Rupert Woo Pak is one of the winners of Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra’s Conducting Competition in Chinese music. He has an eclectic skillset and contributes to the Hong Kong music scene in multiple ways, including but not limited to: his work as an erhu instructor of the Chinese orchestra on the Academy’s Junior Music Programme; his part-time lecturing and conducting at HKAPA and his role as Resident Conductor of the Hong Kong Juvenile & Chinese Classical Orchestra. Rupert will be performing next weekend at the Hong Kong City Hall with the other winner of the HKCO Conducting Competition, Kwok Kin Ming.
DB: What is it you love about conducting?
Music is always amazing to me. It can tell a story, express an emotion, give a sense of motion, or just simply bring out different colours and texture. I learned erhu when I was in secondary school and fell in love with what it can play. Through my growth, however, it seems that the sound of one instrument can fulfil my artistic expectation, while the colour of an orchestra brought me much more satisfaction. Brilliant textures and sounds can be built through different combinations of instruments in an orchestra, which is really exciting to me. Moreover, by reading different compositions from different composers, it always amazes me the power of music. You can study the different musical ideas of each composer and how they express themselves through their works. Conducting is not only one profession. We need to know as much as possible, including history, culture, communication with people, emotion of people, different experiences in life…etc, to make our conducting work more fruitful to the audiences. All these characteristics of conducting allow me to enjoy my career.
DB: Do you have a favourite instrument in the Chinese Orchestra?
String instruments. That’s why I chose it when I was in secondary school. I always think string instruments can talk and sing. The emotion can be easily passed to others while performing. Meanwhile, we have quite a lot of music with different styles in China, which is easy to express with string instruments.
DB: You hold a Bachelor of Engineering Degree from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology but went onto switch discourses and completed a Master’s degree in banhu and gaohu performance at the HKAPA, followed by a double Master’s degree in Performance and in Conducting. What inspired you to change paths?
It is my pleasure to receive my first degree in HKUST. While I was studying in secondary school, I wished music performance could be my future career, however, my parents thought that it would be more secure to have a degree in an academic field for my future life and that’s the reason I entered HKUST. During my studies at UST, I kept my interest in Chinese music performance. Even my final year project was titled as “Erhu Synthesis”, which was aimed at using computer programming to synthesize Erhu playing. My two advisers, who were professors of computer science with strong music backgrounds, were surprised with my project – especially the presentation. They said after my erhu demonstration, that I had another character, and they suggested I try the performing career. They inspired me to register for the HKAPA music program and I was lucky to be chosen. With the permission of my parents, originally, I decided to let myself play and finished my performance degree in three years, then went back to my computer science field. After I finished my second degree, I got a full scholarship which supported me in finishing a masters degree in HKAPA, so I chose to keep my career path in Chinese music. I asked APA whether I could complete a masters program in conducting at that moment, however, the situation was not yet well prepared. That’s why I studied my first master degree majored in Banhu and Gaohu. Once I finished my master degree, the conducting major was opened and I started my second master degree here.
DB: How did it feel to win the HKCO conducting competition and how are you feeling about the upcoming concert?
Actually, it surprised me to learn that I was chosen to be one of the competitors in the final round. Winning of course brought joy to me, but I think the most important things I was concerned about was that I can perform with HKCO in a real concert in the final round. It really inspired me. At that moment, prize was no longer important for me – the most meaningful thing was the time spent rehearsing and performing with this world-class Chinese orchestra. Four years later, although I have gained more opportunities to cooperate with HKCO, once I stand on the conductor podium, I feel energetic and excited to work again with HKCO and I adore every second. For the upcoming concert, it is a challenge for me for perform those repertoires with HKCO. I hope our music can arouse every audience.
DB: You are currently Assistant Conductor of the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra and Conductor of the Hong Kong Junior Chinese Orchestra. What are some of the differences in your experience teaching both?
To work in the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra as assistant conductor is an exciting job for me and it is also my dream to be one of them. In the past, I was doing rehearsals and concerts for mainly educational propose. These job opportunities brought me closer towards being a conductor in a professional orchestra. I can say the job nature is totally different and I wish to learn more and be well prepared by this opportunity for my future conducting career. Here, I wish to express my thanks to HKCO for this great experience.
DB: What are your hopes and goals for your future in music?
I wish to have different opportunities and platforms to share music with people, to do my best and keep striving for more in my professional region. I want to keep equipping myself to learn more.