The sounds of music cannot be imprisoned by lofty walls, barred windows and barbed wire. As music freely escapes from Tai Kwun’s Prison Yard, wafting gently upward into the night sky, music just as effortlessly drifts across land borders and sea crossings, using humanity’s shared primal response to music as its passport, and the act of communal music-making a form of intuitive diplomacy.
Revered conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim and the late Palestinian public intellectual Edward Said shared both a passion for music and a profound commitment to peace in the Middle East. By forming an orchestra of Israeli and Arab musicians - the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra - every rehearsal, performance, recording and concert tour would be irrefutable proof that living, working and playing side by side in a shared pursuit of a musical ideal can create the common ground from which can grow empathy, understanding and reconciliation.
Tai Kwun is immensely proud to host the West-Eastern Divan Ensemble as our ensemble-in-residence in November 2023, comprising eight principal musicians from the Orchestra, directed from the violin by Michael Barenboim. The residency includes two full concerts featuring the whole ensemble in music by Elliott Carter, Fanny Mendelssohn, Beethoven and Schubert, a community outreach program, and opens with a Tai Kwun Conversation in which Hong Kong audiences will hear about the musicians’ experience of performing in the ensemble and the orchestra, gain insights into the challenges and triumphs which have defined the West-Eastern Divan’s 24-year history, and have the opportunity to participate in a Q&A on the opening night of the Prison Yard Festival.
Several of Hong Kong’s finest classical musicians perform throughout the Festival. Amongst them is the outstanding Hong Kong pianist Chiyan Wong, who will perform Mozart’s concerto in collaboration with the quintet from the West-Eastern Divan Ensemble in his recital; pianist Shelley Ng to whom we handed the challenge to devise her own, personal Beethoven by Moonlight recital under the November full moon on 27th, by using the Moonlight Sonata as a launch pad for a highly personal musical flight of imagination. Violinist Wang Liang once again assembles a close-knit quintet of like-minded musicians for Brahms’s serene and autumnal Clarinet Quintet before racing off in an easterly direction, dancing frantically in Bartók’s Transylvanian, Romanian, Arab and Turkish footsteps to arrive just in time for a Jewish wedding in the form of a Klezmer dance. The Prison Yard stage is opened to the musicians from The Orchestra Academy over the weekend, providing a platform for young talents to curate programmes and connect with audience.
Before each concert in the Prison Yard, we salute the centenary of the birth of the avant-garde Hungarian composer György Ligeti (1923-2006) with a series of short pre-concert happenings on the Laundry Steps, each of which includes a performance of the notorious Poème Symphonique for 100 metronomes.