One of the final elements of HKU’s Centennial Campus to be completed was the state-of-the-art Grand Hall in the Lee Shau Kee Lecture Centre. This multifunctional box-in-box structure is now the spectacular setting for University and international events including concerts, screenings, academic conferences and lectures.

But the Cultural Management Team (CMT), set up to look after the Grand Hall’s cultural programming, want it to offer more than most arts venues. “We had this vision,” said Sharon Lu, CMT’s Programme Director. “Where the Grand Hall stands now was previously a reservoir, supplying water to nearby residents. We decided to view the Hall as a reservoir of culture – we want people to drink in culture instead of water.”

Learning element

And they wanted there to be a learning element in the process. “HKU is after all a learning institution,” said Professor Daniel Chua, former Head of the School of Humanities. “We were talking about how we could do it differently to City Hall – and we thought ‘we’re a university – let’s let the brain hang out!’”

One result of this thinking is an initiative called Music in Words (MiW), whereby music concerts at the Grand Hall, include a conversation with the musicians who are performing – usually an informal chat about the piece they are playing and their approach to it.

The first MiW presentation was in February when renowned British/Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt performed a programme that included Bach, Liszt and Beethoven’s Sonata in A-flat major, Opus 110. Professor Chua hosted a discussion with her before the concert started. Not only did Ms Hewitt chat, but she also demonstrated passages to show what she meant.

“It’s very unusual for an audience to experience that kind of intimacy with the musician,” said Ms Lu. “It was inspiring, it felt like we were being allowed a glimpse inside her head – her thoughts on the piece and how she was interpreting it.”

The Shanghai Quartet performed in the Grand Hall in May, and Professor Chua, who is a Beethoven scholar, joined them on stage to chat about the piece they were about to play – Beethoven’s Opus 130. “I hope the conversation with the Quartet helped make the music more understandable to audience members – whether they are musicians themselves or laymen,” he said.

A more unexpected product of the MiW chats is that they create a very different feel in the auditorium. “Talking breaks down the glass wall between performers and audience,” said Professor Chua. “The result is an ambience that is more intimate.”

Music in Words comes under the umbrella of MUSE – My University Spotlight Encounters – a series of programmes set up by CMT with the aim, in Ms Lu’s words, of “bringing diverse, interesting and inspiring programmes” to the campus.

To learn more about MUSE, please go to

The first Music in Words presentation, featuring the acclaimed British/Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt, was held in February.