Monday, December 31, 2012

Conductor Zubin Mehta still going places with Israel Philharmonic after more than half a century

By Nancy T. Lu

Zubin Mehta, the renowned conductor associated with the World Cup concerts of the Three Tenors, holds the amazing track record of wielding the baton for the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra for over half a century. He first conducted the orchestra by substituting for Eugene Ormandy back in 1961 on two weeks’ notice. At that time he had already made his debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra.

During his visit to Taipei with the orchestra in September 2002, Mehta spoke of the main difference of the orchestra: “I personally picked every musician in the orchestra. There are 65 musicians in all.”

The then 66-year-old Mehta, who first brought the orchestra to Taipei in1989, revealed that he could institute changes at will. In fact, he initiated the so-called jeans concerts with the musicians putting on very casual attires. He himself dressed up in Indian kurta. But so far, Mehta and his musicians chose to stick to tails during their Taiwan concert tours.

Mehta had no union problem. Whenever an opening in the orchestra had to be filled, he could cast around – even abroad – for a musician.

He remarked during an interview on the tourist bus from the Taoyuan Airport to Taipei at that time: “Half the orchestra today is Russian. Fifty percent of the musicians are born in Israel.”

The Associated Press reported that year that the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra had to cancel a U.S. concert tour for it could not find an American security firm willing to guard its musicians. The orchestra was originally scheduled to perform in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago, but called off the U.S. leg of its international tour when it couldn’t organize a security company to protect its musicians.

Mehta thought it “stupid” of the insurance company to refuse to cover and protect the musicians. During the Taiwan visits of the orchestra over the years, air-tight security procedures were put in place even before the arrival of the musicians. Each concert venue had to be thoroughly checked beforehand.

Asked if it was “inconvenient” to be working with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Mehta quipped: “No, it’s not inconvenient. We’re not afraid. In Israel, we are playing to full house all the time. In contrast, the restaurants have been half full.”

Only about three months earlier that year, the orchestra was playing a concert when a suicide bomber attacked in a café only about five or six minutes from the concert hall.

“The musicians take it as part of life,” Mehta said. “Not one complaint can be heard from them. They come on tour, leaving behind their families. This is our life. We have to be positive.”

Mehta did say before the end of the interview: ”We are looking forward to playing in New York next year.”

Born in Bombay, India, Mehta – an Indian passport holder holder with the green card of an immigrant in America and a Zoroastrian  – went to Vienna when he was 18. He began conducting when he was 16. Los Angeles is now his home.

Before deciding on a career in conducting, he was studying to be a medical worker. “Family indoctrination” had to do with it, he said. He later opted to get out, choosing a future in music.

Mehta’s father, however, was a conductor until he retired in 2000. His last concert with the American Youth Symphony in Los Angeles even featured cellist Mstislav Rostropovich.

Mehta grew up exposed to music all the time. His father played the violin and the piano. As son, he tried to do the same.

During his years in Vienna, he idolized Herbert von Karajan. He went to all his rehearsals and concerts, learning a lot from von Karajan in the process.

Mehta became the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra’s music adviser in 1969, music director in 1977 and music director for life in 1981. As of 2002, he had already conducted the orchestra in 1,070 concerts. He spends three months yearly with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1998, Mehta also became the director of the Bavarian State Opera in Munich.

Mehta cited working with Chinese director Zhang Yimou in Puccini’s “Turandot” years ago as one of his rather unforgettable experiences. The opera was staged in Beijing and in Florence.

As of this writing, the 76-year-old Mehta is preparing to return to Taiwan with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra for a New Year’s concert in Taipei on January 3, 2013. The maestro remains active, perhaps still needing only at least one hour of sleep before a concert as he claimed years ago.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Third visit of relics rekindles special devotion to St. Therese of the Child Jesus

I finally caught up with the relics of St. Therese of the Child Jesus
at the Chapel of the Carmelite Monastery of St. Therese of the Child
Jesus on Gilmore Street, Quezon City, Metro Manila, this morning.

The chase began at the Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Cubao on
Lantana Street on Dec. 23. I went there in the afternoon only to learn
that the relics would be arrriving at 9 p,m. that day. The following
day I heard from a friend that the sacred items would be leaving the
premises at 3 p.m. on Dec. 24 even though the news report in the
Philippine Inquirer indicated that the Archdiocese of Cubao would have
the relics consisting of bone fragments of the saint from Lisieux until Dec. 26.

I returned to the cathedral to verify the whereabouts of the relics of
the saint known as the Little Flower yesterday, Dec. 25, only to hear
that these had already been moved  to the Chapel of the Carmelite
Monastery. This convent is walking distance from where I live.

I rushed to Gilmore to check. However, the relics were not for public
viewing yesterday. So I went back this morning. And at last I saw the
beautiful case of the relics. Devotees filed in to wipe the case with
hankies. Members of the Knights of Columbus guarded the relics.

The relics, making a third Philippine visit, would tour the country
for four months. Earlier visits to the country took place in years
2000 and 2008.

One day I will make a pilgrimage to Lisieux, Normandy, France. This is
my dream.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Santa Claus from Taiwanese miniaturist Chen Forng-shean: the smaller, the better

Most people like to think big. But Taiwan’s rare find Chen Forng-shean prefers to downsize everything, even setting records in creating miniatures barely seen by the naked eye over the years.

Miniaturist Chen recently worked on two very tiny Father Christmas figures of resin, rendering them to look very much like white-bearded Santa Claus in red outfits with black belts, matching red caps and black boots. They were incredibly small. In fact, Chen placed both on a pencil’s lead tip, which measured only 0.2 centimeter in diameter, to highlight their size. Both with average length, width and height of only 0.06 centimeter appeared to be jumping with joy in keeping with the Christmas holiday spirit.

The Xindian City-based Chen spent 30 days creating his smiling Santa Claus pair with bags of goodies intended to bring happiness to children in their grips. After 10 failed attempts to make what he had in mind, Chen finally finished creating the resin pair. Each was 0.05 centimeter long, 0.05 centimeter wide and 0.08 centimeter high. The works could only be seen clearly with the help of a powerful magnifying glass.

Giving each Santa Claus a jolly facial expression proved one of the biggest challenges encountered by Chen Forng-shean this time. Introducing the red color on the outfit was also very difficult. Only steady hands with full control over each brush stroke made possible Chen’s success in executing what he set out to accomplish.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Remembering sitar legend Ravi Shankar

Ravi Shankar, the world’s best-known sitar guru, will never play again. At 92,he is gone.

In 1966, Beatle George Harrison traveled to Bombay, India, to seek lessons from Shankar, thereby catapulting the Indian musician to great fame in the West. In those days, Shankar enjoyed the status of the sitar raga king. He played an exotic long-necked instrument with seven strings echoed by 11 sympathetic strings under the elevated frets. He made a big impact at some of the famous rock festivals of the 1960s like Woodstock and the Monterey Pop festival.

Shankar came to Taipei years ago (see picture above), bringing with him his daughter Anoushka. The half-sister of singer Norah Jones paled in comparison to her legendary father at the Indian music concert. Nevertheless the adolescent performer attracted a lot of attention as her father’s very young protégé. Shankar encouraged his daughter to explore and find her own way in interpreting music on the sitar.

George Harrison remained Ravi Shankar’s best-known pupil. In fact, years after his news-making encounter with the sitar master, the British guitarist and songwriter produced Shankar’s four-CD retrospective album. He later also did the introduction for a book of memoirs by the artist who dedicated his lifetime to the promotion of Indian music around the world.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts in Taipei offering residency program for international artists and curators

The Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts is now receiving applications for the residency program of the museum in the campus of the Taipei National University of the Arts. Artists and curators picked to participate are offered the opportunity to reside and work for two weeks to a month at the university and museum. Accommodation, studio and facilities plus a supporting team are provided selected candidates.

Applications from around the world are being received by email from November 12 to December 14, 2012.

The project was first launched in 2005. Since then, various international visual artists and curators have participated in the program. The objective of the program has been to enable teachers, students and communities to learn from the resident artists/curators and see the outcome of the program.

Interested individuals need to download details and application form from the Kuandu Residency Program website:

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Filipino cartoonist Nonoy Marcelo has been gone an entire decade but memory of this departed friend lives on

By Nancy T. Lu

Picking up a copy of “HULING PTYK Da Art of Nonoy Marcelo” for the first time after running into Pandy Aviado last October 27 led to my discovery that the super talented Filipino cartoonist, my former close colleague at the workplace and friend has been gone for a decade. He passed away at the age of 63 in Manila on October 22, 2002.

My acquaintance with Nonoy dated back to his "Tisoy" and "Plain Folks" days. I appeared in his “Plain Folks” spoofs of office situations a few times and was a guest performer in two episodes of “Tisoy” on TV.

I was very fortunate and privileged to have not just Malabon’s but the entire Philippines’ pride Nonoy Marcelo as regular layout artist for my many published articles in the Sunday Times Magazine (STM) of the Manila Times. His creativity and imagination knew no bounds. I learned so much by just watching this left-handed artist at work. He also constantly amused me with his words. From the beginning I realized that he was a rare and precious find.

Nonoy, who was 29 when I first met him, amazed me by being so fast in coming up with brilliant ideas and tricks in playing with titles, texts and photographs put at his disposal. His designs truly helped stimulate the readers’ interest. I, fresh out of journalism school, was always very impressed and grateful to him for what he happily did for me in between puffs of cigarettes. This artist was a heavy smoker.

Nonoy, ever bohemian in appearance, would show up at the office towards evening with unkempt curly hair said to have been inspired by his idol Bob Dylan. He worked best after nightfall. As he headed straight towards his untidy work corner at the far end of the editorial room, his body language spoke eloquently of his wish to be invisible and free from stares. He was kind of shy.

Nonoy was fond of wearing tight leather pants and boots in those days. But he once surprised everyone at the office by shedding his hippie-style look in favor of formal attire. At the first-ever French Food Festival organized by bon vivant Nora Daza at the original Hyatt in Manila, he put on coat and tie as strictly specified on the invitation card. He even got a haircut and combed his hair. The picture here shows him with cartoonist Liborio "Gat" Gatbonton of the Manila Chronicle.

Nonoy had an insatiable hunger for news, both local and foreign. He was always on top of what was happening in the Philippines and abroad. After all he must turn out regularly without fail comic strips for the Manila Times and editorial cartoons for the Daily Mirror. He remained consistently up-to-date and relevant in his chosen subjects and topics.

Word play was his forte. He was a master at coining words with humor. His original jargon and vocabulary often consisting of reversing syllables came to be adopted by the masses. He turned familiar lines and even lyrics ( for example, a Christmas carol like "Ang Pasko Ay Sumapit") around to make his funny spoof statement.

Early on, his extraordinary talent for social commentary, satire and parody was clear to see. Targets winced at his wit. But his readers had a good laugh. The never-boring guy was an intellectual - he was deep - and his brain went to work with lightning speed, requiring breathless catching up. All burners on this cartoonist's  creative oven were always switched on simultaneously. Puns originated from him at whim. Knockout punch lines which were born out of his sharp observation showed his humor. His wit was original and incredible, making people see in him a genius.

In those days, Nonoy liked going out of town and covering news stories just like a true journalist. We once went to Marilao, Bulacan, to check out a cattle rustling story. He later did sketches to go with my story for the Sunday Times Magazine. Ideas for his comic strips were found, too.

When General Raval, the then Philippine Constabulary chief, took Tausog rebel Kamlon home to Jolo, Nonoy joined the STM entourage who went along. During an overnight stay in Cebu City before flying out to Zamboanga City and later onward to Jolo, one of the soldiers in the party notified me that there was a last-minute change of plan and schedule. I must pack up and move in the night, I was told on the phone. Another alert colleague traveling with me noticed that the caller sounded drunk. He also gave the impression that he was calling from a noisy bar. The next day, Nonoy overheard the mischievous fellow talking about his attempt to whisk me away in the night. Like a protective brother, he burned the culprit with his cigarette butt to teach him a lesson. He pretended that it was just an accident.

Actually Nonoy was a flirt who enjoyed making “ligaw” left and right. He knew how to loot a girl’s heart. Wit beyond compare was his weapon. It was the secret of his disarming charm. I once asked him to do me a sketch. This was back in 1969. The entire world had just followed with great excitement astronaut Neil Armstrong’s first walk on the moon. Nonoy quickly made me a drawing of a spaceman moving about in outer space while tied to a satellite capsule, then telling me: “You put me in orbit.”

Nonoy left Manila for Hong Kong with writer Sylvia Mayuga not long after. From Hong Kong, he flew to New York to soak up a heady new experience. He lost a whole suitcase of drawings sent from Hong Kong, he wrote not very long after. Somebody who agreed to be the courier brought it to San Francisco.

Enclosed in one of his letters mailed from the Big Apple was a picture showing him - “mayabang pa rin,” as he put it - next to a “chikot” that was not his. He wrote further that Boy Rodriguez had given him a haircut, “kaya mukha tuloy tagilid.”

He drove a sports car similar to the one he moved around in while working previously in Manila. But a smoking bum slept in it and burned it down, according to him.

Nonoy mailed to me also a postcard, which showed the interior of the Bayanihan Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge in New York. On the wall was his big mural of the Bayanihan dancers. This measured 6  feet by 16 feet in size.

Nonoy was fond of hanging out with the Pinays in New York not just to ward off undeniable homesickness. They fed him well. He did drawings for them in return. Actually he wrote more about the joy of finding plenty of "food for the grey matter" in New York.

At one point, he revealed that he had done cartoons for an illustrated five-volume law book series in New York. The books he described as required reading in American colleges. His children could one day be proud of what their "Tay-tay" did, according to him. He remarked: “At least books are more lasting than say, a contributed cartoon in a newspaper or magazine.”

Bert Pelayo had his newspaper Filipino Reporter in New York then. Nonoy started a magazine with him. He even launched a periodical of his own – The Business Bulletin. This publication was filled strictly with advertisements. The artist had gone capitalistic, but "not 100 percent," he claimed. He just needed to be "realistic."

Emilio Aguilar Cruz, who used to be editor of Daily Mirror, eventually convinced Nonoy to return to the Philippines. Nonoy, once back, saw his colorful career continue to climb. He went into animation. The last time I saw Nonoy was at an animation workshop at Kidlat Tahimik’s place up in Baguio City. I had just returned from a journalism study grant in Paris at that time. I shortly left the Philippines to work for an English-language newspaper in Taiwan.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Magic stardust from glory days of French Folie Bergere casts spell on Picoux

By Nancy T. Lu

Who has not heard of the French Folie Bergere? Taipei-based French artist Jacques Camille Picoux saw the spectacular and dazzling world of the Paris revue up close years ago through the eyes of his dancer grand aunt.

During her time at the start of the 20th century, Diane Belli was the star showgirl at the famous Paris music-hall patronized by the haut noblesse. She seduced a long line of rich and famous clients who came to be entertained. French author and painter Jean Cocteau was just one of them.

As a young boy, Picoux could not help becoming awe-struck over his grand aunt’s accounts of her days of glory with the Folie Bergere. She fired his imagination further by giving him souvenirs from the peak period in her career.

Picoux has kept and cherished to this day a picture showing her dressed in contour-revealing tights while being raised high with two hands by her male dance partner. She also gave him for keepsake a photo reproduction of herself with cigarette almost dropping from one side of her lips while affecting the posture of a worldly French courtesan.

The Folie Bergere, a symbol of Parisian life and French pleasure, fascinated Picoux in his youth. The magic stardust which Diane Belli sprinkled on him went on to influence him in his creation of works of art over the years. He, in fact, “painted” with flair and elegance many a collage to remind all somewhat of the French Belle Epoque.

Picoux embarked on flights of fancy revolving around the men and women or even feline pets in his private life in his collage and mosaic art, choosing to work ecstatically with colored paper bits, fabric remnants and glass pieces. He also was playfully creative with socks and ties, arriving each time at a beautiful kaleidoscope of color for everyone to admire. His fondness for Art Deco motif and style was clear to see. Dots, wavy lines and geometric patterns were cleverly introduced at whim.

Jacques C. Picoux’s last one-man show which was at the Pema Lamo Gallery in Taipei this year made possible for many a revisit of his years of creativity from 1979 to 2012. The 63-year-old artist likes to draw. But he is convinced that his restless hands are better at other creative explorations like collage and mosaic art creation or even needlework such as embroidery.

Picoux comes up first with a design in his creative process, then buckles down to patiently pasting colored paper over it. A change of heart simply requires the introduction of a new layer of paper. The story is different when he is working with fabrics. Unstitching a finished work is never easy, he reveals.

Colored glass becomes his preoccupation sometimes. He spends months working on just one mosaic mural. Such painstakingly detailed exercise is reserved only for very special individuals. He takes pride in showing off to friends his success in transforming his entire bathroom at his Taipei home into a mosaic masterpiece.

His extraordinary paper supply is usually sourced in Japan, says Picoux. He combs the flea markets in Paris or elsewhere for textiles and fabrics. Beaded or sequined antique finds he collects for eventual recycling as art materials. He not only enjoys doing needlework like embroidery but also sometimes dabbles in fashion design.

The mannequins of Picoux’s art world are perhaps a revelation of his fascination with his showgirl grand aunt and the Folie Bergere of a glorious era. Collage talent Picoux dresses them in uniquely colorful and even glittering style. He amazes with his flair for intricate details.

Two of the collage works on view at his last show in Taipei were reproduced as signed prints in limited edition for potential collectors. Also part of the exhibit was a furniture set of table and chairs all covered with the collage art of Picoux.

Hanging on one wall of the gallery in Taipei were framed items from the artist’s souvenir collection. They included pictures of his grand aunt, thereby opening a window on the private world of Picoux. A doodle from director Tim Burton and a gossip news clipping showing Picoux with actress Gong Li were proofs of a life with never a dull moment. Photos of Picoux posing as a respectable tea connoisseur visiting a tea plantation in Yunnan in a commercial made last year under the direction of Hou Hsiao-hsien went also on display in June and July.

Picoux originally came to Taiwan to professionally teach the French language at the National Taiwan University years ago. He taught until his full retirement not too long ago. In the early years of his stay in Taipei, he even collaborated with the late Francoise Zylberberg and Maria Chiu in producing the extremely successful French language teaching program for the Chinese Television Service (CTS) called “Salut les Copains.”

Being French, he feels pride in his own culture. And so in addition to teaching his mother tongue, he shares glimpses of his world, including his passion for the arts like music, theater and film as well as his taste for exquisite French cuisine. He loves to cook French dishes for his friends at home.

Having found a second home in Taiwan, he soaks up the local culture, too. Picoux is very interested in Taiwan cinema. In fact, he was the translator behind the French subtitles of films directed by award-winning filmmakers Hou Hsiao-hsien and Edward Yang, which made a great impact at the Cannes International Film Festival over the years.

The solo exhibition of Jacques C. Picoux at the Pema Lamo Gallery in Taipei opened on June 16 this year and closed on French Bastille Day, July 14. The gallery (tel. 02-2700-0133) is located at 26, Lane 304, Chienkuo South Road, Sec. 1, Taipei. The place is easily reached from the Xinyi Road intersection.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Abstract artist Raul Isidro’s “Gilded Landscapes” at Ayala Museum dazzles

By Nancy T. Lu

The glitter of gold dazzles especially with its price in the world
market spiraling to dizzying heights. So does Raul G. Isidro’s one-man
show “Gilded Landscapes” at the Ayala Museum’s Artist Space Gallery
but more for reason of creative brilliance and sophistication. The
shining exhibit opened on Saturday, Oct. 27, and will run until
November 11.

Isidro makes his opulent art statement in acrylic and with gold leaf . He began to experiment with gold leaf back in the 1980s.

The gold sheen dominating each work on display virtually turns the
round or square surface into a vanity mirror for every viewer. Colors
or even lines introduced subtly here and there lend themselves to the
elegance and refinement of Isidro’s abstract art.

The exhibit opening saw a big turnout of artists, including Pandy
Aviado, Tiny Nuyda and Edgar Doctor. Nunelucio Alvarado made a special
trip from Bacolod City and Anna India Dela Cruz-Legaspi came all the way from Kalibo, Aklan.

Isidro, a graduate of University of Santo Tomas, was president of the
Philippine Association of Printmakers from 2001 to 2008. He was a Ten
Outstanding Young Men of the Philippines (TOYM) awardee in 1979.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Philippine Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima leads guests at opening of Chinese New Year prints exhibit

By Nancy T. Lu

Guests at the opening of the exhibit “Chinese New Year Prints: A World of Good Wishes” at the BenCab Museum’s Print Gallery on Saturday, January 21, zeroed in on the colorful New Year pictures dedicated to their respective Chinese zodiac signs.

Philippine Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, who led the VIP guests among the 545 museum visitors on Saturday afternoon, was no exception. Accompanied by his art lover wife, who herself was born in the Year of the Rabbit, he lingered in front of Taiwanese artist Tsai Chun-yi’s “Propitious Mice Bring Treasures to the New Year.”

As explained to Purisima through a saying, where you find the mice, there you will come upon treasures. This particular auspicious picture, which shows three mice holding on to a pineapple ( a symbol of good fortune and prosperity), sums up the wish for the coming year to round off smoothly, reaping satisfaction in terms of wealth and social status.

This was the first visit to the BenCab Museum in Metro Baguio for
51-year-old Purisima, the country's top finance official who was born
in the Year of the Rat.

Philippine National Artist for Visual Arts Ben Cabrera, who was born in the Year of the Horse, gravitated towards Chen Chao-meng’s “A Fine Horse Ushers in Spring” during the picture-taking. The print has an auspicious dragon superimposed on a neighing black stallion.

In ancient times, the horse full of vigor and vitality found a match in the spirited dragon. The pattern in the background resembles Chinese papercut. Chinese expressions like “Good Fortune as You Wish,” “Good Luck and Good Fortune,” “Wealth and Good Fortune” and “Happy New Year”on the print reflect everyone’s expectations and wishes for a better or even great coming year.

The guests consisting mainly of local artists and art lovers stayed on to listen to a lecture on “Tradition and Innovation in Chinese New Year Prints” by Nancy T. Lu. Pointed out during the presentation of 100 colorful New Year prints inspired mainly by the Chinese zodiac signs were the different interesting subjects and symbols seen on the prints by the 15 contemporary Taiwanese artists on view at the Print Gallery of the museum.

The artists in Taiwan are encouraged by the Council for Cultural
Affairs to help keep alive the “nian hua” or New Year picture culture,
which has a history of hundreds of years.

All the 12 animal signs of the Chinese zodiac are represented in the
special show organized to greet the arrival of the Year of the Dragon.
The exhibit of the Chinese New Year prints at the BenCab Museum will run until February 10.

Philippine Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima and his wife (4th and 3rd from right)
lead guests at the opening of the exhibit "Chinese New Year Prints: A World of Good Wishes" at the BenCab Museum in Metro Baguio on Saturday. Also seen in the picture are National Artist for Visual Arts Ben Cabrera, extreme right, and Annie Sarthou of BenCab Museum, fourth from left.

Philippine National Artist for Visual Arts Ben Cabrera and Nancy T. Lu are shown at the opening of the exhibit "Chinese New Year Prints: A World of Good Wishes" at
the BenCab Museum on Saturday, January 21.