Special Report: Taipei Chinese Orchestra
You might think that traditional Chinese music is just about playing traditional Chinese instruments like the pipa (Chinese lute), guzheng (Chinese zither) and sheng (bamboo flute), but it can also include glove puppetry, chivalrous swordsman dramas and even ghost stories! This is not just made up out of nowhere; it is a product of brainstorming by the Taipei Chinese Orchestra (TCO), and the focus person this time, director Cheng Li-pin.
According to Mr. Cheng: "Compared with the repertoire of western classical symphony orchestras, which has developed over hundreds of years, the relatively young Chinese orchestra has a limited repertoire. This, however, is not a disadvantage, and leaves the TCO unconstrained, opening up opportunity for innovation and new ideas."
In 2017 the TCO collaborated with Lin Cho-liang (Jimmy Lin) on the violin concerto Butterfly Lovers and the sequel of the chivalrous swordsman series Romance of the Condor Heroes. "Written by composer Huang Fu-tang over a period of forty years and with eight movements, Romance of the Condor Heroes is a perfect expression of theatrical character, plot and emotion!" stated Director Cheng. In 2018, the TCO will launch a series of chivalrous swordsman video game concerts and a chivalrous swordsman adventure 3D surround sound concert. Whether collaborating with pianist Ivan Linn on the Chinese Paladin and Xuan-Yuan Sword video game Chinese music soundtracks, or using 3D sound effects and musical sound shading to create a sci-fi atmosphere, the chivalrous swordsman trilogy connects with a range of age groups, helping Chinese traditional music to reach a wider audience.
The TCO Theater blends opera with musical theater, and is the highlight of the year for the TCO. The Taiwanese opera The Four Women in Puppet Master Lee Tien-lu's Life, performed in June this year, was inspired by poet Lu Han-xiu's poem of the same name. It was composed by Chian Nan-chang, its lyrics were written by Lai Mei-chen, and it is the first traditional Chinese music opera performed in the Taiwanese language. "While the entire performance lasts three hours, it can be summed up in one sentence: this is life, and also a play!" explains Cheng.
The TCO is committed to refining both traditional and popular culture, and the Shining Bright series is a long-established project that does just that. This year's program includes Iron Lion Loves Chinese Music (Peng Chia-chia, Hsu Hsiao-shun) and Living National Treasure III - Taiwanese Puppetry Music (Huang Chun-hsiung). With just one or two shows a year, the series integrates everyday drama with musical theater to make the traditional Chinese music feel less distant to the public.
Cheng says: "The key to developing traditional Chinese music is in creating works! More composers need to engage in creative work, especially Taiwanese composers!" Accordingly, TCO has organized the "Give It a TRY" project for the past few years, hoping to unearth more outstanding young composers. The project aims to enable music students to contribute new creative works, allowing them to try out performances with the TCO and receive feedback on their work.
The TCO continues to hold annual concerts for Arts Festival in Community and School concerts, two important cultural education projects. Arts Festival in Community Concert arranges concerts in neighborhoods all over Taipei, while School Concert allows sixth grade school children in Taipei to enjoy a TCO performance free of charge, giving them a chance to appreciate traditional Chinese music and arts.
In 2019 TCO will celebrate its 40th birthday, an important milestone. In addition to the yearly planning of each series to suit different audiences, "we want each concert to give the audience the most colorful, profound and exquisite performance!" Cheng emphasizes that they want to move the audience, and make them really look forward to their next visit.
Enthusiastic TCO director Cheng plans to lead the orchestra to popularize traditional Chinese music, allowing it to flourish, take root and spread all around. The TCO has a rich and varied menu for 2018, and invites everyone to come to its concerts and continue to show their support!