The State of Western Classical Music Performance in Hong Kong in the late 1960s (Chan Ho Choi, Shing Tao Wan Poa, translation by Hui Kwan-wah – 1968)

“Hong Kong has more than three Symphony Orchestras, yet the most active (sic: The HK Philharmonic) still has not reached the required standard. This is not because it has no conductors or that the players are not competent. The chief reason is that the orchestra has been on an amateurish basis. The players are always busy and they take turns being absent from rehearsal. Under these circumstances, it would be difficult to attain good results even if the players were equipped with the standard of professional musicians.

I have pointed out more than once that we must have our orchestras professionalized before we will have one with good standards. The amount of payment to each player is not a high problem, but the payment should be reasonable enough. Of course some players will be more responsible if they are paid. To organize a professional orchestra is not an easy matter; it needs extraordinary perseverance and courage, and heavily strains a person mentally and economically. This is the cause for the delayed formation of a professional orchestra.

News is spreading that a Canadian – Paul Robinson – who is lecturing at the University of Hong Kong, has formed an orchestra out of his own pocket.”

Hong Kong does have Musical Needs (Paul Robinson, China Mail 1968)

“It has been gratifying to note a wide variety of criticism in recent weeks about music in Hong Kong. I say ‘gratifying’ because the criticism bespeaks a growing awareness of needs and shortcomings.

One good point on which all critics seem to agree is the need for a professional orchestra, a subject on which I myself have spilled a lot of ink. Certainly this matter is a convenient focus for all the musical needs of the community.”

Music in Hong Kong – an interview with Paul Robinson

What objectives do you have in mind in forming the Victoria Chamber Symphony?

“I founded the VCS because I believe there is a need for a better orchestra and for more low cost concerts in Hong Kong. It is my belief that there are not enough good orchestra players in Hong Kong to fill a full symphony orchestra, but one might be able to achieve a very high quality with a smaller orchestra – a chamber orchestra.

Before you can have good players there must be paid employment for these players. With the VCS we are trying to provide some employment for good musicians. Yet, at the same time, we cannot give them all the work they need to survive. What is needed as well are some good teaching opportunities, and few of those exist at present.”

An All-Bach Concert Evening by VCS (Chan Ho Choi, "Musical Corner", Shing Tao Wan Poa, translation by Hui Kwan-wah - 1968)

“The Victoria Chamber Symphony has but a short history. It is a “nearly” professional orchestra – the members are mainly students and young people with day jobs. Players are paid a small fee for rehearsals and performances. From this point of view, the VCS can be considered the only professional orchestra in Hong Kong.

Only a year old, the orchestra is beginning to take shape; however it is said that Robinson may leave Hong Kong when his term with the university is finished. If the rumor turns out to be true, what a loss it would be to the musical life of Hong Kong.”

Packed House (Paul Lloyd, “in the Critic’s Chair”, SCMP)

“The Urban Council’s popular concerts are remarkably praiseworthy. No one knows how completely to entertain four million people, but the Urban Council is making the only significant attempt – and at one dollar a seat!…In the City Hall it  presented the Victoria Chamber Symphony, one of Hong Kong’s two European-style orchestras, and its conductor, Paul Robinson….Paul Robinson knows his music. Witness his previous concerts and his classical record reviews in ‘Roundup.’ Yesterday’s concert was no let-down in this respect."

All-Bach Evening (Paul Lloyd, “Critics’ Corner”, SCMP)

“Music lovers of Hong Kong often cry for bread. On Saturday night, in the City Hall Theatre, Paul Robinson gave them cake – a splendid recipe with colorful icing….The “Peasant Cantata” is not the staple diet of Bach lovers, but it really was a splendid stage production – a simple colorful setting with extravagant costumes. Bernadette Murray’s professional production had wit, if a little heavy, and sparkle. The players enjoyed it as much as the audience did.”



Photographs

Robinson was Music Critic for the China Mail, 1967-69, Hong Kong.

Victoria Chamber Symphony (VCS) with The Robin Boyle Singers, City Hall “dollar concerts”, Hong Kong 1969

Victoria Chamber Symphony in rehearsal for “all-Bach” concert, City Hall ‘dollar concerts’,  Hong Kong 1968

VCS, Maestro Paul Robinson and Hong Kong soloist, soprano Nancy Zi.


One of the many free government subsidized outdoor concerts given by the VCS at various housing estates in Hong Kong.
Many of the best professional musicians in Hong Kong in the 1960s were Filipino and earned a living performing in hotels and nightclubs. Here are two of them just before an outdoor performance in which they were featured as soloists in Vivaldi's Concerto for Two Trumpets in C major.