Special Report: Taipei Symphony Orchestra
Founded in 1969, Taipei Symphony Orchestra (TSO) will enter its 49th year in 2018. Looking back over 2017, TSO has recorded two pioneering achievements: performing in the US after an absence of 26 years; and creating braille programs for visually impaired people, making TSO the first orchestra in Taiwan to provide such programs.
TSO Deputy Director Lydia Kuo Wen-chen said “We haven’t been to the US for 26 years. This time we received affirmation from many international agents after performing in Silicon Valley and San Diego.” Governments in Europe and Asia have long been more supportive of the arts while the US leans towards commercialism which means many events rely on donations to take place. For this reason, the US is a place where it is quite difficult for us to perform. Luckily, the performances went well this time and TSO is now planning with the intention of performing in the eastern US and opening up a new market.
Speaking of the difficulties involved in performing in the US this time Kuo was frank about having “performing in the US” as a target over the last few years, saying:
While well-known domestically, TSO is not as famous internationally as Berliner Philharmoniker and other orchestras. How can foreigners be made to accept that TSO is a world class orchestra? Kuo laughed as she said: “Although we haven’t been exposed to Western culture from a young age, we share a common language with the world: music. When we make music that is superior to others, we can link up with the world.” TSO hopes foreigners don’t just hear its music, they also aim to convey the value of culture and city. “We hope they can hear the sound of Taiwan,” she said.
As well as opening up the overseas market, as an organization supported by the government, TSO is also active in the fight for cultural equality. Kuo said: “This year we became the first orchestra to make braille programs, our intention being to allow more visually-impaired people enjoy cultural resources. In particular, as an orchestra, our music is accessible to visually-impaired people, and the braille programs make it even more so.”
TSO also cares a lot about various social and environmental issues and hopes, through music, to arouse people’s empathy. “In the past, we have continually held the Forest Concert at Da-an Forest Park; we also attach much importance to gender issues, hoping that everyone can accept ‘love is love’ and isn’t different due to external factors; we have also held a Pet Concert, conveying the message of respecting life; we have also staged the No Trace Concert, aiming to make people more aware of the importance of environmental protection.” Kuo went on “ TSO holds many concerts that don’t just want to entertain the audience with classical music, we also want to take the opportunity to advocate some values that society needs today.”
As for 2018 and beyond, Kuo also revealed that in August next year a Theater Concert called Surrogate Cities will be staged with Heiner Goebbels. The content will portray the phenomenon of contemporary urbanization. The work will not only be performed for the first time in Asia, “Berliner Philharmoniker has performed it many times and was even nominated for a Grammy. We hope, as well as retaining existing symphony orchestra works, we can also be a leader, guiding Taipei citizens on a journey of discovery through the diverse world of the arts.”
In terms of venues where TSO will perform, Kuo wasn’t giving details away apart from revealing that, different to the usual venues Zhongshan Hall and the National Concert Hall, “the venues will be sure to surprise everyone. We will make an annoucement in February-March next year” she said.
As well as the Theater Concert in August, there will also be a Master’s Classic Concert in May next year, with Eliahu Inbal as conductor. As Inbal is a recognized authority on Mahler, TSO is confident that it can serve up a musical feast with a difference for the delectation of citizens.
As for medium-long term planning, Kuo stated that TSO has long been working hard at three things: 1. Improving performance skills to present more exquisite and impressive shows 2. Providing more complete social service so that service itself can be extended through art professionalism and everyone can be moved by music 3. Creating a local Asian style but with a production center that has global vision. “All along, we haven’t just been holding concerts, we performed at the Taipei Universiade, we also produced an opera for Taiwan; we aim to be the locomotive of the music industry, pulling it forward.”