It is no surprise that Leung Kin-fung is a professional musician. "I grew up in a musical family - my father was a conductor and a violinist," he says. "I was born in mainland China and ours was a very traditional Chinese family, so my parents didn't give me a choice."
Mr Leung started playing the violin as a five-year-old, under the strict tutelage of his father, gave his debut public performance at eight, and won his first competition when he was only 12. He studied first at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (HKAPA), and then the world famous Juilliard School of Music in New York. Subsequently, he has played with all the major orchestras in Asia, won several prestigious competitions and taught the violin.
In the year 2000, Mr Leung was appointed first associate concertmaster of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra (HKPO). In this position, he acts as deputy to the concertmaster (i.e. the leader of the orchestra), and sometimes fills in for him. The role allows Mr Leung to represent the orchestra in the community and give something back to society. "I teach at the HKAPA and I promote Hong Kong overseas by giving concerts," he explains.
Complementing his work with the HKPO, Mr Leung is also artistic director of Music Chamber, an organisation dedicated to developing a comprehensive database about Hong Kong music, musicians and composers.
"You have to keep your musical life busy and keep your mind fresh"
There is no typical day in the life of an orchestral musician. "In an average week, I have rehearsals or performances, teach at the HKAPA and am busy with my work at Music Chamber," says Mr Leung, "and I still insist on practising at least two hours a day."
Reflecting on what is needed to be an orchestral violinist, he notes, "You have to sacrifice in order to gain something and there are many distractions. You have to persist because the competition is very tough."
So how does a would-be musician join the profession? "You should start training as a child, enter competitions and sit exams, but you do not have to be a university graduate," advises Mr Leung. "When we audition players, we do not look at their resume, we are only interested in how they play."
For those interested in a career, the HKAPA offers intensive training, not only in orchestral playing and chamber music but also in music theory and history. Mr Leung recommends overseas study, if possible. "Go to Europe or the US as early as you can because the music is from there, not here."
In Hong Kong, there are opportunities with the HKPO, the Hong Kong Sinfonietta and, of course, the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra, for those who play Chinese instruments. But not all professional musicians can join an orchestra, or even want to. "There are opportunities in chamber music groups and in the recording industry, and teaching is a huge part of the music business, so there is more than one way to join the profession," explains Mr Leung.
To succeed, people need the ability to sight-read and to have a good sense of rhythm. They also need persistence and an open mind. "Don't be satisfied with what you have now," says Mr Leung. "In an orchestra, it is easy to get complacent, and then your technique suffers. You have to keep your musical life busy and keep your mind fresh."
Therefore, he recommends taking time out to explore other areas of creativity. After taking a year off from his violin studies to do a graphic design course, Mr Leung found it enhanced his playing when he eventually picked up his violin again. For this reason, he sometimes advises musicians: "Stop playing! Go to a gallery and look at some paintings. Or cook. When you come back, you will look at the music differently."
What Mr Leung loves best about his profession is that it is never boring. "We communicate with audiences and we get reactions. We play different music every day, so it is always challenging."
There are ample opportunities for orchestral musicians in mainland China and many HKAPA graduates have found work there, says Mr Leung. "China has had professional orchestras for several hundred years and people appreciate good music. It is the best place in Asia to build a career in the music business."
Salaries are much lower than in Hong Kong, but the cost of living is lower too and, by Chinese standards, the pay is very good. "A professional orchestral musician can expect to earn more than a university professor every month and musicians can earn extra by doing freelance work on pop records," he says.