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Innovative music and opera at Taipei Traditional Arts Festival

By Yali Chen
The 32nd Taipei Traditional Arts Festival kicked off with a press conference on March 4. The festival will run until June 12 and will feature a wide variety of programs, such as music, puppet shows and Taiwanese opera.
Since its inception in 1988, the three-month-long festival, organized by Taipei Chinese Orchestra (TCO), has become one of the largest and oldest traditional arts events in Taiwan. Held every spring, this event is one of the biggest arts festivals in Taipei in the first half of the year.
The core value of the festival is to show Taipei’s diverse arts and culture, and to express a balance between tradition and innovation. Every year, the TCO launches a great range of traditional arts performances with different themes.

Lee Li-ju (center)
Photo from TCO
Lee Li-ju (center), Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs announces that the 32nd Taipei Traditional Arts Festival has kicked off with a wide variety of programs and will run until June 12.
This year’s festival has four highlights: an opening concert “Romance of Anping City” (安平風雲),  a new Taiwanese opera “My Mom Needs an Education” (我的媽媽欠栽培), a closing concert “The Rite of Spring” (春之雪) Violin Concerto No. 2 performed by Taiwanese-American violinist Lin Cho-liang, and the 2019 Taipei Chinese Instrumental Competition (臺北市民族器樂大賽).
The opening concert, held on March 7 at the National Concert Hall in Taipei, was a large-scale production with two orchestras, three choirs, and nearly 300 performers appearing on stage.
Celebrating its 40th anniversary, the TCO arranged the choruses and Chinese traditional orchestra to perform together in the opening concert and commissioned three Taiwanese composers Wen-Pin Hope Lee (李和莆), Liu Chih-hsuan (劉至軒), and Ming Wang (王蓂) to compose songs.
Lee integrated two pieces of Tainan-born pop songwriter Hsu Shih (許石) into his new work “Legends from the South Seas: The Southern City of Anping” (南瀛傳說  安平南都) as a tribute for the 100th anniversary of Hsu’s death.
Born in 1919, Hsu produced a number of frequently-played songs, such as “Anping Port Memory” (安平追想曲), “Night in the City of Tainan” (南都之夜), “When the Gong Sounds” (鑼聲若響), and “Street Light at Midnight” (夜半路燈).
“I also used the concept of three numbers ‘2,’ ‘2,’ and ‘8’ to write a total of 228 bars in this new piece. The orchestral score has 28 pages, plus 9 minutes and 28 seconds in length,” Lee said. “This song is dedicated to the victims of the 228 Massacre in 1947.”
“While brainstorming ‘Romance of Anping City’ (安平風雲), we talked about Zheng Cheng-gong (鄭成功), also known as Koxinga (國姓爺), who defeated the Dutch in the Anping Fort in Tainan City,” Wang said. “We also discussed the romantic tale in the classic Taiwanese song ‘Anping Port Memory.’ In the end we decided to combine these two elements to produce our orchestral work.”
The “Romance of Anping City” centers on the combination of the three choirs and a Chinese orchestra. Wang also added Western musical instruments, and electronic sound effects. He also adapted the musical composition style of the Netherlandish School during the Renaissance, and “Backe, backe Kuchen” (Bake, Bake, a Cake!) – a fun children’s song from Germany.

“My Mom Needs an Education”
Photo from TCO
From left to right, drama editor Yu Yuan-keng, tenor Tang Fa-kai, Taiwanese opera actress Lu Xue-feng, actor Pon Cha-cha, and Taipei Chinese Orchestra Director Cheng Li-pin promote a new Taiwanese opera “My Mom Needs an Education” at a press conference on March 4.
Themed the history of Southern Taiwan, the opening concert was a very large-scale production because the Taipei Chinese Orchestra, TCO Chorus, Taipei Philharmonic Chorus, Taipei Philharmonic Children’s Choir, and Puppet & Its Double Theater gave a joint performance.
In her speech at the press conference on March 4, Lee Li-ju (李麗珠), Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs (DOCA), said that the Taipei Traditional Arts Festival is not only one of the biggest art feasts in Taipei. It is also one of the largest and oldest traditional arts events in Taiwan.
“The TCO still continues to present its innovative programs,” she said. “Its new theatrical presentation ‘My Mom Needs an Education,’ is a good example of combining Western opera and Taiwanese opera (gezaixi); it is a complete revelation to audiences.”
This new opera is set to run from May 24 through May 26 at the Taipei Zhongshan Hall and from June 29 until June 30 at the National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts (Weiwuying).
Adapted from Yang Fu-min’s same-title novel, it describes how mothers in Taiwan always sacrifice themselves for their families. They give up their jobs or dreams to take care of their children. They always put their children and family first.
The whole drama is described as a fusion of Taiwanese traditional singing styles and modern Western songs, the TCO director Cheng said. “We had integrated a broad range of singing into this brand new production. We also try to present Taiwan’s diverse cultures and hope to redefine the concept of Taiwanese opera through this work.”

The 32nd Taipei Traditional Arts Festival includes a wide variety of programs such as puppet shows.
Photo from TCO
The 32nd Taipei Traditional Arts Festival includes a wide variety of programs
such as puppet shows.

Some of the big names in this production include senior drama editor Yu Yuan-keng (游源鏗), director Cheng Chia-yin (鄭嘉音), Taiwanese opera actress Lu Xue-feng (呂雪鳳), actor Pon Cha-cha (澎恰恰), and tenor Tang Fa-kai (湯發凱). Cheng is founder and artistic director of The Puppet and Its Double Theater. In 2015, Lu won the 52nd Golden Horse Film Awards for best supporting actress. These performers will interpret the bittersweet moment of a mother’s duties in the Taiwanese dialect.
Yu said that the mother in this new opera has many skills including making spring couplets and sewing. She gives everything to her children and family, but forgets herself. He believes that this drama will cause the audiences to think of their own mother and appreciate their mother’s dedication.
Pon said that the Taiwanese dialect is very beautiful and elegant. Unfortunately, the younger generation has grown increasingly unfamiliar with the Taiwanese dialect. He hopes that through this special opera, everyone can appreciate the beauty of Taiwanese language.
The grand finale of this year’s festival will be the closing concert on June 12 at the National Concert Hall. Under TCO director Cheng’s baton, Taiwanese-American violinist Lin Cho-liang is slated to perform with the TCO again.
Lin is lauded the world over for the eloquence of his playing and for the superb musicianship that marks his performances. Renowned as a soloist for major orchestras, he also frequently performs recitals, chamber music, and has a teaching studio.
In 2017, Lin worked with the TCO for the first time in the “Butterfly Lovers” Violin Concerto – one of the most famous modern works of Chinese music. It is an orchestral adaptation of the Chinese tragic love story of Liang Shan-bo (梁山伯) and Zhu Ying-tai (祝英台). The piece features a solo violin played using some Chinese techniques. All tickets were sold out soon.
This year, the Taipei-based orchestra invited Lin to perform again. Audiences will once again find pleasure with their amazing performance.
The closing concert is set to kick off with the “Nautilus Symmetry” (鸚鵡螺的對稱), followed by “The Rite of Spring” Violin Concerto No. 2 and “Four Seasons in the Lingering Garden” (四季留園).
Commissioned by the TCO, Canadian-American composer Joel Hoffman composed the first two pieces. Hoffman’s works draw from such diverse sources as Eastern European folk music, Chinese traditional music and bebop, and are pervaded by a sense of lyricism and rhythmic vitality.
The “Nautilus Symmetry” is a 20-minute work for Chinese traditional orchestra and will have its first performance on June 12 this year in Taipei. It is the composer’s first large-scale work for Chinese orchestra and represents the culmination of several years of compositions for smaller ensembles of Chinese traditional instruments.
The TCO has also commissioned Hoffman to arrange Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” in the form of Chinese traditional orchestra. Lin will interpret this masterwork with his violin.
“Four Seasons in the Lingering Garden” is Chinese composer Wang Dan-hong’s (王丹紅) original work that combines Suzhou pingtan (蘇州評彈) and Kunqu opera (崑曲).
The second and final round of the 2019 Taipei Chinese Instrumental Competition for Erhu is set to be held on April 15 at the Guangfu Auditorium in the Taipei Zhongshan Hall and April 17 at the Zhongzheng Auditorium in the Taipei Zhongshan Hall.
This year’s first prize winner will in the future have an opportunity to perform with the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, Shanghai Chinese Orchestra, China Broadcasting Chinese Orchestra, Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra, and Macao Chinese Orchestra.