Artistic License

Expect the unexpected as Hong Kong’s iconic arts festival gets new man at helm


There is a side of Victor Cha Mou-zing that most people rarely get to see. The deputy chairman and managing director of Hong Kong-listed HKR International is a professional photographer and a highbrow culture buff.

Cha often travels to far-flung places to document the changing seasons. He would wait for hours just to capture the best light on a mountain, or a work of architecture. He also plays the violin.

“I used to play the violin for the school orchestra,” said the 65-year-old. “My mother told me you would be begging on the streets [as a musician] so that’s a statement to my talent, or the lack of it.”

The businessman loves opera and chamber music, especially when it’s played in an intimate environment by a small ensemble. It’s a taste that his high school friend – a music buff – instilled in him when he was 14.

“Somehow, he was able to get all these music scores from somewhere so I just tagged along to whichever concert he went,” Cha recalled. “We looked at the scores while we listened to the music. It was a great time.”

Cha has been “an ardent supporter” of the Hong Kong Arts Festival over the past three decades. The list of programs that he has bought tickets for this year offers a glimpse of how wide-ranging his taste in arts really is.

They include Sleeping Beauty by the Berlin State Ballet; and Watermusic, in which Concerto Copenhagen will perform for the first time in the SAR the works of George Handel and Georg Telemann.

There is also Compagnia Finzi Pasca: La Verita, an unconventional circus act, and Anna Netrebko and Yusif Eyvazov in Concert.

The Russian-born female soprano is Cha’s favorite. “She has been my heartthrob for a long, long time. I am just crazy about her. She is a beautiful and wonderful singer, and she can act as well. That’s a very rare and treasured combination. You can appreciate the opera and the music so much more.”

Launched in 1973, the Hong Kong Arts Festival enters its 44th year with a month-long lineup of performances by leading local and international artists.

This year marks special importance for Cha as he will exert an even greater influence in the next two years, when it comes to leading the festival to expand its reputation beyond Asia, while navigating some tricky waters.

In October, Cha was elected chairman of the Hong Kong Arts Festival after the retirement of Ronald Arculli. Cha had been serving on the festival’s development and executive committees since September 2008.

He was vice chairman prior to assuming the top position. “All the council members and committee members get no fees. It’s all pro-bono work, but with pleasure,” Cha said. Helping with fund- raising remains his main contribution. The festival is funded with box-office takings, yearly-reviewed subventions and private sponsorships.

Having sold 95 percent of the seats last year, ticket sales made up about 37 percent of the festival’s income source. Another 30 and 32 percent came from the government and big corporations, with the Hong Kong Jockey Club as the lead corporate patron.

“About 16 percent of our entire funding is raised. So as one of the Big Nine, we have probably the most amount of fund-raising percentage,” Cha said, referring to the nine performing arts organizations funded by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department.

Apart from receiving a one-off HK$16 million grant in 2010, the festival is given HK$17.18 million annually to operate. However, that amount hasn’t been changed since 2009, so the festival is struggling to deal with rising production costs, Cha said.

But the organizer hasn’t cancelled any acts so far because of lack of funding. It also has no intention of raising ticket prices or cutting back on investing in local productions, which are not always sure bets at the box office.

“We want to keep the festival within reach of most locals,” Cha said. “We don’t need sure bets. We have to take a little bit of risk as an arts festival. That risk may come as a cost, but that’s exactly the juggling and balancing that we have to do.”

The article was first appeared in the Standard on February 12,2016.

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