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Taipei Symphony Orchestra celebrates its 50th anniversary season

By Yali Chen
Taipei Symphony Orchestra (TSO) has been planning its 50th anniversary season all year and the party is on.
The theme is celebration.

Lee Li-ju
Photo from TSO
Lee Li-ju, Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs announces that Taipei Symphony Orchestra’s 50th anniversary season has kicked off with a wide variety of programs.
Season highlights include a family-friendly musical, “A Journey with Granny” (跟著阿嬤去旅行) (March 15-17), with the TSO Youth Chamber; the return of the TSO former chief conductor Gilbert Varga, conducting the world premiere of “Taipei Symphony” (臺北交響曲) (May 19); and the orchestra’s first film concert as a homage to Li Hsing (李行), dubbed the “Father of Taiwanese Cinema” (June 29).
Asian Essence” (亞洲本色) is the theme of the TSO’s new season for the first half of the year. In celebration of its 50th anniversary, the orchestra is set to offer more than 20 concerts that will showcase some of the world’s best classical artists, conductors, performers, and composers.
When it was first established in 1969, the TSO had 30 members. It has now grown into a large, professional ensemble with more than 100 performing musicians, said Tsai Tsung-hsiung, Commissioner of Taipei City’s Department of Cultural Affairs (DOCA).
The orchestra’s director Ho Kang-kuo (何康國) said that the TSO is one of the pioneers of symphony orchestras in Taiwan. Over the years, it has gone through different phases including the introduction of Western classics and promotion of local arts.

Ho Kang-kuo
Photo from TSO
The TSO director Ho Kang-kuo says that they have arranged a series of exciting events to celebrate their 50th anniversary season.
“The orchestra has long been committed to promoting general music education since “Taipei Renaissance,” the theme of Taipei City’s season of music in 2018,” Ho said. “This year we’ve invited a number of world-renowned conductors and musicians to perform.”
In the first half of this year, the TSO season focuses on the modern classics. Its programs, divided into the “Music Theatre,” “Maestros & Virtuosos,” “Legendary Series,” “Spotlight Series,” “Forest Series,” and “TSO Chamber Music Series,” are suitable for different age groups. The orchestra will also give regular lectures on the ideas behind each concert.
This year’s season-opening program was the family-friendly musical, “A Journey with Granny,” which ran from March 15 through March 17 at the Zhongshan Hall in Taipei. It was originally produced by the New Taipei City-based Punctum Drama (刺點創作工坊) and recommended by the Taipei City Arts Promotion Office in 2017 for parents and children.
In 2019, the TSO Youth Chamber and Punctum Drama worked together for the first time to create the new version of this children’s musical. It has also become the first children’s musical in Taiwan that included shadow puppets.
The Shadow Legends Drama Group (影子傳奇劇團), a promoter of shadow puppetry, and some students from Taipei Municipal Tali Elementary School were invited to take part in this performance. The use of shadow puppets interacting with actors integrated Oriental traditional skills into Western musical forms.

Artistic Director of the National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts (Weiwuying) at a press conference on February 26.
Photo from TSO
From left to right, the TSO director Ho Kang-kuo, composer David Loong-hsing Wen and Chien Wen-pin, Artistic Director of the National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts (Weiwuying) at a press conference on February 26.
The TSO also commissioned David Loong-hsing Wen (溫隆信), an active composer in Taiwan and abroad, to create an original work last year. This piece titled “Taipei Symphony” will receive its world premiere on May 19 at the National Concert Hall in Taipei.
Born in 1944 in Taipei, Wen began violin lessons at the age of 7 and studied piano and composition at 13. In 1967, his violin teacher Teng Chang-kuo (鄧昌國) made preparations for the establishment of TSO. Wen became a founding member of the orchestra and served as first violinist until 1969. He emerged as a talented composer after winning two composition contests between 1970 and 1971.
In 1975, Wen’s two pieces were chosen as a finalist in the Gaudeamus Composition Competition. One of them, “Phenomena II” for small ensembles, won the second place. He was the first Asian composer to receive such an honor.
After age 40, Wen taught at several colleges in Taiwan and New York University in the U.S. In 1992, he left Taiwan and moved to New York City to serve as resident composer and advising professor at NYU until 2002. He moved to Los Angeles after retirement, setting up the Clap & Tap Chamber Orchestra to train young musicians in Orange County, California.
In March 2018, the TSO director Ho called Wen to invite him to write a symphony based on Beethoven’s 9th Symphony for the TSO’s 50th anniversary concert on May 19, 2019.
Ho suggested that this creation be a choral symphony between 70 and 80 minutes, Wen said. The director also asked that Kavalan tribal songs be integrated into this creation.
Wu Rung-shun (吳榮順), an expert in Taiwanese indigenous music, suggested that Wen select two interesting Kavalan tribal songs – “Mrina” (Lullaby) (搖籃歌), and “Kasianem” (I Miss My Hometown) (懷念故鄉).

“A Journey with Granny.”
Photo from TSO
Kao Tien-heng, Artistic Director of Punctum Drama, shares his ideas behind his original musical “A Journey with Granny.”
The 50th anniversary concert will be a large-scale production that brings together well-known conductors, performers, orchestras, and choruses from here and abroad, including British conductor Gilbert Varga, Taiwanese conductors Yang Chih-chin (楊智欽) and Lin Tien-chi (林天吉). The soprano Tang Hui-ru (湯慧茹), alto Yang Ai-lin (楊艾琳), tenor Fernando Wang (王典), and bass Sun Ching-chi (孫清吉) will also perform.
The concert also features TSO, TSO Wind Orchestra, TSO Youth Chamber, TSO Chorus, National Taiwan Normal University Mixed Chorus, Soochow University Choir, and Shih Chien University Choir.
Gilbert Varga, son of celebrated Hungarian violinist Tibor Varga, conducts with distinctive presence and flair. He studied under three very distinctive maestros – Franco Ferrara, Sergiu Celibidache, and Charles Bruck. In his early conducting career, the conductor primarily worked with chamber orchestras, the Tibor Varga Chamber Orchestra in particular.
After rapidly developing a reputation as a symphonic conductor, Varga has stepped onto the conductor’s podium with major orchestras across the world. In 2019, he will take up the position of Chief Conductor with the Pannon Philharmonic Orchestra in Hungary.
Renowned for his elegant and exceptionally clear baton technique, Varga was Chief Conductor of the Hofer Symphoniker (1980-1985) and Philharmonia Hungarica in Marl (1985-1990), as well as Permanent Guest Conductor of the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra (1991-1995) and Principal Guest Conductor of the Malmö Symphony (1997-2000).
In 1997, the British conductor was appointed Music Director of the Basque National Orchestra, leading them through ten seasons and on several international tours. Between 2013 and 2018, he served as Principal Conductor of the Taipei Symphony Orchestra, conducting them on tours to Europe, the U.S. and Japan.

“A Journey with Granny” is a family-friendly musical combining real actors with shadow puppets.
Photo from TSO
“A Journey with Granny” is a family-friendly musical combining real actors with shadow puppets.
Apart from the 50th anniversary concert, the TSO has also arranged a series of celebrations, including the Asian Symphony Orchestra Summit on May 18 and a special exhibition of TSO 50th anniversary between April 8 and May 22 at the Taipei Zhongshan Hall. The exhibition is free and open to the public.
The 50th anniversary season is also a chance for the TSO to appreciate those who have supported the orchestra since its inception in 1969.
Noteworthy solo performances have been planned this season. Under Israeli conductor Yoel Levi’s baton, Lorenz Chen (陳瑾瑒) performed Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto, Op.14 on March 21. Among those stellar performances are flutist Marina Piccinini in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Overture to “Die Zauberflöte,” K.620 and Flute Concerto No.2 in D Major, K.314 (March 29); pianist Daniel Hsu in Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1 in B-flat Minor, Op.23 (April 21); Spanish flamenco guitarist Juan Manuel Cañizares in Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez and Joaquín Turina’s Fantastic Dances, Op.22 (May 3); and cellist Isang Enders in Robert Schumann’s Cello Concerto in A Minor, Op.129 (June 15).
Organized by Taiwan’s film critic Lan Tsu-wei (藍祖蔚), the June 29 concert will be a tribute to Taiwanese film director Li Hsing, who received the Golden Horse Lifetime Achievement Award in 1995.
Tickets for any of the events during the special anniversary season can be purchased by calling 886-2-2578-6731 or visiting https://www.artsticket.com.tw/. Tickets are also usually available at the door on the day of the concert.