Up close and personal with Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra’s Principal Violist, Andrew Ling


April 16, 2012 | BY Hong Kong Tatler

After what many would call a transformational eight years for the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra (HKPO), world-renowned Maestro Edo de Waart, artistic director and chief conductor of the HKPO, is drawing his tenure to a close with a series of three farewell concerts in Hong Kong. The second of his three concerts, Dream Harmonies, features two principals from the string section of the orchestra: Andrew Ling on viola and Richard Bamping on cello. For this entry, I talk to Andrew Ling, one of the few musicians from the orchestra that is born and bred in Hong Kong.

Andrew Ling for HKPO
Andrew Ling

On Edo de Waart

Andrew Ling: I will always be thankful to the maestro, as he is the person who brought me into the HKPO. He is a man with strong character but few words. He walks his talk and it comes from his heart. You can see that he gives his all at each concert. My two favourite concerts of all time was when we played Mahler and Bruckner under his baton (in two separate concerts). They were out-of-this-world experiences for me. Although there was an age gap between the Maestro and myself, the magic of music connects us to a place where I have not experienced and will not experience elsewhere.

Edo de Waart leaves Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra on a high note with a series of enthralling concerts.

Why Viola?

Andrew Ling: I still get asked quite regularly what a viola is, or sometimes if people are too embarrassed to ask, they would give me a very confused look when I tell them I am a violist.
Viola is still a rather neglected instrument in the string section. I play both the violin and the viola. I would describe the sound of a violin as the voice of a diva, while a viola would be the voice of a ‘normal person’, in the same sentiment.

The viola has a melancholic tone to it that neither a violin nor a cello could imitate. I hope that with time I could gradually promote this instrument to an extent where one day members of the audience would come to a concert purely because there is a viola solo piece in the repertoire.

A violin and a viola
A violin and a viola

Why classical music?

Andrew Ling: If a pop song is about a particular scene or a moment in your life, a piece of classical music would be a complete story or the life of a person. The latter has more depth and changes of emotions within each piece.

Can you give us an example of how a piece of classical music tells a story?

Andrew Ling: Take Don Quixote by Richard Strauss as an example. This 45-minute piece tells the story written by Miguel de Cervantes.

In this piece, Strauss allocated a different instrument for each character and its special effects. If you come to the concert on April 13 and 14, you will notice that the solo cello represents a delirious Don Quixote; while the solo viola, a curious, greedy yet loyal and ever-so-funny Sancho Panza. This piece epitomises how an orchestra can tell a story from beginning to end, and a musical instrument can bring a character to life, giving it a colourful personality.

Don Quixote and Sancho Panza by Gustave Doré
Don Quixote and Sancho Panza by Gustave Doré

For people who are outsiders to music, should they listen to classical music?

Andrew Ling: I think everyone should listen to some classical music. It is very soothing and relaxing. I am sure that each of you will find certain genres of music to your liking. In order to be able to enjoy more while listening to it, a little understanding of the background of the piece is required. Let’s say you are a football fan, wouldn’t it be more interesting and exciting if you understood the rules?

How should one start their classical music journey?

Andrew Ling: Not all classical music is serious and heavy. Some of them are very light-hearted and even comical. If you are a beginner in classical music, I would suggest you go to a concert with someone who knows music and guide you through it. It might just be the beginning of your love story with classical music.

What makes you tick?

Andrew Ling: Music. Music is all I think about. I focus on how I can make my music better and more effective. I look for perfection and yet I understand that the word ‘perfection’ does not exist in art.

Moreover, I have my moments of epiphany when I find a better way to interpret a certain passage. And when that happens, I feel that I am a step closer to ‘perfection’ and that gives me the energy and motivation to continue marching on in my music journey.

Finish the sentence: I wish …

Andrew Ling: …More people can share the excitement and passion that I feel for music, and that they understand a piece of music as they do watching a movie. As performers on stage, we need constant and active participation from the audience, so it is very crucial that they understand what they are looking at and listening to. I also hope that kids would learn a musical instrument out of sheer interest, and not because they were forced to. After all, music, like any other forms of art, is for us to enjoy and indulge in.

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