King's Harmonica Quintet was formed in 1987 by five Hong Kong harmonica enthusiasts who create a revolutionary form of harmonica performance aiming to exploit the capabilities of harmonica to the fullest extent. The Quintet transcribes classical string quartet and ensemble works for two treble chromatic harmonicas, two tenor chromatic harmonicas, and one bass chromatic harmonica. Whereas the originality of the works is preserved, special techniques and tone quality of harmonica ensemble are incorporated to leave the audience a stylistic and innovative presentation of the music.
The Hong Kong South China Morning Post appraised this unique musical exercise as "the most fascinating exercise in music rearrangement since Kizuhito Yamashita played a solo of Dvorak's New World Symphony". It has explicated the Quintet premiere concert as "blowing up a real harmonica storm" and being "one of the most astonishing concerts Hong Kong had presented recently". It also highlighted that the reading of Shostakovich's Third String Quartet was "virtually an improvement on the Russian's work". (full text)
The King's Harmonica Quintet is now recognized as one of the finest harmonica ensemble groups in the world and probably the only quintet that almost exclusively performs classical music! The British classical harmonica legend, Douglas Tate, once reviewed the Quintet's performance and expressed, from a musician's viewpoint, that "this is the finest example of group playing that I have ever heard using harmonica ... an exceptionally high standard of musicality". In particular, "the bass playing is outstandingly sensitive, it doesn't sound like a bass harmonica being played!"
The Quintet's extensive repertoire embraces three centuries of musical development, both in Eastern and Western cultures. Their works range from the music of Bach, Mozart, Schubert, Dvorak, Borodin to contemporary composers such as Gershwin and Shostakovich. The superb interpretation of Chinese music such as the Butterfly Lovers' Concerto and the Spring Festival Overture has captured exceptional applause from both Western and Eastern audiences, as highlighted by a full house standing ovation after the performance in the 1996 SPAH (Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica) Convention in St. Louis, Missouri, USA.
A milestone in the development of the harmonica repertoire was established in February 2000. Five works, totaling to over an hour of music, were commissioned for the Quintet. The Quintet made the world premiere performances of these works, written by two Hong Kong composers Hui Cheung-wai and Mui Kwong-chiu, in the prestigious Hong Kong Arts Festival. The original repertoire for harmonica quintet has since then been expanded to 30, including concerto works with symphonic orchestra and Chinese orchestra and ensemble works in collaboration with other instruments like guqin, sheng, harp, guitar and percussion. The most astounding breakthrough among these is the symphonic debut with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra in January 2002, performing two works by Hui Cheung-wai: Rendezvous Paris and Reflections from a Pentagonal Crystal. In recognition of their tremendous contribution in promoting contemporary music, the Quintet has been invited as a guest performer in a special concert of the ISCM (International Society for Contemporary Music) World Music Days 2002 Hong Kong as well as in the Musicarama Festival 2006 presented by the Hong Kong Composers’ Guild.
The Quintet has made numerous prestigious performances in Hong Kong, including the magnificent Hong Kong Arts Festival 2000 as one of the featured artists (2 concerts), collaboration as solo artists with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra in 2002 (2 concerts), and with the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra (2 concerts) and the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong in 2004. In 2006, the Quintet was appointed as the Artist-in-Residence for Radio Television Hong Kong Radio 4 (1 live and 2 recorded concerts), as well as the guest performer for the Ministers’ Dinner of the International Telecommunication Union Conference in Hong Kong, which was the first time the conference was held outside its headquarters in Geneva. In 2008, the Quintet took the honour to participate in the gala performance of the closing ceremony for the Beijing 2008 Olympic torch relay in Hong Kong in the Golden Bauhinia Square. In 2009, the Quintet led 6,131 local harmonica lovers together with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra to break the Guinness World Record of the largest such ensemble at the Happy Valley Recreation Ground. A decade after the debut in the Hong Kong Arts Festival, the Quintet was invited back again to perform in the Hong Kong Arts Festival 2010. In 2011’s Hacken Lee and Hong Kong Sinfonietta Concert. which ran for 6 concerts at Hong Kong Coliseum, the Quintet was invited to be guest performer and received great applause. In celebration of Silver Jubilee in 2012, the world renowned Sigmund Groven, who is acquainted with the Quintet for years, came all the way from Norway to join the Quintet in the concert Nordic Rendezvous. In the following year, the Quintet was appointed the Artist-in-Residence of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. It also received another concert invitation from the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra once again after 10 years.
In October 1995, the Quintet made its overseas debut in the 1995 World Harmonica Festival at Yokohama, Japan. The Quintet and its members made 7 entries in the Solo, Duo, Trio and Group (4-6 persons) categories of the competition and achieved an unmatched overall successful result. In all 7 entries, they were awarded with the first 6 positions in their respective categories. More notable results were the 2nd place in Group category, 1st and 2nd place in Duo category and 3rd place in Trio category. The Quintet joined the 1997 World Harmonica Festival again in October 1997 at the home town of harmonica - Trossingen in Germany. In the Group category of the competition, the Quintet attained the highest honour by seizing the title of world champion, thus making a history for Hong Kong. In other categories, its members once again achieved remarkable results: the 2nd, 4th and 5th places in the Open category and the 3rd, 4th and 5th places in the Chromatic Solo category. In the two World Harmonica Festivals in 1995 and 1997, members of the Quintet seized a total of 16 awards, including two champions, three first runners-up and two second runners-up titles.
During the 1995 Festival, the Quintet was invited to a gala concert as a result of its amazing performance in the competition. In the winners' concert subsequent to the Festival, critic from Radio Television Hong Kong commented that "in all these works, the Quintet showed off the uniqueness of harmonicas as well as reproduced faithfully the style of the string quartet pieces". The form of harmonica quintet was recognized as "opening up a new avenue for harmonica enthusiasts". (full text)
The American Harmonica Newsletter also described the live recording of the concert as one "convincing people that the harmonica is a tremendously versatile, strong and delicate musical instrument". The Quintet was "doing untold credit for the harmonica method and application" and that "a tremendous pride of accomplishment was displayed". In the 1997 World Harmonica Festival, the Quintet was honoured to be invited to perform in the "Friends for Friends" concert. The Quintet presented a favourite work in its repertoire: Villa-Lobos' String Quartet No.1. Together with Dr. POON Chung-keung, one of the founding members of the Quintet, the sextet performed a bold arrangement of Rossini's Barber of Seville Overture. With these spectacular arrangements and performances, the distinct characteristics of the Quintet as a unique harmonica chamber music group were fully demonstrated, deeply impressing harmonica lovers around the world who attended the Festival.
In the first Asia Pacific Harmonica Festival held in October 1996 at Taipei, the Quintet was among the top Asian harmonica players who were honoured to be invited to perform in the gala concert. Ho Pak-cheong, the first treble harmonica player of the Quintet, was one of the adjudicators for the harmonica competition. He also conducted a workshop for more than 100 harmonica enthusiasts on the skills of playing chromatic harmonica and the art of harmonica quintet. Immediately after the Festival, the Quintet made a tour around Taiwan to play for a total audience of over 10,000. The response of the people who met the Quintet is best described by a quote from Thomas Colvin, who was also in the panel of adjudicators, "astonishing and inspiring ... no one can claim that the harmonica lacks merit as an instrument after hearing this group ... such clarity of sound, and nuances of delivery". (full text)
In August 1998, 2000, and 2002, the Quintet was once again invited to be the guest performers and adjudicators in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Asia Pacific Harmonica Festivals held at Kuala Lumpur, Seoul and Atsugi (Japan) respectively. In the 3rd Asia Pacific Harmonica Festival, the Quintet representing Hong Kong was unanimously endorsed by Asia Pacific countries to host the 5th Asia Pacific Harmonica Festival in 2004. The Quintet subsequently led the formation of the Hong Kong Harmonica Association in 2002. The mega-scale 5th Asia Pacific Harmonica Festival 2004 in Hong Kong attracted more than 2,000 harmonica players from over 20 countries/cities participated and is highly regarded as one of the most successful harmonica festivals. The logo "A" was adopted by subsequent festival organizing countries as official APHF logo in perpetuity. In subsequent Asia Pacific Harmonica Festivals (2006 Taipei, 2008 Hangzhou, 2010 Singapore, 2012 Kuala Lumpur, 2014 Hangzhou, 2016 Hsinchu) and World Harmonica Festivals (2005, 2009, 2013) in Germany, the Quintet was once again invited to perform, conduct seminars and judge competitions.
At the 2005 World Harmonica Festival in Germany, the Hong Kong harmonica delegation seized a total 7 trophies, including 5 champion titles out of the 12 categories of competition and excelled all participating countries. The Quintet also performed in a special concert in a local church, featuring the complete Shostakovich's Third String Quartet. Performed without amplification, the concert attracted a full house of 800 audiences.
Since its debut in Japan in 1995, the Quintet and its members appeared on the international concert stage regularly, with footsteps tracking 30 cities of nearly 20 countries of Asia Pacific (Macau, Hangzhou, Shanghai, Taipei, Keelung, Taichung, Seoul, Tokyo, Yokohama, Atsugi [in Japan], Yamagata, Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Singapore, Sydney), Europe (Trossingen [in Germany], Venice, Brussels, Milan, Barcelona, Rome, The Hague, Berlin, Prague, Munich, Ljubljana [in Slovenia], Bratislava [in Slovakia], Bucharest [in Romania], Oslo [in Norway]), and USA (St. Louis). The performances are extended outside the harmonica community. In 2006, the Quintet was invited to be the sole performer for the Opening Ceremony of the Hong Kong Exhibition in the 10th International Architecture Exhibition of Venice Biennale in Italy. In 2007, the Quintet was invited by the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in Brussels to conduct a series of Chinese New Year tour concerts in 6 European cities to showcase the unique harmonica performing art stemmed in Hong Kong with thrilling success and appreciation from notables in the audience. In 2011, the Quintet conducted another series of Chinese New Year tour concerts in 4 cities of East Europe.
Last update: 30 December 2016