Sunday, May 1, 2011

Taipei, Taiwan April 27-May 2

My flight to Taipei was quite bumpy and a bit scary at times. I was relieved to be on the ground in Taipei after a grueling 90 minutes. Despite complaints I have heard about service on Chinese Southern and other China-based airlines, they served a late lunch/dinner on the this flight. What American airlines serve meals for domestic flights anymore?

I passed through immigration and customs without incident and entered the arrivals lobby, where I couldn’t find anyone from Taiwan National University of Fine Arts to greet me. So I sat down and patiently waited. After about five minutes, Chao-Jung Wu, otherwise known as “Zoe”–my host at National Taiwan University of the Arts–came running up. An office worker, or “TA” as Zoe calls her, was standing holding a sign to greet me–with my picture and everything!–but somehow I missed her. The trip to campus took about 45 minutes, and after checking in to our rooms in the graduate student dormitory, we had a light dinner and proceeded to our rehearsal.
View from my dorm room
During this rehearsal, I met with the three guzheng players who prepared several of my works for 21-string koto, and simply tried to perform it on their instrument. First was the last three minutes of Song-Poem of the Eastern Clouds (2001), followed by two movements from Portraits of Kyoto (2006), In the Rock Garden and The Path of Philosophy. All three of the players were a pleasure to work with and brought a unique perspective to their interpretation of my music. In some ways, In the Rock Garden was probably the most difficult to prepare since I did not have a recording to provide, as it hasn’t even been premiered yet! So at one point I demonstrated  this piece on the piano. A video of this demonstration is posted on my facebook page.
The next morning I had breakfast with Zoe and one of her graduate students, “Sean,” a dizi player from Malaysia and successfully completed the first presentation, entitled Cross-Cultural Approaches to Composition. There was some difficult setting up the computer and audio at first, and Sen was sweating profusely as a result. There were a few stimulating questions towards the end, and we finished more or less on time, although I did have to cut one slide of text. I felt bad about this because Zoe prepared a literal translation of just about everything I sent to her. 

In the afternoon, Zoe and I did some sightseeing at the Lin Family Mansion and Garden and enjoyed afternoon tea in the complex courtyard. In the evening I gave my second presentation, Japanese Music Today, and afterwards Zoe and I had a delicious meal at a restaurant near the night market. 

On Friday morning, we attended a rehearsal of the Chinese Music Ensemble and received a tour of the magnificent library, and in the afternoon I gave my final, and perhaps most successful presentation, entitled Composing for Japanese Instruments. This presentation focused on my music, and contained a number of engaging visuals. My music was performed flawlessly, and we even had a chance to perform Forest Whispers...(2008) for violoncello and shakuhachi in its entirety. Afterwards at least a dozen students came up to chat, some of them inquiring about scores and wanting to see the shakuhachi more closely. I brought a dozen or so copies of my CD but they were quickly bought up by the students. The Department Chairman presented me with a plaque of appreciation and bag of DVDs and other presents and we made or way to the second floor to wind down. A few students followed us, and we chatted some more. It was quite an uplifting experience.

 In the evening we had dinner at on on-campus restaurant strangely named “Chaos,” followed by attending a senior recital by a guzheng player. I was so impressed by the program, which was innovative and bold.
On Saturday, Zoe, her student/friend Sandy, and I had a chance to do some sightseeing. In the morning we had delicious Taiwanese style breakfast and enjoyed the permanent exhibitions at the National Palace Museum. Afterwards we went to the Taipei Handicraft Center where I bought a few gifts and then we made our way to the harbour area of Danshui, which reminded me of Coney Island or Atlantic City with its boardwalk and shops. Dinner was quite a feast at a nearby seafood restaurant, with an oyster soup/stew that would knock your socks off!
On Sunday, Zoe and Sean took me to a local music shop that has an impressive collection of Chinese music scores. They thought it opened at 11:00AM but its hours began at 12:00PM, so we sat down at a nearby cafe. At one point, the waitress screamed and we saw a fat rat scurry across the floor! They helped me locate several scores of Chinese music written in Western staff notation as well as some interesting CDs. Some of these scores can evidently be purchased in China, but the price is about the same and I benefited from having friends at hand who could help me. Afterwards we went to a concert of contemporary guzheng music. This was quite a fiasco because as we were running late, in our haste we entered the wrong hall, where they were playing 19th-century orchestral music! The funny thing was that they prepared comps for us–or rather, believed that comps should have been prepared–and Zoe bought a program. We eventually found our way around the corner to the correct hall. The program featured living Taiwanese composers and their works for guzheng and Western orchestral instruments. The program was a bit obtuse for my tastes but I enjoyed observing the state of contemporary music in Taiwan. After the concert was over we met a couple of students who would be joining us for the evening and said goodbye to Zoe at Taipei Main Station. Then Sean, the two first-year students and I went to Taipei 101 to see a bird’s eye view of Taipei. It was quite foggy at the top so we couldn’t see very much, but we were all glad to have experienced it. Although my feet were burning at this point, we still managed to find time to explore the Shilla Night Market. Dinner was simply, inexpensive, and delicious and the market was stuffy and crowded, but I was glad to experience this. Shawn really went out of his way to listen to what I wanted to do and prepare a fun itinerary of things to do.
View from Taipei 101
In short, I was treated like royalty by my new friends and colleagues and during this residency at Taiwan National University of Fine Arts, and hope that it will lead to opportunities for future collaboration. In particular, Zoe and Sean really went out of their way to make me feel welcome.

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