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Do not Cease the Music: Golden Horse Award-Profitable Composer Leon Ko on Why He’ll By no means Stop to Write

Do not Cease the Music: Golden Horse Award-Profitable Composer Leon Ko on Why He’ll By no means Stop to Write

A stalwart of theatre and musicals, composer and songwriter Leon Ko tells us why, even after decades in the business, he has no thoughts of slowing down.

Leon Ko knows he isn’t the household name he might otherwise have been if he’d kept on writing pop songs, but both his pedigree and accolades will convince you he should be.

After majoring in theatre at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, the first Hong Kong student to do so, one of Ko’s earliest projects, Heading East, won the 2001 Richard Rodgers Development Award. Since then he’s written scores for countless musicals, theatrical productions and films, including The Legend of the White Snake, Field of Dreams, The Passage Beyond, Sing Out, The Woman in Kenzo, The Impossible Trial and Our Immortal Cantata, all of which won Best Score at the Hong Kong Drama Awards.

His magnum opus was the music for the critically acclaimed Perhaps Love, which won a CASH Golden Sail Music Award for Best Alternative Composition, a Hong Kong Film Award, an Asia-Pacific Film Festival Award and a Golden Bauhinia Award for Best Film Score. It also won the Golden Horse Award for Best Original Film Song, which was especially important for Ko as his mother, one of the most famous actresses of her time, won the first-ever Golden Horse Award for Best Actress. “It’s the most meaningful award for me because of my mom, and the unexpectedness of getting it,” he says.

“The Golden Horse is something my mom had, and I never thought I’d ever receive it. How would I ever get one? I barely worked in movies. But this is what I call alignment. I’d never planned for it, but sometimes even if you plan something really well, your path ultimately takes you somewhere else.”

It wasn’t only his mother who was a successful entertainer. Ko’s grandfather was a prolific Cantonese opera artist, so given his family background it seems natural that he’d grow up with intense pressure to match their achievements, if not outdo them. And indeed he did, but now after decades of experience and his own triumphs, the pressure is no longer on him.

“I did feel I had to meet their achievements, and I still do,” Ko admits. “But I feel it less now, because I’m really busy and I don’t have time to think about where I am in this world. I’m here in the present and I just focus on that. Now, it’s less about having to live up to my grandfather or my mother. Especially the younger people I work with, who’ve never seen anything my family has done, so they don’t give me that pressure. That’s a blessing.”

While he no longer feels the need to match his predecessors’ achievements, nor does he chase the same amount of fame his mother enjoyed – or as he saw it, endured. “What the audience gets and doesn’t get really affects the direction of a show because, after all, it’s an artistic statement, but at the same time it’s also oriented towards the public,” he explains. “You’re not doing it in your living room. You need to connect with the audience. You have to think about what they like, and you need to be one step ahead of them. But you don’t have to follow their footsteps. They like to tell you what’s on trend and what to do, and I’m so against that. That’s why I guess I could be a lot more famous than I am.

“That said, I’ve always hated the spotlight. My mother was very shy, even though she was a big star, so growing up and seeing people recognise her everywhere – I hated that, it made me very uncomfortable. I think her shyness rubbed off on me.”

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Perhaps it’s the lack of pressure to outperform his family and the need for fame that’s enabled Ko to produce masterpiece after masterpiece, fully focused on his work and his own creative world. Despite his success, however, there’ll always be those who wonder why he does it here in Hong Kong. After all, Broadway remains the Mecca of theatre and musicals, and after 15 years in New York he has deep roots in the city.

“They say to me that Hong Kong will never be like the West End or Broadway, but my take is that it doesn’t have to be,” Ko tells me emphatically. “It can be its own thing, and the way we write things now is actually very different from the West. Do we have to be like a West End or Broadway musical? I don’t think so. We have our own language.”

And is that language something Ko fears he’ll lose touch with if his creativity ever
runs dry?

“I have a very warped model,” Ko confesses. “I’m not trying to win anything, but I’m not going to be defeated. So there’s a lot of pressure to continue producing at the highest level, but that pressure comes from within. I’m always the first to criticise myself. I do fear that my creativity will run out one day. But I don’t think I’ll ever retire. As long as I have something I still want to say, I’ll continue writing. Even if one day people stop listening to me and the calls stop coming, I’ll just write for myself and I’ll die with that.”

Source: Prestige Online

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