Hong Kong Philharmonic won orchestra of the year at the prestigious 2019 Gramophone Awards, a first for Asia and a rare bright spot for the financial hub's cultural industry as the city reels from months of protests.

In the only category of the annual awards open to public votes, Hong Kong's orchestra saw off nine other rivals including from cities London and Boston.

The Guardian said it was the first time an Asian orchestra had won the award at the annual event which is often likened to the Oscars for the classical music world.

"The Hong Kong Philharmonic's rise also demonstrates why many believe that the axis of the classical music world is changing. Look east for the future," Gramophone said in an article on its website.

The magazine noted that the southern Chinese city's orchestra was less lavishly funded than many other top Asian rivals and that its home in the boxy and acoustically unimpressive Hong Kong Cultural Centre "has few fans".

Grammaphone said Hong Kong's Philharmonic Orchestra punched above its weight
Grammaphone said Hong Kong's Philharmonic Orchestra punched above its weight AFP / Anthony WALLACE

But the orchestra managed to "punch above its weight" with judges singling out their critically acclaimed recording of Wagner's Ring cycle under Dutch-born director Jaap Van Zweden, who is also the director of the New York Philharmonic.

Hong Kong has been battered by four months of huge and increasingly violent pro-democracy protests which have decimated the city's tourist industry and reputation for being one of Asia's safest cities.

Multiple sporting and music events -- from K-Pop concerts to the Hong Kong Open tennis tournament -- have been cancelled as the protests grind on with neither the city's pro-Beijing leaders or protesters willing to back down.

Benedikt Fohr, chief executive of HK Phil, obliquely referenced the unrest.

The Guardian newspaper quoted him as saying he wanted to "bring the award back to our people. They deserve it. They need it, especially in these difficult times."