Thursday, March 11, 2010

Taipei Traditional Arts Festival unravels new ideas to enhance seduction of Chinese music

By Nancy T. Lu

Breaking new grounds mainly through crossover collaborations appears to be the thrust of the Taipei Chinese Orchestra, now on its 30th year, as seen in the richly diverse programs, even featuring top-caliber international performers in a number of cases, of the 2010 Taipei Traditional Arts Festival from March 11 to June 17 this year. The goal is to go international and make far-reaching impact.

The Taipei stage or even the bigger Taiwan limelight will cease to be the limit for the TCO’s exposure. The 21st century will be about developing the blueprint to take traditional Chinese music to the international spotlight, said Chung Yiu-kwong, director of the orchestra. The TCO seeks to reach not just local crowds all the way to neighborhood communities but also international audiences and ultimately establish a global brand, he added.

A music ensemble of the TCO will be going with the Han Tang Yuefu Ensemble, famous for “nanguan” performances, to the Schumann Festival in Dusseldorf, Germany, this coming June 1, he revealed with pride. Sheng player Wu Wei will be featured as soloist. Trombone player Christian Lindberg will perform with the TCO at the Grand National Theater in Beijing on June 13. Puyuma singer and 1997 Aboriginal Mother-Tongue Singing Competition Dingko Nan will topbill a program along with the TCO under the baton of Chen Cheng-hsiung as well as U Theater at the Shanghai Expo on June 16. The Shanghai Concert Hall will be the venue of another TCO performance with percussionist Evelyn Glennie on June 17.

The Taipei Traditinal Arts Festival, now on its 23rd year, has invited outstanding contemporary artists in Chinese music playing like erhu artists Min Hui-fen, Yu Hong-mei, Ma Xiang-hua, Ma Xiao-hui, Zhu Chang-yao, Yang Xue, Jiang Ke-mei; pipa players Wu Man and Zhou Tao; as well as sheng performer Wu Wei to perform. Joining the established and prominent musicians are some new and rising stars.

Chung Yiu-kwong, who enjoys a growing reputation as composer, singled out for special mention the famous interpreters of western classical music, who have been lined up as the festival’s special guest artists and soloists. They include: Yu Li-na, the Chinese violinist who gave the first performance of “Butterfly Lovers” Concerto as well as Yin Cheng-zong, who found fame as the original soloist of the “Yellow River” Concerto; consistent Grammy award winner Kronos Quartet all prepared to participate in the “Silk Road” series this year; and certainly a coup when it comes to getting hold of three top cellists, namely Mischa Maisky (see photo above), Julian Lloyd Webber and Anssi Karttunen, who are to play with three very famous erhu or Chinese fiddle musicians, namely Ma Xiao-hui, Yu Hong-mei and Jiang Ke-mei. Composer Chung Yiu-kwong is writing new pieces for all of them.

The Kronos Quartet and pipa player Wu Man, who recorded together Tan Dun’s “Ghost Opera,” will be featured on June 4. Wu Man will also play in “Beyond the Silk Road I” on June 5. “Beyond the Silk Road II” on June 6 will return the Kronos Quartet to the stage with the TCO. Erhu player Ma Xiang-hua will interpret a new piece written by Pan Hwang-long on June 6. .

The TCO does not stop at simply playing western music in addition to the traditional Chinese music repertoire. Creating new and changing music genres for the Chinese orchestra, in Chung’s thinking, is going to help the TCO not just build a vast repertoire but also literally get noticed and go places. Such direction enjoys the approval and support of Hsieh Hsiao-yun, the new head of the Taipei Department of Cultural Affairs.

The Taipei Chinese Orchestra in a bid to reach out to all sectors of society will likewise get involved with If Kids Children’s Theater in the production for children and their parents titled “Magic Stone.” French mime Philippe Bizot will star in another program of the TCO. The Holo Opera’s “A Silk Banner from the Emperor” will have the musical collaboration of the TCO, too.

The festival’s opening program, “Meng Xiaodong,” has the Guo Guang Opera Company and the TCO as co-producers. Wei Hai-min (see photo from cover of Silk Road), who is cast in the title role, plays a “lao sheng” (“old male” representing an old or bearded character) on the Chinese opera stage. But she must also reprise the off-stage female side of the real-life Meng Xiaodong.

The part coveted by many seasoned performing talents calls for the projection of Meng Xiaodong’s “refined” and “cold (unflappable)” qualities. On a stage intentionally kept very simple if not bare in design to tax the imagination of the audience, Wei must rely on her voice to deal with three singing challenges in the production: bare the heart and soul of Meng Xiaodong, sing a “lao sheng” role in a Chinese opera, and even capture the performance of a “dan” or female role by the legendary male Chinese opera master Mei Lanfang.

In real life, romance blossomed between Meng Xiaodong and Mei Lanfang as a result of close collaborations on the opera stage. There was a falling out, however, and Meng Xiaodong ended up a very frustrated woman.

The dramatic orchestral music in “Meng Xiaodong” – which was written by Chung Yiu-kwong for conducting by Shao En – helps flesh out the story. In fact, the 60 musicians of the TCO become the storytellers. “Meng Xiaodong” opened at the Zhongshan Hall in Taipei on March 11 and will run until March 14.

The TCO will organize a conference on ethnic music. Huun-Huur-Tu, a music group from Tuva on the Mongolian border, will be featured in “Farewell My Concubine” on May 29, the opening day of conference on folk music. Throat singing is what they are known for.

Exciting festival programs of the TCO, catering to the public’s diverse interests, will unfold in the months ahead. New and experimental ideas in presenting Chinese music promise to enrich and add to the seduction offered by silk and bamboo instrument musicians.

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