At just 29 and with only 5 years of training, Hong Kong musician Wilson Ng has risen to stardom in the conducting world. Here, he tells us of his plans to bring his passion for classical music to every corner of the city.
“I have only five pants, and they are all red in colour. It saves me time from choosing,” Wilson Ng begins his introduction. Time is indeed of the essence for the young musician. A rising star in the conducting world, his days are packed with hours of rehearsals and performances at home and abroad. Recently back from Korea, where he made a historic debut as the first Chinese Associate conductor to direct the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, he sat down with Hive Life to offer us a glimpse into his musical metamorphosis from lost childhood prodigy to baton-wielding rock star who’s upending the way we appreciate classical music in Hong Kong.
Wilson’s musical journey can be traced back to a father-son conversation sparked by the theme song from the movie Titanic 18 years ago. “I fell in love with it immediately. I asked my father what the instrument was, and he told me it was a flute. A few days later, I got one,” he recalls. Within two hours, he had taught himself how to play it. “Music always helps me understand the universe,” he explains. “It’s like a guide for life. Just like a recital, life begins with applause, then there come the ups and downs, and then the climax.”
By 2013, aged 24, Wilson became the first local flute musician to host a solo recital at the Hong Kong Art Festival, however, success didn’t bring satisfaction. “I’d come a long way to realise my dream, but it felt so quick. All of a sudden, I felt a void,” he recalls. And so he turned to conducting – a profession long held by those with considerably more experience. “It was a natural evolvement perhaps. It’s like being in a company, you work really hard, and then you become the boss.”
Wilson’ motivation stems from more than his own passion. “I’m a dreamer,” he says, “I think eventually, we all have to do something for the society.” That’s why he founded the local Gustav Mahler Orchestra in 2014, providing a platform for local talents who haven’t had the opportunity to study music abroad like he did. “It’s about finding a balance between what I’m good at, what I’m happy doing, and what society needs. When all three boxes are ticked, I just go for it.”
He also hopes to engage audiences with more interactive performances, taking his music outside the concert hall and into school halls, temples and shopping malls. “We want to make music relevant and to bring people closer to classical music in Hong Kong,” says the maverick. “I know classical music is a great dish, but not everyone is enjoying the recipe.” To that end, he tries to explain what’s going on to his listeners, encouraging them to connect with the artists next to them. “I want the audience to understand what it takes to be a musician,” he explains. “I believe, once you acknowledge the effort it takes for players to harmonise with different instruments, you learn to appreciate music.”
It all speaks to a collaborative approach that’s far from the hierarchical reputation long attached to music maestros. And therein lies Wilson’s strengths and difference. As he puts it, “the beauty of an orchestra performance lies not only in the music, but also the sense of togetherness, of working together towards a goal. An orchestra is like society, everybody has a different voice, different thinking, yet we’re harmonised.”