Answers from Our Experts (3)
With a host of musical genres, City Hall is always a good bet for live entertainment. Back in 1933, Hong Kong demolished its original City Hall — an elegant two-story colonial structure built in 1869 — to make room for two bank buildings. The stark, blocky waterfront complex that replaced it in 1962 may not match the original’s architectural charm, but it still stands as a vital cultural outpost in a city where money often comes before art, let alone music. Good thing there’s plenty of space here; in addition to a library, a marriage registry, a theater and two exhibition galleries, City Hall also houses a concert hall and recital hall, both preferred venues for the compact but lively Hong Kong Sinfonietta, which stages year-round concerts of orchestra favorites, as well as newly commissioned works.
Love it or loathe it, the Hong Kong Cultural Centre’s controversial pink-tile-clad structure (comparisons have included “a giant ski jump”) reigns over Victoria Harbour and serves as Hong Kong’s top performing arts venue. A must-visit for classical music aficionados, the venue opened in 1989 and provides up to 1.4 million seats annually for cultural events, including Western operas, ballet, theater and modern dance. Not only is it a hub for touring troupes, but it’s also home to the city’s two foremost classical-music ensembles: the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra and the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra, both of which regularly perform in the 2,019-seat Concert Hall and the 1,734-seat Grand Theatre. Past highlights include concerts with world-class soloists such as Chinese-American cellist Yo-Yo Ma, as well as performances by the Sydney Symphony.
In a city that often favors new over old, many times at the expense of its own heritage, it’s refreshing to find Loke Yew Hall, a beautiful, historic 1912 structure tucked within Hong Kong University’s main campus. It served as a hospital during World War II, though now, in its role as theater, concert and lecture hall, it has hosted both the Hong Kong Philharmonic and the venerable Chinese political leader Dr. Sun Yat-sen, a crucial figure in the creation of modern, post-dynastic China. Head here for lunchtime and early evening concerts by young and emerging musicians, and look out for the free HKU Concert Series (held each September).
Big-name acts, from indie rockers The XX to electronica acts like Owl City, often come to the Kowloonbay International Trade & Exhibition Centre (or, as it's commonly called, KITEC) to play for packed crowds of music fans. This massive space boasts 1.76 million square feet, making it one of Hong Kong's most versatile venues; music premieres, conferences and festivals also commonly fill the event calendar here.
For classical performances, the headline venue is the Hong Kong Cultural Center, on the waterfront in Tsim Sha Tsui. Home to the HK Philharmonic, it also plays host to major international talent. Directly across the harbor, City Hall is another preferred site for classical music.
Major pop acts (your Gagas and Biebers) sometimes stop at the AsiaWorld exposition center, near the airport.
Indie and alternative rock fans should check out Hidden Agenda, a bare bones space in east Kowloon -- the "Hidden" part is no joke -- where local and touring acts play to a (mostly) young crowd of scenesters.
Hong Kong does have one major alternative music festival: the third edition of Clockenflap, a two-day, outdoor event with several stages, happens toward the end of the year. Primal Scream and De La Soul were some of the headliners last year.
Local institution The Wanch, in Wan Chai, has live music every night, with an eclectic program of local acts, and no cover charge.
Unfortunately, Hong Kong doesn’t have a vibrant a live-music scene to rival neighbors Manila and Singapore. Fortunately, this is changing. Event organizers like Your Mum are working hard to bring popular pop and indie-rock acts to Hong Kong on the regular, transforming the city into one with its finger on the pulse.
Sometimes these shows, featuring international acts like Grimes and The XX, are held in charmless venues like AsiaWorld Expo or KITEC. It can be worth the trek, but luckily some are held at Grappa’s Cellar, a funky pizza-parlor-turned-venue in Central where you can see genuinely big names perform in close, intimate quarters.
For a more local slice, head to Hidden Agenda, which occupies a totally unique and valuable niche in Hong Kong's music ecosystem. The beloved Kwun Tong livehouse plays host to independent mainland, international and local rock bands in an industrial space. It’s also home to events like HKXO, an attempt to unite the disparate Western and Chinese rock scenes. For a glimpse into Hong Kong’s local youth scene, you can’t do much better.
Finally, Hong Kong’s clubs are increasingly inviting major names like Hot Chip, Massive Attack, and Chromeo to play DJ-sets. Check out Fly, Socialito or the painfully hip, literally underground XXX to see where you can dance the night away.