Cover Leanne Nicholls, founder of the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong. Courtesy of Leanne Nicholls.

In Tatler’s weekly cultural series, where we learn about the secret lives of the tastemakers in Hong Kong’s arts scene, we speak to the Australian musician.

Leanne Nicholls came to Hong Kong in the 1990s to perform, teach and promote classical music. For six years, the Australian oboist was a core member of the Hong Kong Sinfonietta. In 1999, she set up the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong, where, as the artistic director, she has been overseeing the production of, as well as performing in, a range of concerts from baroque to Bollywood, classical and jazz. On October 2, the orchestra will stage The Bonn Man, a concert that captures Beethoven’s defining moments in life and music.

Nicholls also set up Bug Symphony, an orchestral-theatre work she created with Nick Harvey and Scott Ligertwood. It went on to win the Public Choice Award at the Young Audiences Music Awards in Portugal in 2017. The sequel, Wild, features the orchestra in the jungle and is due for world premiere in April 2022. We caught up with Nicholls to learn more about her daily life.


I wake up to the sound of my three cats meowing at 7am, generally speaking. But as a musician, I don’t have clockwork schedules. Some days I am up at 5.30am to speak on the radio; other days are later, at 8am if I have had a late concert the night before. I have Quaker Oats with fresh fruit and coffee for breakfast, and I usually eat with my cats.

I start my work at around 7am at home. But work doesn’t happen before coffee, and I always have freshly ground American coffee.

I have a different routine every day depending on demand and what is coming up. Generally speaking, I home office early in the morning, get to the office late morning and do administration until early afternoon. Every day is a different routine for me. That is precisely why I became a performing artist and artistic director. I love the fact that every day is not the same. I might have a busy weekend but I will be able to take a day out from the week to have lunch with a friend. I have a very interesting job! I learn something new all the time – new music, new artists, new ways of expressing and delivering programmes.


I have salad at the office, at home or with friends. It depends on where I am. If I eat out, I particularly like Greek, Middle Eastern, Indian and Japanese food. I have been living here for 32 years so a lot of my favourite Chinese restaurants have closed over the years. Restaurant 131 in Sai Kung is my top choice for a special occasion. The Indian lunch Buffet at the Conrad is also a favourite. If I still have time after lunch, I read.

See also: Where Chefs Are Excited To Eat In Hong Kong: September 2021



In the afternoon I have meetings with collaborators (conductors, set designers, costume designers, media etc) or I stay at home and do my own private music practice and preparation.


In the evening I have orchestra rehearsals or performances. If there is no concert on in a week, I am at home with family. If I am writing scripts, lyrics or programme notes, I much prefer to do this work from home where my creative powers flourish the best.


I wind down my day by spending time with my family and my cats. A musical project that has been completed makes me relaxed! But a glass of Prosecco also helps in the meantime.


Time for bed!

See also: A Day in the Life of Warren Mok, Founder of Opera Hong Kong

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