Thursday, May 27, 2010

Taipei Chinese Orchestra celebrating 30-year milestone with “Farewell to My Concubine”

By Nancy T. Lu
The Taipei Chinese Orchestra has come a long way. Three decades at Taiwan’s music scene do not come easy. “Farewell To My Concubine,” a concert at the Zhongshan Hall in Taipei on May 29, will celebrate the TCO’s 30th anniversary by bringing together acclaimed international artists in an exciting program which will creatively combine musical elements from the East and the West.

The tragic love story of King of Western Chu and warrior named Xiang Yu and his beloved concubine Yu Ji during the final days of the Qin Dynasty about 2,200 years ago has traditionally been told through the Chinese opera with legendary Mei Lan-fang leading a line of talents in interpreting the role of the concubine. Composer and TCO director Chung Yiu-kwong, in fact, found inspiration in Mei Lan-fang’s reprisal of the famous Beijing opera role when he was writing“Farewell to My Concubine: a Double Concerto for Jinghu and Cello, accompanied by the Chinese Orchestra.”

Xiang Yu and Yu Ji will come to life through the bowed solo instruments of cello and jinghu. Chung seeks to be different in telling the story through music by going deep into the emotions of Xiang Yu as he watches the sword dance of his beloved while he contemplates his loss of the battle to unite China against Liu Bang, the eventual first emperor of the Han Dynasty.

Finnish cellist Anssi Karttunen, who has collaborated with composer Tan Dun for 20 years, is making his Taipei debut at the concert. For the cellist, it has always been a challenge to be a part of music from a culture different from his. He expressed the hope that once the playing of the notes begins, the instruments will disappear and only the music will remain.

Aside from playing “Farewell to My Concubine,” he will also perform Finnish composer Uuno Klami’s “The Cheremission Fantasy” (arranged by Lo Leung-fai for the Chinese orchestra). The Stravinsky-influenced composition is said to absorb the mood of the folk melodies and rhythmic patterns of the Cheremis people in the northern reaches of the Volga River.

Jiang Ke-mei remarked that the jinghu, which she will play to dramatically emote the feelings of the concubine Yu Ji, has the widest music range among the bowed huchin instruments. The notes coaxed out of the jinghu are particularly gentle and exquisite, according to her.

The jinghu traditionally steps in to fill the gentle requirement of the Chinese opera. Beijing opera evolved and developed from the jinghu, she pointed out. Carrying on a dialogue with a cello (or cellist) will be a new experience for jinghu artist Jiang though.

As conductor of Enjott Schneider’s “Earth & Fire” in the concert, Shao En said after the first rehearsal that the composer’s understanding of Chinese music instruments is "truly impressive." His "use of tone colors" is "full of imagination." The music orchestration is beautiful. The orchestra is able to play comfortably to bring out the best possible sounds, he added.

Schneider explained that he has five books on the range of Chinese music instruments for his reference. Besides, he has been listening to Chinese music for 20 years and has acquired quite a collection of CDs. He even went to YouTube to check out the music played by the TCO. Schneider has composed many film music, working with Shanghai musicians over the years.

Berlin-based Chinese musician and avant-garde sheng player Wu Wei will be the soloist of Schneider’s piece. His expertise in a Chinese musical instrument with a history of 4,000 years has led to collaborations with Kent Nagano and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra as well as Heiko Matthias Foester and the Munich Orchestra, among others, over the years. He has also participated in crossover activities, getting involved in the projects of Gunter Grass and Michael Lentz, Jean-Jacques Lemetre of Theatre du Soleil as well as dancers Miho Iwata and Lin I-fen, among others.

The concert program on Saturday, May 29, will likewise feature Huun-Huur-Tu, an ensemble of four performers including a throat singer from Tuva on the border of Mongolia and Russia. They will perform a song from Todja called “Odugen Taiga.” The herdsman’s song is about the place “where he grew up and where the scent of pine enveloped his body.”

The photo above shows Finnish cellist Anssi Karttunen and Chinese jinghu player Jiang Ke-mei rehearsing with the Taipei Chinese Orchestra under the baton of Chung Yiu-kwong at the Zhonghshan Hall in Taipei.

For ticket information, call tel. (02)33939888.