There is an air of quiet determination about Yip Wing-sie which may suggest why the music director of the Hong Kong Sinfonietta enjoys an acclaimed career while also being a devoted mother of two.
Since taking the helm of the orchestra in 2002, Yip has blazed a trail in making classical music accessible to the public. This has been achieved through a series of carefully planned concerts during which the audience swoon at the melodies of Mozart and Debussy that are adapted in famous movies, while laughing as they watch the straight-faced Yip explaining the ABCs of classical music to comedian Jim Chim Sui-man.
"Many people find classical music intimidating. We want to reduce the distance between the two," says Yip, who is also principal guest conductor at the Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra.
She has also been working towards strengthening the sinfonietta, which was founded in 1990. Under her leadership the orchestra of 53 musicians has won international recognition through collaborations with celebrities, such as conductor and pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy and tenor Placido Domingo, and performances at music festivals in Vicenza and Warsaw.
But even while building an impressive career, Yip's priority has been her family, and this has meant making sacrifices. For almost a decade she stopped going to work-related dinners to spend more time with her children. They are now studying abroad at high school and university.
In 2000, after spending 14 years at the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra as its resident conductor, Yip took a hiatus when her older child was in secondary school while the younger one was in primary. "It was the time when they needed the most attention," she says.
When Yip joined the sinfonietta after the break she decided to cut down on business trips. "There were a few years when I would be away for four months a year. When I called home I had to make sure my children had finished homework. Once I even helped my daughter prepare for her dictation over the phone." She believes working mothers should be prepared to give up certain things during their careers. "There are things that once they're missed cannot be recovered. The growing up of your children is one of them." As one of the handful of women conductors in Asia, she says the association of conducting and leadership has discouraged some women from the craft. "Some people don't think women should work," Yip says, adding that she is not hindered by convention.
My take on balancing work and life
“It depends on what your options are. If you have to take care of small children and pay the mortgage then you have fewer choices.”
“There are many responsibilities in life. When you’ve fulfilled certain tasks you can have more space to yourself.”
“I’m not a workaholic. I always find the time to wind down and recharge myself.”
“I’m a fan of golf and I practise tai chi. I also enjoy doing some leisure reading at home on a Sunday evening.”