The Queen's Gramophone
With Yip Wing-sie (conductor) and the Hong Kong Sinfonietta at the work's premiere.

The Queen’s Gramophone

(2009, 12′)

For Orchestra
Commissioned by the Hong Kong Sinfonietta
Funded in part by the Composer Assistance Program of the American Music Center


2 Flutes (2nd doubles Piccolo), 2 Oboes, 2 B-flat Clarinets (2nd doubles E-flat Clarinet), 2 Bassoons, 2 Horns, 2 Trumpets, 1 Trombone, Timpani, Percussion (Snare Drum, Suspended Cymbal, Small Crash Cymbals, Glockenspiel, Piccolo Snare Drum, Claves, Sandpaper Blocks, Bass Drum, Tam-Tam, Splash Cymbal, Triangle, Bongos), Strings


How do I write a piece of music for a city where I was born, grew up, and have since left almost 18 years ago?

My most vivid memories and images of Hong Kong remain frozen in 1992, the year that I left for the United States. The colony and its booming economy await anxiously for reunification, while my friends from school and their families emigrated to various places around the world to avoid what they expected to be an impending catastrophe. This nostalgia for a bygone time and place reminded me of the way Wong Kar-Wai framed colonial Hong Kong in his films; the antique sensuality of In The Mood For Love, the bittersweet surrealism in Chungking Express, the fragmented future of 2046 – they all look to a collective memory of the past to comment on the contemporary.

For The Queen’s Gramophone, I decided to write about Hong Kong by similarly evoking a collective nostalgia, in the form of an imaginary gramophone at a nightclub in 1950s Hong Kong, in an imaginary black-and-white Cantonese movie:

“A couple sits at a table in an empty restaurant, staring coldly just beyond each other. To break the silence, the man gestures for the waiter, tips him, and instructs him to turn on the jukebox. The record player teases out an unfamiliar tune. The couple stands up, the woman puts her arms on the man’s shoulders, they begin to dance. They dance, and the evening begins its slow dissolve.”

In memory of Nicholas Maw.


November 6, 2009 Hong Kong Sinfonietta, with Yip Wing-sie, conductor. Hong Kong City Hall Concert Hall, Hong Kong, China.