Fri, Feb 07, 2003 - Page 19 News List

A Memorial for Maestro Henry Mazer

Taipei Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Henry Mazer
A Live Recording made in the National Concert Hall, Taipei 29 November 2000

By Bradley Winterton  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

Taiwan is a place that has a distinct effect on certain people. They come here for a short spell of work, like it, sign on for another stint, and end up staying for life. Henry Mazer was just such a person.

Is it the warm hearts of the Taiwanese (frequently commented on in a wide variety of contexts), the combination, in the cities at least, of a modern lifestyle with strong traditional elements, the high mountains and warm, if sometimes dramatic, weather, or simply a feeling for the island's constant unexpectedness, something new round every corner?

In Mazer's case it may have been some of these things, but in addition it was something else -- a strong admiration for the level of classical music here, both in education and performance.

I once asked the head of the Asian Youth Orchestra -- an orchestra set up every summer and consisting of young musicians from all over Asia -- why it contained more instrumentalists from Taiwan than from any other Asian country. "Because they're the best," he replied. "Auditions are completely open, and in many of the categories the Taiwanese were just better than any of the others who applied." This, incidentally, included Japan, which has six times as many people as Taiwan.

Mazer made it his mission to show this high quality to the world, and he succeeded. When he took an orchestra to Vienna, high temple of the classical tradition, his musicians were called "a wonder of Taiwan." And in the US in 1995 the music critic of the Boston Globe praised the performers' "glowing sound," comparing Mazer himself to Leonard Bernstein.

Even more extraordinary, when Mazer took some of these players to the US in 1990 a Chicago music critic wrote they were "one of the finest groups of musicians I have ever heard." And in Vancouver the same ensemble was praised for its "wonderful sound, a rich, romantic singing."

These two fine CDs contain a recording of a concert Mazer conducted in Taipei's National Concert Hall in November 2000, now issued by the orchestra in memory of its late conductor. The Taipei Philharmonic is a "pickup" orchestra, meaning that it consists of musicians from different orchestras, plus various individuals, who come together to play on specific occasions, usually just a few times a year. The result can be a lineup that's in fact better than any of the regular orchestras.

The main works included on these CDs are Mozart's Concerto for Flute and Harp, with local soloists Hwei-Jin Liu (flute) and Sophie Clavel (harp), and Richard Strauss' Don Quixote, with cellist Joan Spergel-Pipkin, Shien-Ta Su (violin) and Chen-Hung Ho (viola). Smetana's exercise in landscape painting, Moldau, acts as an overture.

These are altogether marvelous items. The Mozart concerto is played with exactly the combination of stylish zest and concealed feeling this composer requires, with contains great performances from both soloists.

But pride of place must go to Strauss' Don Quixote, given here a truly magnificent rendering. In places it almost moved me to tears. The closing Death of Don Quixote section is intensely moving. There the playing is hushed, the sound velvety, and the subdued brass chords as the moment of death approaches perfectly judged, as is a clarinet phrase just beforehand. The applause at the end shows the audience clearly found it powerful and evocative as well.

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