaud gives a long-awaited recital performance, sponsored by the Mandarin Oriental.
 Tuesday, January 22, 2013 

Closing Night Gala - Russian Masters (20:00 | City Hall Concert Hall) The festival comes to a thrilling finale with some of the most exciting chamber works ever written. Wednesday, January 23, 2013

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