The Gypsy at the Hong Kong Phil
A chat with our new performing Arts Committee member Michael MacLeod

exhibition“I move around like a gypsy but I adapt to my surroundings and try to fit in like a chameleon,” said Michael MacLeod, our new Performing Arts Committee member who took over the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra in April.

But the 59-year-old impresario is more a legless bird, having spent his life in Columbia, Turkey, Austria, the USA, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Angola and France, and professionally engaged in New York (where he last worked as General and Artistic Director of Glimmerglass Opera) and London before picking Hong Kong as his first Asian home.

What brings him here? MacLeod aspires to bring the Hong Kong Philharmonic (Hong Kong Phil, he insisted, not “HKPO” which is often confused with the Hong Kong Post Office) to the level of its counterparts - the Vienna Philharmonic, London Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic and Los Angeles Philharmonic.     

“An increasing number of players in the great orchestras of Europe and America are Asian instrumentalists,” MacLeod says. “The standard of players in Hong Kong is astonishingly high. We just need a bit more money to attract and keep the talents.”

In order to succeed at the highest level, MacLeod believes Hong Kong needs to have the very best players and a great conductor. The domino effect of attracting talents will lead to larger audiences and more sponsors who want to be associated with excellence.

That is also why it is so important to find a good successor to Edo de Waart, the high- profile and well-liked Dutch chief conductor who is set to leave next year, even if it means searching and waiting for a while.

Despite having only been in Hong Kong for four months, MacLeod is impressed with the government support of arts and cultural development.

“I don’t think Hong Kong is a cultural desert,” said MacLeod, defying a common local sentiment.

“If that is really the case, then there is now a generous flow of water feeding the artistic plant whereas in America, the water has dried up and the arts are withering.”

Joining the WKCD’s Performing Arts Committee would enable MacLeod to share his five-year experience of running the City of London Festival where he was familiar with how to program a cluster of different art forms such as theatre, dance, film, pop and world music.

“I envisage WKCD to be the Asian version of Broadway and the West End,” said MacLeod. “The most important aim is to create an environment that is a magnet for people of all ages, nationalities and from all walks of life, whether they are there just to buy an ice-cream or listen to an opera by Wagner.”

MacLeod may be a bit more sporty than his usual fellow musicians and he seemed to have stopped aging a decade ago. In 2002, MacLeod climbed the world’s tallest free-standing mountain, Kilimanjaro, where he read Hemingway’s short story “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and concluded Hemingway was a bit over-rated and second to Somerset Maugham.

The son of a British diplomat went on to boating, taking his 22-foot “The Flying Scotsman” from the uppermost navigable origins of the Mississippi all the way down to New Orleans. The adventurer has also ridden a pedal bicycle from London to the outer Hebrides, the origin of his branch of the MacLeod clan.

After all of these journeys, the Scot is enjoying the hustle and bustle of Asia’s world city and is settling well.

 “I call home where I am living.”