The Tyzen Hsiao Culture and Education Foundation has for several years hosted Formosan Spring (福爾摩沙之春) concerts to commemorate the 228 Incident. The National Taiwan Symphony Orchestra (國立臺灣交響樂團) performed at this year’s concert, which was heavily promoted by the news ticker on Formosa TV’s news channel.
Strangely, Tyzen Hsiao’s (蕭泰然) symphonic poem 1947 Overture (一947序曲) for soprano, chorus and orchestra, which long served as the concert’s finale, was replaced this year, and there were other questionable choices.
First, the program did not feature any of Hsaio’s major works. This is just as preposterous as a beef noodle shop not serving beef noodles on its anniversary.
Second, the only piece that could be said to serve a commemorative purpose was the overture from Giuseppe Verdi’s opera I Vespri Siciliani.
Third, the Taiwanese pieces on the program had no direct connection to the remembrance of the Incident.
The Dadaocheng Spring (大稻埕之春) concert on Thursday at Zhongshan Hall in Taipei, produced by writer Liu Mei-lian (劉美蓮), offered a more suitable commemoration program.
The Taipei Chinese Orchestra (臺北市立國樂團) performed at the concert hosted in Hoklo (also known as Taiwanese) and Mandarin by former news anchor Amanda Lee (李晶玉), a second-generation Mainlander.
The program featured compositions written around and about the time of the Incident, including Lu Chuan-sheng’s (呂泉生) Hoklo song A Goldfish Should Not Be Able To Survive At The Bottom Of Your Glass (杯底毋通飼金魚).
According to Lu, the song was composed as a plea for the integration of different ethnic groups in Taiwan after the Incident.
However, the most serious issue with this year’s Formosan Spring program was the original selection of Kuo Chih-yuan’s (郭芝苑) The Birth of Greatness for Chorus and Orchestra (偉人的誕生) to serve as the finale instead of Hsiao’s 1947 Overture.
The Birth of Greatness was commissioned in 1965 by City Civil Defense Radio to celebrate the centenary of Sun Yat-sen’s (孫逸仙) birth and the 20th anniversary of “Retrocession Day.”
Kuo’s biographer Yen Lu-fen (顏綠芬) said Kuo was reluctant to have the piece performed when he was alive.
Prominent composer Shih Wei-liang (史惟亮) had recommended Kuo for the job and the libretto was directly sent to him so that he could not possibly say no.
The piece was never performed publicly, due to the poor state of classical music in Taiwan at the time, so the scheduled performance on Thursday in Chiayi, followed by one on Friday in Taichung, would have been the world premiere.
Premiering a composition pouring praise upon the founder of the Republic of China (ROC) on the occasion of the Incident, a historical wound inflicted by state-sanctioned murders, would have showed a complete disregard for the feelings of the families of the 228 victims.
Members of Kuo’s family indicated that the timing was not appropriate, and members of Hsiao’s family also expressed their disapproval.
Fortunately, my opinion piece published in the Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper) on Wednesday sparked public concern, and the organizer dropped the controversial piece at the last-minute.
Among Hsiao’s oeuvre, the choral composition Love and Hope (愛與希望) and Ilha Formosa: Requiem for Formosa’s Martyrs (啊!福爾摩沙: 為殉難者的鎮魂曲) were written in tribute to the nation’s political victims.
Kuo’s musical setting of the poem Oh! Father (啊! 父親), written by Juan Mei-shu (阮美姝), the daughter of a victim of the Incident, would also have been suitable for the occasion.
These pieces would make a great coupling for a concert commemorating the Incident.
In the present era, when there is general agreement on a Taiwanese identity, it should have been unthinkable to organize a concert commemorating the 228 Incident that did not feature Taiwanese compositions written with an eye to the Incident.
Chen Wei-ning is a consultant to the Tyzen Hsiao Foundation.
Translated by Chang Ho-ming
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