Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Giant Gulliver installation piece in plaza turns into human anatomy classroom

By Nancy T. Lu

Bring your children to a class in human anatomy. Enter the giant body of Lemuel Gulliver.

The Paper Windmill Theater has recreated the surgeon and sea captain who turns into a giant in Lilliput in Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” in the square between the National Theater and National Concert Hall in Taipei for public exploration. Admission ticket costs NT$50. Proceeds will go to the victims of the August 8 floods.

The giant measures 62 meters in length, 20 meters in width, 7 meters in height and 12 tons in weight. A foot of the giant serves as point of entry.

Inside, the guides who are colorfully dressed to look like human organs wait to point out the parts of the body. Visitors, therefore, get to meet Prince Happy Heart, Princess Lungs, Tooth Fairy, Grandpa Brain, Big Brother Bone and Muscle Man, among others.

Foot bones like the cuneiform, the metatarsal and the distal phalanx can be spotted right away inside the constantly-pumped giant balloon installation masterpiece.

The 15-minute exploration takes a curious visitor through the large intestine containing suggestions of human bowel, into the winding small intestine and then into the stomach filled with colorful enzymes. All kinds of food intake are recreated here. A paper cup with a straw from a fastfood outlet is a reminder of an unhealthy drink preference.

Lungs, which are amazing machines that function to fill the body with oxygen needs, have colorful bronchial tubes and alveoli. Pancreas, spleen and kidneys are conveniently pointed out to visitors, too.

The anatomical tour continues upward through the esophagus to the mouth and from there to the brain. Gulliver’s mouth opens to the sky and an exit nearby leads to an open-air viewing deck.

Gulliver, the largest installation art for human exploration to be ever created in Taiwan, was finished in April this year. After touring Taichung, Tainan County and Pingtung County, it is finally in Taipei. It will be open for visits until January 3.

Requests for guided group tours are entertained. Each group must be composed of at least 20 persons. Call tel. (02)3393-9825.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Flowers in full bloom in Taipei spread message of beauty and love

By Nancy T. Lu
Let the flowers of every imaginable color at the “Fantasy Garden” at the Daan Forest Park in Taipei take your breath away.

Take a leisurely stroll in the heart of the city. Find a seat on a park bench when your feet get weary. But let your eyes continue to roam and feast on the colors and shapes before you.

Whether clustering, growing like buttons, shooting up in sprays, drooping shyly or growing like a cabbage patch, they are a sight to behold.

The 2010 Taipei International Flora Exposition is still many months away. But already, Taipei blooms to warm the hearts of residents and visitors alike. Clusters of seldom seen flowers have been planted overnight to excite the young and the old alike.

Reach out and touch them. A surprising feel of the petals waits at every turn.

The cute mascot of the Taipei International Flora Expo beckons in different colors at the open-air auditorium area. Pedal-pushing frogs and fluttering butterflies get into an act not to be missed on a beautiful day at the landscaped park. This is a sneak preview and a dramatic prelude to the expo coming up in November near the Taipei Fine Arts Museum.

Stop for a souvenir picture. And why not? The once-a-year flower show at the Daan Forest Park conveys a heartwarming message of beauty and love.

And if you are trained in horticulture or are simply blessed with a green thumb, you can even try to buy and bring home flowering plants of your fancy.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Welly Yang to present "Christmas Eve on Broadway" at his homecoming concerts

By Nancy T. Lu
Welly Yang – gifted actor, singer, writer and producer of Taiwanese parentage – always looks forward to Christmas as a time to head back to Taiwan for his special and heartwarming tryst with fans who are lovers of Broadway music. Yang found fame by singing the role of Thuy in "Miss Saigon" on Broadway in 1993.

“Christmas Eve on Broadway” at the National Concert Hall in Taipei at 7:30 p.m. on December 25 and 26 will see Yang in the musical company of Cady Huffman, music arranger and director David O, the Taipei Municipal Dun Hua Elementary School Music Class, and Taiwan JustMusic.

“Christmas in Taiwan tends to be fun time unlike in America, where the religious aspect tends to be more familiar,” said Yang in Taipei. “This explains why I have decided on a Broadway theme for this year’s program.”

Yang promised to let the concert hall ring out with laughter. Humor will be a key element in his entertainment program this Christmas. He will adlib when he sings about the “latte girl at Starbucks,” adding amusing Taiwanese lyrics here and there.

The father-to-be is excited about singing with “46 very cute children” from the Taipei Municipal Dun Hua Elementary School. Dina Morishita, his singing wife, was originally supposed to make the Taipei trip, too. Pregnancy has kept her from traveling though. The baby will be due in February next year.

Huffman was a winner of the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress for her work in Mel Brooks’ “The Producers” on Broadway. She gave a glimpse of her performing talent by singing “When You Got It, Flaunt It” during a sneak preview of the show at the rehearsal room at the National Concert Hall in Taipei on Wednesday. Earlier, she revealed that she has been trying to learn two Taiwanese songs for the two concerts.

The very tall Huffman made her film debut in “Hero” which starred Dustin Hoffman, Geena Davis and Andy Garcia. She will appear with Ben Affleck in “The Company Men” next year.

“I Dreamed a Dream” from “Les Miserables,” “Con Te Partiro” (originally sung by Andrea Bocelli), “She” from “Notting Hill,” “Music of the Night” from “Phantom of the Opera,” “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” from “Evita,” “Your Song” from “Moulin Rouge,” “Luck Be a Lady Tonight” from “Guys and Dolls,” “Joy to the World” and “O Holy Night” will be among the songs in the program with composer and musician David O as music director.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Women’s club members wear holiday season smiles at Xmas celebration with Mexican theme

By Nancy T. Lu
Poinsettia red matching the shade of the potted flowers on the tables turned out to be the cheerful color to wear to the big and exciting year-end happening of the Taipei International Women’s Club. This seemed very much in keeping with the joy of the season.

Christmas cheer was in the air on December 8 when the club members led by Connie Pong, TIWC president, as well as their friends showed up at the Grand Formosa Regent’s Ballroom for a celebration with a Mexican theme.

Everyone at this party got busy and excited exchanging words about plans for the coming holidays. The year-end period has usually been a time for the expatriate community to fly back to their homelands for warm family reunions. This year is not going to be different. But first they must gather with friends in Taipei for a bit of party fun.

Lito Gonzales, the Argentine trumpeter and a familiar face in the Taipei Latin entertainment scene, dressed up as Santa Claus for the occasion. He played a Christmas tune described as most identified with a traditional Mexican Christmas for his upbeat opening number.

He later joined harmonica player Ching Yung in performing “Ali Mountain High” for Jasmine Elise Huggins, charge d’affaires of St. Kitts and Nevis, and Mayumi Hu, TIWC 2nd vice president and the multi-lingual program emcee of the day, to sing in Mandarin. The latter revealed that Huggins practiced the Chinese song in her Chinese class for a month, even memorizing the lyrics by heart.

A Christmas party would not be complete without dancing. Ballroom dancers Cassia Huang and Harrison Lee swept into the stage limelight to do a sultry cha cha number. This was followed by a jive performance. Afterwards, Huang called on everyone to rise to their feet for instant cha cha lessons. Tips included specific hand gestures for the men and the women.

The party buffet, which introduced a bit of the mestizo mixture of pre-Hispanic and Spanish cooking in Mexico, featured interesting dishes, marked out with tiny Mexican flags. Mexican-style seafood “ceviche,” “taquitos,” spicy “camarones a la tequila,” as well as turkey and beef with variations of the Mexican sauce specialty called “mole” truly essential during such a festive event invited tasting.

Martin Munoz Ledo, head of the Mexican Trade Services Documentation and Cultural Office, arranged to project colorful video films to highlight Mexico as a land extremely rich in cultural heritage. The singing and the dancing of the traditionally costumed men and women helped transport viewers to the faraway country where people live mostly on the high central plateau.

The TIWC event culminated with the breaking of the traditional Mexican “pinata,” originally made of clay but nowadays of papier-mache. The Mexican woman behind this particular traditional target for hitting created a star with seven points. These points represented the seven capital sins, which must be smashed by the crowd in largely Catholic Mexico, explained Cecilia Munoz.

The TIWC members demonstrated different amusing styles of taking aim at the slightly lowered “pinata.” Some were too feminine and fragile to strike with a destructive impact. But others went for it like they were hitting powerfully with a baseball bat.

Swaziland Ambassador Njabuliso B. Gwebu, attired in auspicious Chinese red for the TIWC Christmas event, gave it a try. So did Maria Rybicki, the former TIWC president who was revisiting Taiwan after a long absence.

Rybicki, now based near Geneva in Switzerland not too far from her native Poland, is still painting for her hobby. She, in fact, donated a nice Chinese brushwork as raffle prize and it was won by Mayumi Hu. Another lucky winner of a raffle prize was Honduras Ambassador Marlene Villela de Talbott.

After taking so many strikes, the “piƱata” broke and out came the “lucky candies.” This entertaining Mexican merrymaking tradition resembled the hitting of the loaded “palayok” or clay pot during fiestas in the Philippines.

Friendships found through membership in the TIWC have always been cherished. The December meeting saw the club members bidding farewell to good friends from the diplomatic corps Gambia Ambassador Mawdo C. Juwara and his wife, Mariame Kande. Heartwarming memories which the Gambian diplomat would soon bring back with him would include an unforgettable journey to the heartland of Puyuma culture in Taitung one New Year’s Eve, linking arms and dancing with the indigenous people during a ceremonial ritual and later visiting the Puyuma men’s house where adolescents on their way to full manhood traditionally undergo tribal education.

The well-attended TIWC December party had an impressive guest list. The embassies and the trade offices sent representatives. Gambian Ambassador Mawdo C. Juwara and wife Mariame Kande, Abdullah Mohd Salleh of the Malaysian Friendship and Trade Center and wife Zawiah Ahmad as well as Rihanata Sawadogo of Burkina Faso sat with Connie Pong, TIWC president.
Christiane Bonneville from France, Mariann Hergovitz from Hungary, Lale Lorena Eroktem from Turkey, and Carol Ann Fraser from Canada shared another table. Ellen Jino from the Solomon Islands, Isaura Novelo from Belize, Ann Keke from Nauru, and Grace Valbuena from the Dominican Republic also made it to the celebration.

Terence Swampillai, general manager of Malaysian Airilines, joined his wife, Audrey Swampillai, at the event. Alice Liou, president of the Kaohsiung International Women’s Club, likewise attended the party.

Connie Pong, the untiring club president, welcomed them all in her characteristic style of hospitality with a big smile and open arms.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Quo vadis after 30 accomplished years, piano duo Rolf-Peter Wille and Lina Yeh?

By Nancy T. Lu

Thirty years of professional career life tied to each other like inseparable Siamese twins add up to quite a remarkable feat for Taiwan’s best-known piano duo Rolf-Peter Wille and Lina Yeh.

Playing simultaneously on separate grand pianos whether placed back to back, next to each other or in every imaginable way still requires communication of some sort. Is it a glance, a gesture, or just body language? When the chosen composition calls for running fingers on four hands on just one keyboard, finding comfortable elbow room sometimes does pose a very big challenge. Losing control of the pedal especially when playing on a single piano is very annoying, even likely to bring about the height of stress in a pianist. In the worst scenario, performing as a piano duo in the long run allegedly triggers a murderous if not suicidal streak in some pianists.

But Rolf-Peter Wille and Lina Yeh – big hands as against smaller ones – have graciously emerged from years of performing as an enduring piano duo on different continents to tell a beautiful success story. Their scrapbook of memories eloquently says it all.

Years ago, they stopped pedestrians on busy Zhongxiao East Road in Taipei with their open-air piano playing. A shower of rose petals capped the event. Not very long after, they also performed together next to tall and sacred trees high up on Jade Mountain.

“No matter how hard we separately practiced our solo pieces for our concerts,” candidly pointed out Lina Yeh, “our listeners always only remembered the piano duets in our programs.”

As an uncommon piano duo (most pairs consist of siblings) from the West and the East, Wille and Yeh blazed a music trail on different continents, receiving very heartwarming response from their listeners. The well-traveled pianists got all kinds of invitations, participating for the first time one cold winter years ago in an international piano duo festival in Russia. Through the initiative of the German Cultural Center, they were featured as special guests at a concert at a park in Manila, entertaining a crowd with score sheets flying all over the place. The Taiwan government saw them as ideal ambassadors of goodwill through their music in the absence of official diplomatic relations, once sending them touring five faraway countries in South America.

As perhaps suggested by Wille when he was asked directly if he would live life similarly all over again, he and his wife have made choices in a haphazard way just like in a Milan Kundera existential novel. One episode has led to the next one, a chapter has paved the way for another new one. Their life story has gone on this way, eventually coming full circle.

After first meeting in Austria and truly getting to know each other during their student days in Hanover, Germany, the two pianists came to Taiwan. The young and curious Wille wanted to explore a new world. Although Yeh was eyeing a move to New York for further music education and experience, she followed him.

Opportunities in music pedagogy in Taiwan at that time sealed their fate. The pair conveniently filled a void and they have not turned back from the calling since then. Wille, in fact, was to positively write years later in “Pianist: Wake Up and Dream!” (Volume I): “Confucian societies pamper their teachers and make sure that they feel extremely important and busy.”

Wille wrote “Pianist: Wake Up and Dream!” (Volumes I & II) in English and Lina Yeh did the Chinese translation primarily for piano students or would-be musicians. Recreated encounters with music students in Taiwan even included an episode with ex-President Chen Shui-bian’s daughter-in-law Huang Jui-ching, according to Yeh. Huang, however, was not identified by name in the book.

Wille’s fascination with Taiwan, Formosa more recently, has not faded after all these years. During his last six-month sabbatical, he accidentally discovered that Robinson Crusoe, the fictional character created by Daniel Defoe, visited Formosa while on his way to China. Such interesting travel adventure detail, which Wille came across in “The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe,” led him to do further research on the Internet.

Where did Defoe encounter the information about Formosa? Wille went to work with his search engine, downloading his findings along the way for useful reference in his own book. The preposterous tales of George Psalmanazar, the Frenchman posing as a “native of Formosa,” absolutely baffled him. The great liar’s wild stretch of the imagination led him to even invent the Formosan alphabet. But in those days, Psalmanazar probably deceived a lot of gullible readers with his bluff.

The observant Wille himself enjoys writing though usually with a satirical streak, having published several books and through them made known a colorful life outside of piano playing and teaching. He also fills his blog with rib-tickling snippets. Yeh’s smooth Chinese translation of his writings showing humor and wit has revealed the spice of his life to Taiwanese readers, often too lazy to wade through the original English text. His readers remember to this day his obsession with urinals. But friends who are invited to the couple’s home on Dunhua South Road in Taipei nowadays are likely to notice that he has moved his unusual collection of conversation pieces completely out of sight.

The Taipei apartment with three grand pianos taking up so much space is indeed crowded even without outsiders popping up. Here and there visitors come upon travel souvenirs, giving away the quirks and idiosyncrasies of the German occupant with a serious (or just shy) mien.

Wille’s drawings from earlier published books can be spotted around, too. In his book, “Taipei Salad,” he naughtily depicted the city residents as roaches or plain survivors in an artificial environment. He likewise sketched a Chinese panda scaling Godzilla-style with a conquering spirit to the top of Taipei’s tallest building long before the Taipei 101 was built.

Embarking on creative activities has seemed to come about naturally. Wille and his supportive wife Yeh would readily admit to the ease in experimenting and initiating something artistically different and unforgettable in Taiwan like “piano theater” through all these years.

Getting Sun Yueh to narrate a story to keep the children in the concert audience interested was not enough. Adapting and changing the story of “Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf” into the tale of “Little Red Hat and the Big Black Piano” proved fun but also a lot of work. Wille even transformed the grand piano into the wolf-like villain with a menacing toothy smile.

Brain-picking for new and fresh ideas with an eye on the target audience has kept this duo busy. New-fangled notions about the dialogue between two pianos, comparable to a game of pingpong sometimes, must constantly be found.

The pair recognized early on the Taiwan audience’s preference for technical virtuosity at a concert. Franz Schubert’s poignant music most suitable for airing in an intimate atmosphere tends to be less appreciated even though the composer is considered the most prolific in writing for four hands and for two pianos.

As pianist, Franz Liszt found his place among the greatest, if not as the greatest. His piano compositions are in a category of their own, influencing even other big name composers after him. Universal Music has just released “Rolf-Peter Wille and Lina Yeh: 30 Years of Piano Duo,” consisting of CD and DVD recordings of Liszt compositions, on the occasion of the 30-year milestone of Wille and Yeh as piano pair.

Wille wrote in the introduction that few of Liszt’s two-piano pieces – with piano solo works outshining them – are known. Majority are “brilliantly crafted” arrangements, he noted. Wille’s own arrangements of Liszt’s music were included. Again, “piano theater” came in handy at the concert devoted to Liszt’s “Mephisto Waltz” for two pianos and Concert Paraphrase on “Dies Irae” (Totentanz) for three pianos. An actor (mime) got incorporated into the unusual music performance to dramatize the death theme. The Grim Reaper and the dancing skeleton sent cues to get all three concert pianists into the theatrical act.

But for the special concert with a formal format in celebration of their 30th anniversary as piano duo on December 12 at the National Concert Hall in Taipei, the repertoire will include Bach, Brahms, Rachmaninoff and Poulenc. Rolf-Peter Wille’s “Danse des Pagodes” will require a prepared piano though. Screws, rubber bands and even wood will be inserted or added as learned once directly from minimalist composer John Cage. The interesting piece with a tune familiar to the Taiwanese public will sound like an exotic Indonesian gamelan melody.

To both Rolf-Peter Wille and Lina Yeh after 30 accomplished years as piano duo, the question now is: Quo vadis (Where are you going) ?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Van Gogh collection arrives for major exhibition at National Museum of History in Taipei

By Nancy T. Lu

Vincent Van Gogh, an artist whose fame is of mythical proportion, will invite animated discussion with the arrival in Taipei of a fabulous collection, requiring an insurance coverage of NT$25 billion.

“The National Museum of History closed down for at least two months to prepare for this major exhibition,” revealed Huang Yung-chuan, the museum’s director, on Saturday when Van Gogh’s “Country Road in Provence By Night” was unveiled in the presence of the press and media in Taipei.

“Tests on the security system, fire prevention drills, room temperature checks, as well as going over the lighting and the sound systems had to be carefully carried out to reinforce the reputation of our museum as one with world-class features and provisions,” Huang added.

“The Flaming Soul – Van Gogh,” the much-awaited exhibition highlighting nearly a hundred works by the master of impressionist art, will open at the National Museum of History on Nanhai Road in Taipei on December 11. The collection showing Van Gogh trying to master art techniques will be on view until March 28 next year.

The Kroller-Mueller Museum in Holland has lent 20 oil paintings (said to represent about a quarter of its entire collection of Van Gogh oil masterpieces), 18 sketches done with charcoal pencil and 59 watercolors or works in pastel while the Pola Museum of Art in Japan has loaned a painting done just one month before Van Gogh’s death titled “Flower Vase with Thistle” (1890).

Evert Van Straaten, the visiting director of the Kroller-Mueller Museum, said on Saturday: “We don’t lend out such a big exhibition very often for we have obligations to the visitors at our museum. We do it only in winter. The drawings, in particular, are very fragile and sensitive to light.”

The Dutch museum renowned for its Van Gogh collection published a catalogue and decided to lend the exhibition to only two other cities: Brescia in Italy and Taipei in Taiwan, said Van Straaten. Regarding the choice of Taipei, he said: “We have known how much the people in Taiwan love Van Gogh.”

"Self-Portrait”(1887),“Country Road in Provence By Night” (1890) and “Cypresses With Two Figures” (1889) are some of Van Gogh’s major works in the exhibition. “Angelus” (after Jean Francois Millet) and “The Good Samaritan” (after Eugene Delacroix) are also in the show.

Van Straaten described “Country Road in Provence By Night” as “an icon for the cosmic vision of Van Gogh.” He elaborated: “This painting shows his idea about nature and man as part of the universe. People feel this when they see the painting and that is part of the magic of this painting.”

Eighteen years after the death of Van Gogh in 1890, Helen Kroller-Mueller went around buying his paintings in 1908. She, however, did not succeed in getting hold of works which were the direct legacy of Van Gogh. All the paintings Van Gogh had at the time of his death went to the wife of his brother Theo. The artist’s idea was to keep as many of the paintings within the family.

Kroller-Mueller traveled extensively to find the works Van Gogh gave to his artist friends or exchanged with them. With Van Gogh’s star rising, these artists were prepared to sell them.

Only one of the bought paintings in the museum has an original Dutch frame. Van Gogh never framed his works. Kroller-Mueller ordered the reconstruction of the simple frame from an architect in 1910 or nearly a hundred years ago, according to Van Straaten.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Saxophone artist Delangle to play wide dynamic range at concert with Taipei Chinese Orchestra

By Nancy T. Lu

The Taipei Chinese Orchestra is undertaking a second recording project with the Sweden-based BIS, collaborating with the renowned saxophone artist Claude Delangle at a concert to be taped at the Zhongshan Hall in Taipei on December 5. This is following the recording success of Chung Yiu-kwong’s “Whirling Dance.”

“Sunshine on Taxkorgan for Soprano Saxophone and Chinese Orchestra” arranged by Chen Gang and orchestrated by Chung Yiu-kwong originally had violin music. Delangle has had to listen closely to the original music as well as the erhu transcription. He, too, must find the saxophone technique to replace the bowing of the string instrument.

“Imitating the original string instrument must be done in a personal way so as not to end up with a caricature,” he noted. “The crescendo and the vibrato must turn out as natural as possible on the saxophone.”

The concert repertoire with Shao En as conductor will feature a diversity of style, from traditional to contemporary. Chung Yiu-kwong’s two original selections, “Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Chinese Orchestra No.1” and “Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Chinese Orchestra No.2” have struck him as in between traditional and contemporary Chinese music, in fact, less like Chinese music and closer to his style. Delangle previously played the first piece with the Taipei orchestra at the National Center for Performing Arts in Beijing in October this year.

Managing music in different ways, using old tools, has been Delangle’s preoccupation for some time now. With the saxophone, changing the mouth piece can turn it into a different instrument, he explained. He has certainly welcomed opportunities to play a wider dynamic range.

Also in the program is Tian Lei-lei’s “Open Secret Concerto for Saxophone and Chinese Orchestra.” This piece was commissioned by the French Culture Ministry this year.

Of the saxophone choices, the soprano saxophone goes well with the Chinese orchestra, said to have a lighter sound. Delangle pointed out that the alto saxophone has the most classical image. The tenor saxophone is associated with jazz.

The 52-year-old Delangle recalled his father wanting him to study violin. But as he put it, “I wanted to blow. I like life.”

And so he began playing the saxophone when he was nine. When he was 15, he learned that his grandfather played the soprano saxophone in his youth.

Delangle has been one of the most recorded saxophone players. He has done 15 recordings with BIS in the last 10 years.

He owns many saxophones. His collection just grows for he buys a musical instrument when he likes its sound. He has brought two to Taipei this time.