For such an accomplished and respected orchestra, the Taiwan Philharmonic has a comparatively low international profile. It may be one of Asia’s flagship artistic organizations, but the orchestra made its U.S. debut only two years ago. The orchestra played one performance here, one in Vancouver, and then went home. This, after 30 years of acclaimed music-making with universally lauded stars and a respectable Mahler-heavy discography. Apparently, its time is starting to come: the orchestra is venturing out on its first full U.S. tour with the initial stop in Costa Mesa and more than one stop following.
Under the baton of its Taiwanese conductor and music director Shao-Chia Lü, the ensemble (known as the National Symphony Orchestra on its home turf), is touring with a program of Debussy, Ravel, a new work by composer Gordon Chin, and Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 (featuring the acclaimed pianist Stephen Hough as soloist). The Costa Mesa performance, at the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Hall on October 30, is being presented by the Philharmonic Society of Orange County.
Lü took the orchestra’s helm in 2010, following conducting stints in Koblenz and Hannover, at the Komische Oper Berlin, the Staatsorchester Rheinische Philharmonia, and guest appearances with the Munich Philharmonic and the English National Opera among others.
Educated at Indiana University in Bloomington and winner of several international competitions, he was first drawn to classical music by his father, who introduced him to the symphonic world through a Toscanini recording of Beethoven’s fourth symphony. Over the years, Lü has developed a very clear and simple idea of what makes a strong orchestra leader.
“Utmost passion,” he says, “and the ability to share and communicate musical ideas and beauties with people.”
In selecting the works for the program, Lü found a balance between nationalist sentiment and the standard modern repertoire. More than that, he specifically looked for pieces that would provide the most attractive vehicles for the orchestra’s strengths.
“For an international tour, it’s essential to bring out a program which could capsulate the capability of our orchestra and reflects the characteristics of our country,” he says. “For me, shortly speaking, the [orchestra] could be characterized as creative, diligent, flexible, warm-hearted, tradition-rooted with consciousness of multicultural influences. And that is exactly what we want to display in this program. You can hear classical music from different styles, and also from a Taiwanese composer.”
Speaking of the Taiwanese composer, Gordon Chin looked to traditional folk music to create his Three Aboriginal Songs for Orchestra. The third and final movement, Uyas Mgeli, a dancing song of the Sediq, a Taiwanese aboriginal tribe, opens the concert in its North American premiere.
“This is a work inspired by Taiwanese aboriginal musical elements,” says Lü, “combined with modern technique and personal elaboration. It is a very exciting piece with strong rhythmical impulses and originality.”
One would think that conducting a newly composed piece and conducting a work from the established canon would require widely varied approaches. One would be wrong. It’s all of one piece, according to Lü. Except for one small detail.
“There is for me no essential difference in approaching new work or a familiar work,” he says, “except that it takes longer in preparing new work. On the other hand, although it needs less time for preparing a familiar work, you could (and should) always find more details and new ideas.”
And Lü is careful to point out that for him, music is always more than just music. For Lü, it isn’t just entertainment, or pure aesthetics. It’s a vital way to create bridges between people, to link each listener together.
“Music is the most direct and yet most natural way of expressing emotion and communicating with people” he says. “You might not know Taiwan enough, but through the music we play and love, I hope, Taiwan might become a friend of you.”
Peter Lefevre is a contributing writer for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.