Beautifully Controlled
KEITH BRAMICH makes a return visit to
Jacky Wong’s Hornton Chamber Orchestra

Since much can change in twelve months, it was interesting to make a return visit, exactly a year later, to hear Jacky Wong’s greatly expanded Hornton Chamber Orchestra, featuring students from London‘s conservatoires, on 31 January 2016. Since last year’s concert [Modest Forces?, 3 Feb 2015], this young Hong Kong-born musician had managed to persuade the powers that be to let him use Duke’s Hall at London’s Royal Academy of Music, allowing him to assemble an orchestra at least double the size of that I heard at the end of January 2015 — and to play in an acoustic much preferable, at least to my ear, to that of the parish church across the road.

The first of the two works on the programme was Haydn‘s 1792 Sinfonia Concertante in B flat, H I/105, with four excellent female soloists — Maria Flores on violin, taking much of the limelight, especially in the outer movements, Jingzhuo Zhang, cello, Rebecca Woodward, oboe and a creamy bassoon sound from Alice Quayle. The central Andante was nicely poised, and although the final Allegro con spirito was taken fast, the ensemble was very clean. Flores’ final movement cadenzas, in particular, showed off her very pure and sweet-sounding high range.

From left to right: Maria Florez, Rebecca Woodward, Alice Quayle, Jingzhuo Zhang and Jacky Wong, with members of the Hornton Chamber Orchestra at the Royal Academy of Music's Duke's Hall on 31 January 2016
From left to right: Maria Florez, Rebecca Woodward, Alice Quayle, Jingzhuo Zhang and Jacky Wong, with members of the Hornton Chamber Orchestra at the Royal Academy of Music’s Duke’s Hall on 31 January 2016

The other work presented was Schubert‘s Tragic Symphony in C minor. Apart from a slight feeling of hesitation at the first movement’s Allegro vivace pickup, and a horn incident near the end of the Andante, it was again all very well done, and the balance between instruments and sections was much improved from last year. The quiet woodwind answering phrases in the Andante, for example, were beautifully controlled and tuned. Jacky Wong took the finale at quite a lick, and, although dramatic, much of the music’s inner detail became quite difficult to savour. In my head I can hear the voice of my friend and Jacky’s sponsor, the late Robert Anderson, smiling wisely and saying ‘too fast’!

Leader Dmitry Khakharmov shakes hands with conductor Jacky Wong (right), with members of the Hornton Chamber Orchestra at the Royal Academy of Music's Duke's Hall on 31 January 2016
Leader Dmitry Khakharmov shakes hands with conductor Jacky Wong (right), with members of the Hornton Chamber Orchestra at the Royal Academy of Music’s Duke’s Hall on 31 January 2016

This concert was performed to a very high standard, and at the end of the Schubert, Jacky, who had been conducting from memory, and who, these days, is studying conducting with Peter Robinson and John Landor, was cheered by audience members. It was easy to hear and see how the Hornton Chamber Orchestra has improved during the year, and this bodes extremely well for the future.


A review from Ensemble – Music and Vision of the Inaugural Concert.

Modest Forces?

KEITH BRAMICH listens to the first performance
by a young conductor and his new orchestra

Almost directly opposite London’s Royal Academy of Music on the busy Marylebone Road stands St Marylebone Parish Church — a rather grand early nineteenth century Thomas Hardwick creation. Many generations of some of the cream of the world’s music students have presumably used this conveniently-located building for their concerts and recitals. On the cold final evening of January 2015, the very latest group of such students gathered to give the first concert by a new orchestra.

Masterminding the evening’s all-Mozart programme was Ho Tung Wong (known to his English-speaking friends as Jacky), born in Hong Kong in 1994 and so only barely in his twenties, and directing his first orchestral concert. Although a newcomer to conducting, Jacky has considerable experience as a pianist (beginning as a five-year-old) and violinist (from the age of eight). After early studies in Hong Kong, he was able to join the sixth form at Harrow School on a full music scholarship and more recently embark on undergraduate studies at the establishment over the road, also with a scholarship. In addition, he has considerable orchestral experience, having led the second violins in the Asian Youth Orchestra between 2011 and 2013, and taking the role of the Duet Philharmonic Orchestra’s concertmaster at London’s Royal Festival Hall in 2013 for a performance of Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand. If this weren’t enough, he has also collected a series of competition prizes, including first place in the youth category of the 2011 Hong Kong International Violin Competition.

Rather modestly, considering his evident talent and all the resources which could have been brought from across the road, Jacky had chosen a programme requiring minimal orchestral forces — barely twenty string players, a single flute and pairs of oboes, bassoons and French horns, but no clarinets, trumpets or timpani.

The first work, for even more modest forces — just the pairs of oboes and horns, with strings, was in fact both an overture and a symphony, in the Italian style. Mozart had written the first two movements (K 196) to preface his comic opera La finta giardiniera, performed in Munich in 1775, and then, probably during the same year, added the final Allegro (K 121) to form this jubilant and joyful early symphony.

The first signs from this youthful and energetic team were very positive, and indicative of the concert as a whole: fast, nimble and expert playing, with good ensemble, tuning and balance. Tempi were perhaps a little too fast for the church’s two-second acoustic, which allowed the oboes, horns and high strings through successfully, but tended to muddy the sound of the lower strings (at least from the perspective of my seat half way down the nave). At these speeds, this short three-movement work was over in probably the same number of minutes but, as far as it was possible to hear, everything was played both accurately and musically.

Jacky wasn’t at all modest in his choice of soloist for the Piano Concerto No 19 in F, K 459. Ke Ma, also born in 1994, won second prize in the Xiwangbei Piano Competition at the age of five. After studying with Zhong Hui in Beijing, she returned to take first prize in the same contest two years later. More recently, she was awarded third prize in the 2012 Ettlingen International Piano Competition, and won the Harriet Cohen Bach Prize and the Harold Craxton Prize. She has studied with Galina Popova at Xinghai Conservatory, won a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Music, beginning in 2011, and is currently a student of Christopher Elton. Since moving to the UK she has played at St James Piccadilly, Bristol’s Colston Hall, King’s Place, and has given a solo recital at London’s Wigmore Hall in early 2015. On 8 July 2015 she will give a solo recital at London’s Purcell Room.

The combination of Jacky and Ke, if not explosive, was certainly exciting, and the trend of sensitive and accurate but extremely speedy music-making continued. Occasionally some piano detail was lost, covered by the orchestra or more probably just eaten by the church acoustic. Some of the slow movement’s woodwind solos could have been brought out a little more, and in the introduction to the third movement, the lower strings’ phrases (answering the upper strings) could have been stronger. Again this may have been acoustic and my choice of seat position. A little more attention could perhaps have been given to piano tuning prior to the concert. But these are all small details in a performance that was, by and large, extremely accomplished.

During the interval I moved to sit right at the front, where most of the respectable-sized audience had gathered, and enjoyed a much more immediate experience in the second half: I was now close enough to the first violins to hear individual players and bear testament to the accuracy of the string playing.

Symphony No 40 in G minor, K 550, the best known work on the programme, began with a slightly faster-than-the-norm tempo for the famous opening, and again Jacky produced an exciting performance. All the other movements were, as by now expected, on the fast side. Peter Moutoussis and Ella Finley’s nicely mellow horn playing lost control in only a couple of places. The second movement downward imitative phrases shared between the woodwind instruments needed some balancing: Oliver Roberts’ flute was strong, but the oboe and especially bassoon were too quiet here. In general, though, the woodwind sound was very clear. At one point during the finale, I sensed that the orchestra was rushing slightly and that Jacky was gallantly managing to hold them back.

Again these are very minor issues, and in general the performances were polished and convincing. Taking into account the fact that Jacky is studying violin, viola and piano at the Royal Academy — not conducting — then his confident and largely economic directing is the more remarkable, and I look forward to the next appearances of Ke Ma, Ho Tung Wong and the newly-formed Hornton Chamber Orchestra.

Copyright © 3 February 2015 Keith Bramich,
Worcestershire UK

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