A multi-national gathering of over 100 musicians comes together on September 29 at Benaroya Hall to present rarely-heard works of music from Taiwan. The Seattle Music Exchange Project and Philharmonia NW are teaming up to present Ilha Formosa: Music of Taiwan, including Tyzen Hsiao’s Requiem for Formosa’s Martyrs and Gordon Chin’s Triple Concerto.
This monumental gathering was initially the brainchild of Angela Rondello, Director of the Seattle Music Exchange Project, and Vincent Yao, Director General of Taipei Economic & Cultural Office in Seattle. “I met Vincent about two years ago at an event at Benaroya Hall, hosted by the Polish Consulate,” Rondello said. “Vincent had recently begun his tour in Seattle and spoke of his goal of fostering events and programs that shared Taiwanese culture with the general public.”
Yao’s goal resonated with Rondello. “One of SMEP’s main focuses is promoting cultures’ accomplishments in music with general audiences in the Seattle area,” he said.
So Rondello began to lay the groundwork for a Taiwanese musical presentation. “My first step was to research outstanding Taiwanese musicians living in Seattle,” he said. “Julia Tai was a clear choice, having read about her in the Seattle Times a few years back, when she conducted Seattle Symphony’s Celebrate Asia concert. I was all the more impressed when I saw that she has an ongoing commitment to promoting various cultures through her programming with Philharmonia NW.”
Tai was likewise enthused by the prospect of such a presentation. “I was very excited to have the opportunity to present a concert of Taiwanese composers’ music,” she said, “but to be very honest, I had to do quite a lot of research myself, since most of their works are not in the orchestral music canon.”
This research proceeded through multiple phases. “The three composers we have chosen to play this concert are all well-respected in Taiwan, each of them winning numerous national awards,” Tai said. “Choosing the appropriate pieces among their extensive list of works was another difficult task.”
Rondello describes this process as one of teamwork. “Julia and I began to flesh out the details, composers, soloists, venue, dates,” he said, “and soon had a compelling program to move forward with, Ilha Formosa: Music of Taiwan.”
The next step was to recruit excellent musicians. “Tien-Hsin Cindy Wu, Felix Fan, and Angelo Rondello are all extraordinary players, and we have two wonderful vocal soloists as well, Soprano Ya-Li Lee from Seattle and Baritone Chung-Kuang Lin from Taiwan, joining us for the Requiem,” Tai said. “They all jumped at the opportunity to be a part of this concert.”
Cello soloist Felix Fan is no exception. “I have been playing Gordon Chin’s music for a few years, but have never had a chance to play his Triple Concerto, so when I was asked to play this piece, I was immediately interested,” Fan said. “Also, the opportunity to work with Julia, Cindy, Angelo, and Philharmonia Northwest was a no-brainer!”
Likewise, Dennis Lin, a baritone soloist, is thrilled to be coming from Taipei just to perform in this concert. “This is my first professional public concert in the USA,” Lin said. “So when I received the invitation from Julia and Angelo, I immediately called my coach Miss Hsieh and prepared all the music.”
In addition to the soloists, three choirs will perform, as well. “We have also recruited many Taiwanese singers here in Seattle to join the choir, as well as the Egret Choir from Vancouver B.C. and singers from Taiwan,” conductor Tai said. “It feels like the whole Taiwanese community is behind us in putting this concert together.”
The musical selections have a special place in the hearts of those participating in this concert. “In this concert, we also want to showcase as many talented Taiwanese musicians as possible, so Gordon Chin’s Triple concerto was a natural choice,” Tai said. “We get to have three soloists in one concerto!”
She also loves Shui-Long Ma’s Legend of Taiwan – Orchestral Suite of Chivalrous Liao Tian-Ding. “It was written for the Cloud Gate dance company, which has visited Seattle several times,” Tai said, “and the piece is vividly colorful, interwoven with Taiwanese melodies.”
Finally, Tai feels a special fondness for Tyzen Hsiao’s Ilha Formosa Requiem. “My family has known the composer for many years, and as a youngster, I sang in the choir when the Requiem was premiered in the National Concert Hall in Taipei in 2001,” she said. “I even wrote my dissertation on this piece when I did my doctoral degree in conducting at the University of Washington. The poems in the Requiem are really beautiful, written about the past and the future of the island, and have a wonderful message of reconciliation.”
Baritone soloist Lin particularly agrees regarding this final selection. “Singing authentic Taiwanese great composer professor Hsiao’s Ilha Formosa in the USA with conductor Tai and many music friends is the most pleasurable part for me,” he said.
For cello soloist Fan, Gordon’s Triple Concerto is most engaging. “Gordon has a unique harmonic language which is exciting and beautiful,” Fan said. “I find it interesting when composers decide to take on the Triple Concerto medium with piano, violin and cello. It’s a problematic combination of instruments.”
Fan admires the way Gordon tackles this challenge. “The simple matter of balance between the three solo instruments and orchestra is a hurdle that is difficult to overcome,” he said. “Gordon’s approach to balance is so well thought out. It’s impressive and interesting to see how he navigates this particular issue by combining certain instruments at particular points in the piece and orchestrating in a way where certain parts of the music are supposed to be heard at specific moments.”
From Rondello’s perspective, this passion for individual composers or pieces is just the beginning. “As with all of SMEP’s events, I see Ilha Formosa as a springboard for an ongoing exchange between Seattle and Taiwan,” he said. “To that end, I am laying groundwork for American musicians to present American music in Taiwan. In addition to our September 29 concert, Tien-Hsin, Felix, Dennis, and I will also be performing on KING FM’s NW Focus LIVE on September 28, 8pm, speaking about Taiwanese music, and performing works by Taiwanese and western composers.”
He gives credit for opportunity to the community at large. “It has been a privilege to be a part of so many Taiwanese events over the past two years, getting to know people in the community here who are devoted to promoting Taiwanese culture in our region,” Rondello said. “I have worked with many cultures in our city and have been especially impressed with the dedication the Taiwanese community has to the arts, history, and cultural traditions.” Tai is likewise excited to finally share this concert with a wider public. “People have so much heart in playing this music,” she said. “You always feel close to the people when you play their music, and I think the audience will feel that as well. It’s exciting to share Taiwanese culture in this unique way.”
Philharmonia NW: Ilha Formosa: Music of Taiwan presented by Seattle Music Exchange Project will be presented on September 29 at Benaroya Hall, 200 University Street, Seattle.