Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Composer Hsu Po-yun channeling his creativity to oriental music writing in memory of Haydn

By Nancy T. Lu

Taiwanese composer Hsu Po-yun has lately been deeply engrossed in writing commissioned music to be dedicated to Austrian-born composer Franz Joseph Haydn, whose 200th death anniversary is being commemorated this year. He must deliver a composition of 8 to 12 minutes in length towards the end of this month.

As Hsu is taking an oriental perspective in his music creation, he is calling his new but still unfinished work “Oriental Fantasy.” Oriental sonority, which is to be distinguished from the western kind, is what he promises to offer. In a linear depiction, oriental music sees notes floating in waves. Western music comes out straight and direct, Hsu explained.

For composer Hsu, folk music has been “a vast resource.” He has been studying oriental music of different geographical areas for many years. Their influences in his music, therefore, have been inevitable.

In composing for a trio, he must figure out a harmonious balance between the piano and the two other musical instruments, according to Hsu. He has finished writing two minutes of his piece. But he is getting there (meaning about to complete his task in music composition), according to Hsu.

Hsu composes at night at home. He does not work in front of the piano. He puts together the notes in his mind. In his search for inspiration, he recently spent time close to nature in Hualien.

“I don’t compose very often,” said Hsu, better known as a promoter of the arts through the New Aspect. “So it has to be good.”

Hsu has been one of 18 international composers from different countries and continents who have been approached to participate in a project to honor Haydn’s memory this year. He missed an earlier deadline to finish his composition for premiere performance in Vienna.

“I am still studying and discovering Haydn,” confessed Hsu, who was more into the study of Bach for many years. “My past impression of Haydn stands corrected today. In fact, the more I understand him, the more I am amazed by his talent.”

He recalled: “As a child, I loved Haydn’s ‘Toy Symphony.’ Later, I was truly impressed by his oratorio, ‘The Creation.’ I have to say that in the study of western music theory, everything about musical form is there in the music of Haydn.”

The Haydn Trio Eisenstadt composed of pianist Harald Kosik, violinist Verena Stourzh and cellist Hannes Gradwohl will give a premiere performance of this piece at the Novel Hall for Performing Arts in Taipei on December 15. The group was founded in 1992 and the three musicians to be featured have played as an ensemble since 1998. The trio will also play Schubert in Taipei.

Eisenstadt was where Haydn worked for his two aristocractic patrons, Prince Paul and Prince Nikolaus. He remained with them for about 30 years from 1761 to 1790. While staying with them in their secluded palace, he produced many works of different genres.

Hsu studied music theory and the violin with the late composer Hsu Tsang-houei. His compositions dating back to the first half of the Seventies were used by Lin Hwai-min in his early choreographies for the Cloud Gate Dance Theater.

Hsu's "Pipa," which was first played by pipa virtuoso Wong Ching-ping in 1975, went on to become a classic Chinese music piece for pipa music artists globally. In 1982, he composed the music for Bai Xian-yong's "Wandering in the Garden, Waking From a Dream." He also wrote the music for the Contemporary Legend Theater's opera, "Medea (Lo Lan Nu)" in 1993.

Hsu Po-yun was a founder of one of the most important Asian music organizations called the Asian Composers League.

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