As world leaders converge in Hamburg for the G20 summit, one of the highlights for the VIP guests will be enjoying Beethoven’s Symphony No 9 in the city’s brand new concert hall, Elbphilharmonie.
The stunning building with a glass facade was designed by Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron and features advanced acoustics. Located right at the Hamburg harbour, it was built on top of the historic Kaiserspeicher, a former warehouse. The €866 million (HK$7.6 billion) concert hall is a piece of cultural infrastructure that Germany takes pride in.
Since opening in January, it has become a new travel destination in Hamburg, with shows perpetually overbooked. Unlike Berlin, Hamburg is not known as a cultural city, but its people are now thinking about how to reinvent this historic port as a cultural capital.
Concert halls play a vital role not just in a city’s cultural life but also its image on the global stage. Many of Hong Kong’s top civil servants are fans of classical music and concert regulars. But their passion has not led to the development of a world-class concert hall, which Hong Kong deserves.
We only have a concert hall in the Cultural Centre complex. There was supposed to be one in the West Kowloon Cultural District. But, after 20 years of debate, delays and cost escalation, the plan to build the concert hall has been deferred. Instead, we are expecting a Hong Kong version of Beijing’s Palace Museum, with HK$3.5 billion in funding from the Jockey Club.
Culturally speaking, we are in more urgent need of a world-class concert hall than another museum. We already have visual culture museum M+ and the Old Bailey Galleries at Tai Kwun. Government facilities such as the Heritage Museum and Museum of Art have long been showcasing historic works of art.
It will certainly benefit Hong Kong to have the Palace Museum in the long run. But the urgency is intriguing, compounded by the fact that witnessing the signing of the deal was among the first items on President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) agenda when he visited last week.
Beijing is wary of the fact that, 20 years after Hong Kong’s return to the motherland, the hearts of its people are drifting further away. Will the Palace Museum help bring Hong Kong people closer to the mainland culturally? Or will they, particularly the younger generation, find it an arbitrary imposition to revolt against?
Hong Kong has already lost a great deal to regional rivals in the past two decades. The new government must give serious thought to cultural priorities.
Vivienne Chow is a journalist, cultural critic and founder of Cultural Journalism Campus. She is also an honorary lecturer at the Journalism and Media Studies Centre at the University of Hong Kong