PADDINGTON BEAR CONCERT | Hong Kong, City Hall Concert Hall

The Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra put on a thrilling, full-bodied, hour-long orchestral concert for ages 3 and up, in this one-day-only affair. Opening the concert was Herbert Chappell’s orchestral score for Paddington Bear’s First Concert (1984), which weaves in short, jazzy interludes around a narrator’s reading (a pyjama-clad Eric Monson) of a classic episode by author Michael Bond.

Deputy leader Anders Hui had plenty of opportunity to shine in the solo violin sections, with a rich, glistening sound. Conductor Ben Palmer was keen to bring out the cartoonish theatricality of the music, with the ensemble ably conveying the Broadway-style swing time and luscious string runs.

Following this, Paddington was left behind as we heard a suite from Poulenc’s Les Animaux modèles, a rich and vivid celebration of the animal world, ending with the quick “Happy Ending” from Copland’s The Red Pony. Not really connected with Paddington Bear, but more child-friendly repertoire played with great joy.

The acoustics of the Hong Kong City Hall Concert Hall are absolutely phenomenal, so every note sounds live and punchy, perfect for a first concert. It was a shame that there was not more of a visual element: Paddington Bear featured as a small stuffed toy, rather than a full-size live character, and there was no attempt at lighting or projections, or even a backdrop. With so many women and girls in the audience (and orchestra), it would have been nice to include a female conductor or narrator among the male-led story. But overall, a successful concert for introducing young children to the magic of live orchestral music.

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