Musical adventures in Hong Kong
31 May 2021
When Dr Andrew Sutherland first moved to Hong Kong in 2019 to become a lecturer in the Department of Music, little did he know that he' be playing the role of Sir David Attenborough in the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra's new BBC Planet Earth II Live in Concert series during a world-altering pandemic.
With a background as a singer and an interest in music education and film music, Dr Sutherland was well placed to help the orchestra bring the series to life, but the initial approach still took him by surprise.
"I had just arrived in Hong Kong and at HKBU when I got an email from them asking me if I could do some programmes for this very concert," says Dr Sutherland. "That led to some other work, and then eventually they asked me to do the narration."
While the original concert series was postponed following the emergence of COVID-19, it is now finally taking place just over a year later, and it signals a welcome resumption of music and concerts in Hong Kong after a tough year for music with the pandemic.
Born in Australia, Dr Sutherland has sung professionally as a tenor throughout his career, and he taught music in Australia and the UK before his move to Hong Kong two years ago.
"Both of my postgraduate degrees have been in music and education, and there's always been a link to what's happening in schools in my research. My master's focused on curriculum issues, and my PhD looked more at performing ensembles," he says.
This experience within education has proven to be extremely useful, as Dr Sutherland has been working with the orchestra on pre-concert talks and education booklets for schools and their school concert programme, as well as activities for children. It was also this kind of outreach work that eventually led to this opportunity with Planet Earth II.
First broadcast in 2016 by the BBC, Planet Earth II provides a sweeping view of the globe, with the six episodes covering islands, mountains, jungles, deserts, grasslands and cities. Presented by Sir David Attenborough, the series has won multiple awards for its ground-breaking filmmaking techniques, and the stunning pictures are enhanced by a captivating musical score from Hans Zimmer, Jacob Shea and Jasha Klebe. Hong Kong also features in the series.
"In the sixth episode the show highlights the impact of light pollution here in Hong Kong, and the series is very good at exploring environmental issues," says Dr Sutherland.
Apart from juggling his time between the University, singing and the orchestra, Dr Sutherland has also recently published a book about children and opera. Titled Children in Opera, the book looks at the history of children's involvement in the art form and how it changed over time as the concept of the child changed in society, going back as far as the 17th century when opera was in its infancy.
"Throughout the history of opera there are lots of interesting stories about children and their involvement," says Dr Sutherland. "Essentially, the idea behind the book is to whitewash all the adults, which is who we normally talk about, and focus instead on the children in a way that no one else has done."
The book has received positive reviews, and apart from promotional duties, Dr Sutherland is currently working on various projects and preparing for the upcoming concerts.
"It's funny because I grew up watching David Attenborough, and now I'm basically taking on his role in the programme. I can't wait," he says.