Hong Kong Sinfonietta has named its German principal guest conductor Christoph Poppen as its new music director.
The appointment, delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic, comes two years after Yip Wing-sie stepped down from the role to become the orchestra’s music director emeritus.
Poppen, 66, has been in his current role with the Sinfonietta since 2015 and will begin his tenure as music director at the start of the 2023/24 season.
Born in Munster, he studied the violin and was a founder of the Cherubini Quartet in 1978; he has been a professor of music since his early twenties.
“Conductors don’t retire. As emeritus conductor, I remain in an advisory role. I live in Hong Kong. If Poppen is not here, HKS can count on me for support. This is like having an extra music director.”
She will take the orchestra on tour in Germany in April – a trip delayed for three years because of the pandemic. Poppen will join her and the orchestra for another tour of Portugal and Spain in July.
The German conductor, who has spent a total of 12 weeks in hotel quarantine in Hong Kong in the past three years, documenting some of his stays on video, said the orchestra had been a “role model” for groups around the world in how to adapt to crises and to attract a wider audience.
When performance venues were closed in Hong Kong, he joined the orchestra for some of its self-produced concert-based feature films, which required him to perform without a live audience for the first time in his long career.
He also made a humorous quarantine “countdown journal” on Youtube in 2020 when he was among the first international musicians to come to Hong Kong following the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The Hong Kong Sinfonietta was one of few orchestras in the world to accept incredible challenges like closed venues and to have the energy to gain audience through film projects. Its audience has actually grown after Covid,” he said.
He added that he had watched the orchestra mature in the past seven years and saw no reason to change its direction. “We can just continue what’s been done and will continue to support Hong Kong and local composers,” he said.
As one of nine official “major performing arts groups” recognised by the Hong Kong government, the Sinfonietta received grants totalling HK$41.2 million (US$5.3 million) in the 2021-22 financial year; 28 per cent of its revenues came from ticket sales, sponsorship and others sources.