In late autumn and early winter, as Hong Kong is rejuvenated by mild temperatures and fresh breezes, Tai Kwun’s Parade Ground and Prison Yard are transformed into performance spaces with a magical atmosphere not found anywhere else in our city. While the Parade Ground is the natural stage for exuberant family entertainment, the Prison Yard, flanked by the dramatic austerity of the Prison Wall and the cell-block D Hall, and the modernist restraint of JC Contemporary and JC Cube, becomes a natural home for music which takes us deep within ourselves to touch the soul, warm the spirit and stir the heart.
Prison Yard Festival: Music from within celebrates the healing power of music, an art-form which provides solace when we are alone and isolated from those we love, and which underscores our joy when we are reunited. Solo instrumental music for unaccompanied violin or solo piano ruminates through a myriad of emotions – loneliness, longing, anticipation, dreams of escape – providing a certain comfort to the player and the listener, but almost crying out for another voice to join in. More than any other art-forms, music thrives on collaboration, whether it is between two like-minded musicians, or among an ensemble of fine instrumentalists, between a composer and a performer (possibly even centuries apart) and between performers and audiences. Music from within brings together individual musicians, ensembles and audiences to create and share the unique and intimate setting of the Prison Yard in which music leads us from poised introspection to extrovert joy.
True to its title, Music from within begins indoors, in the JC Cube. And true to its location overlooking the Prison Yard, the festival opens with LENK Quartet performing music written “on the inside”. French composer Olivier Messiaen was a prisoner in a German prisoner-of-war camp in 1940 and composed Quartet for the End of Time for himself and three fine musicians who were among the other POWs in the camp. Through his extraordinary imagination, Messiaen led his ensemble, and his audience, in an escape from the confines of prison, flying above the material world in cosmic freedom. “Never was I listened to with such rapt attention and comprehension.”
The monumental Goldberg Variations are heard in a new light when pianist Rachel Cheung and lighting designer Amy Chan collaborate to realise Bach’s great keyboard composition from 1741 through a distinctly 21st century lens.
Music emerges from within as the outdoor stage of the Prison Yard hosts a series of highly atmospheric evening concerts, including two chamber concerts by some of the finest musicians from the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra and the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra. Revered Hong Kong pianist Nancy Loo will perform Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata under the December full moon. The Prison Yard Festival will close with the unstoppable energy of baroque ensemble il Pomo d’Oro with their stellar soloist Jakub Józef Orliński, making his Asian debut with two nights of dazzling virtuosity from the 17th and 18th centuries.