Taipei Traditional Arts Festival boasts star-studded performances
By Yali Chen
The 2015 Taipei Traditional Arts Festival has kicked off with a cross-border concert at the National Concert Hall in Taipei on April 1 and will run until June 14. Held by the Taipei Chinese Orchestra (TCO), this year's festival features a total of 23 star-studded performances ranging from traditional Chinese music to musical theater and dance.
A group of musicians from Taiwan and overseas are set to participate in the annual event. World-renowned artists include Belgian leading marimbist Ludwig Albert, Chinese erhu player Deng Jian-dong, Chinese vocalists Yang Xue-jin and Li Hui-lan, Canadian ukulele player James Hill, Chinese violinist Kong Chao-hui, French horn player Felix Klieser of Germany, and Hong Kong-based pop singer Anthony Wong.
Local artists and performing groups contain Peking opera singer Li Bao-chun, Taiwan Philharmonic Chinese Orchestra, the Yi Shin Taiwanese Opera Troupe, the Ming-Chu Girls' Taiwanese Opera Troupe, Taipei Puppet Theater, SeaHorse Music, WCdance, and the Hanlin Traditional Narrating and Singing Arts Group, as well as dance students from both Taipei National University of the Arts and National Taiwan University of Arts.
Now in its 28th year, the annual festival opened with the musical Shanghai Salsa at the National Concert Hall in Taipei on April 1. Set in Shanghai between the twenties and thirties, the musical depicts two female rising stars struggling in a nightclub.
Known as "The Paris of the East," Shanghai reached its zenith during the 1920s and 1930s as the leading center of trade and finance in Asia. It was also home to the greatest architecture and finest shops, as well as the most lavish and decadent nightlife.
Among the stars emerging in Shanghai between thirties and forties were Zhou Xuan, hailed as the Golden Voice, and Bai Kwong, touted as the Queen of the Low Voice. Their stories were integrated into this musical, produced by director Danny Yung, revered as the "cultural godfather" of Hong Kong, and Taipei-based Vivien Ku, the daughter of the late Taiwanese business magnate and amateur Peking opera performer Koo Chen-fu.
A man of talents, Yung founded his avant-garde arts group Zuni Icosahedron in 1982. His creation ranges from video to performance, experimental theater, installation art, and concept art.
Like her father, Vivien Ku has devoted all her energies to the promotion of Peking opera. She began to produce Peking opera programs in 1989 and has been supporting Taipei Li-yuan Peking Opera Theatre – a traditional Chinese performing arts group well-known for its New Old Operas series.
Li Bao-chun, the leading performer and artistic director of the Taipei Li-Yuan Peking Opera Theatre, is a well-accomplished Peking opera actor. He not only served as the director of the musical Shanghai Salsa, but also sang several golden oldies of the thirties for the first time.
Other performers include Taiwanese singer Su Pei, young talent Huang Yu-lin, Chinese singer Gong Linna, and Hong Kong-based pop singer Anthony Wong. The lavish production made this musical truly memorable.
In celebration of Taipei to be selected as the 2016 World Design Capital, this year's programs highlight innovative cross-border performances, providing the audience with a fresh perspective on the development of traditional performing arts.
One concert on April 26, entitled When Ukulele Meets Liuqin, is a marvelous example of cross-border experiments. This special performance will be given by Canadian ukulele master James Hill and Ma Tsui-yu, principal liuqin player of the Taipei Chinese Orchestra. They not only play solo in the concert, but also perform together by ending with Astor Piazzolla's Tango Suite for Two Guitars.
Born in 1980, Hill has a deep affection for music. Since the late 1970s, many British Columbia schools made ukulele instruction mandatory. It was in the fourth grade that Hill had his first introduction to the little four-stringed Hawaiian guitar.
During his teenage years, he honed his skills as a key member of the renowned Langley Ukulele Ensemble under the direction of Peter Luongo – a ukulele educator for over 25 years.
After touring for twelve years with the ensemble, Hill embarked on a solo career with his first release of Playing It Like It Isn't in 2002, followed by On the Other Hand in 2003 and A Flying Leap in 2006. Three years later, his album True Love Don't Weep won a Canadian Folk Music Award.
Apart from liuqin (a four-stringed Chinese mandolin with a pear-shaped body), huqin or erhu (a Chinese two-stringed fiddle) is also one of the highlights in this year's programs.
In memory of erhu master Min Hui-fen, the Taipei-based TCO will hold the "Min Huifen Tribute Concert" on May 9 at the Zhongzheng Auditorium in the Taipei Zhongshan Hall.
Min was one of the most revered erhu soloists in the world. Born in China, she learned to play the erhu at the age of 8 from her father. Her performances ranged from China to Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macao, France, Canada, and the U.S. Japan's Seiji Ozawa, one of the best-known conductors of his generation, was once deeply moved by her rendition of River Water. The chief critic of the Boston Symphony Orchestra also praised her as "one of the best string performers in the world."
The renowned erhu musician won the first prize at the National Erhu Playing Competition in 1963, the Shanghai Literature and Art Award in 1988, and the first National Gold Record Award in 1989. But she died of cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 69 in May 2014.
The 1963 film The Love Eterne made huangmei musicals an important genre in Chinese-language cinema. Fifty-two years later the legend will be reincarnated in a stage rendition of the show.
At The Butterfly Lovers Close Up concert on May 23 in the Taipei Zhongshan Hall, noted violinist Kong Chao-hui will perform The Butterfly Lovers Violin Concerto, an orchestral adaptation of an ancient legend – The Butterfly Lovers.
Regarded as the Chinese equivalent of Romeo and Juliet, the story portrays a pair of tragic lovers between Liang Shan-bo and Zhu Ying-tai. Taiwanese actress Hu Chin, a star of both the film and theater version, will return in her role of Chu Ying-tai and sing some arias in the concert.
The 28th Taipei Traditional Arts Festival will close with two concerts, titled I Can Fly, on June 13 and 14 in the Taipei Zhongshan Hall. Felix Klieser, a professional French horn player who was born with no arms, is set to perform on stage.
Considered one of the most hopeful young talents for one of the most difficult to champion musical instruments – the French horn, the 24-year-old German uses his feet to play the horn.
Klieser began studying horn at the age of five in his hometown Göttingen. At the age of 17, he enrolled in Prof. Markus Maskuniitty's class at the Music Academy of Hanover. From 2008 until 2011, the young horn player toured around the world with Germany's renowned Federal Youth Orchestra. In recent years, he has become an ambassador for the One-Handed Musical Instrument Trust (OHMI), which helps fund the development of adapted or specially designed instruments for musicians with one hand and other limb differences.
During the closing concerts, Su Wei-chia, Artistic Director of the HORSE Dance Theatre, will also appear on stage by his solo dance. Dance students from both Taipei National University of the Arts and National Taiwan University of Arts are slated to perform together.
For more information on this year's programs, please visit http://www.tco.gov.taipei (in Chinese version) or call (02) 2383-2170.