Fri, Sep 09, 2005 - Page 15 News List

Exploring new musical horizons

By Meredith Dodge  /  STAFF REPORTER

Modern music is dominated by Western influences and Western instruments, but Chai Found Music Workshop (采風樂坊) and the European musical groups they collaborate with are working to change that. Tomorrow night at the National Concert Hall, Chai Found will hold a joint concert titled New Horizon of Sounds (自東徂西) with Austria's Ensemble XX Jahrhundert to show off the fruits of their efforts.

Chai Found was established in 1991 with the goal of bringing new life and creativity to the tradition of Chinese music. With six musicians playing the erhu, pipa, Chinese flute, zither, moon guitar and trapeziform dulcimer, they call the music that they play sizhu (絲竹) -- the traditional word for musical instruments.

Chai Found's sound incorporates the musical grammar of various genres: beiguan, which is used in Peking opera; nanguan, beiguan's ancient, southern sibling; and gezaidiao, the music of Taiwanese opera. However, while many sizhu groups adhere strictly to tradition, Chai Found marches to the beat of a different drum, striving to be a platform for creativity and innovation. Thus most of the pieces it performs are by modern Taiwanese, Chinese, or Overseas Chinese composers.

After its inception, Chai Found quickly graduated from touring Taiwan promoting the tradition of sizhu music and it's modern-day composers to frequent trips overseas. It wasn't long before the group discovered a demand for Eastern music in Europe. In 1992 the group traveled for its first overseas concert to Poland where it participated in the Warsaw Contemporary Music Festival. The group members were surprised at the enthusiastic reception they received in the then-Communist country. "We asked why the audience was so big for an Asian musical group, and they told us they were very fond of novel things," Chai Found's leader and professor of music at Cultural University Huang Chen-ming (黃正銘) said.

Since then, the group has performed in Croatia, Germany, France and Lithuania. "The reason we keep going back to Europe is because ... Europeans are especially enthusiastic about cultural exchanges with the East," Huang explained.

This time, they've brought a bit of Europe back with them. "We focus on bringing Taiwanese compositions to Europe, but we also hope to be able to bring the music of Europe to Taiwan," Huang said.

Ensemble XX Jahrhundert is like the Western version of Chai Found, except 20 years older. Founded in 1971, the group similarly strives to promote new music composed for classical instruments.

Led by conductor and artistic director Peter Burwik, the group has built its reputation playing modern classics, as well as frequently commissioning new pieces by contemporary composers.

The works to be performed at the joint concert include Little Cabbage by Wen De-qing (溫德青), a Chinese-born composer based in Switzerland whose music is deeply Chinese but incorporates sophisticated Western techniques; East and West II by Taiwanese composer Pan Hwang-long (潘皇龍), who combines Eastern and Western instruments for a striking and eerie effect; and Chinese composer Chen Xiao-yong's (陳曉勇) Speechlessness, which is set to the intonation of Lao Tzu's Taoteching.

Huang emphasized that New Horizon of Sounds's greatest value lies in it's experimental nature. "We need to cultivate a curiosity towards music in Taiwan. The compositions in this concert are all very new. Do people have the curiosity to come out and listen to such novel stuff? You may say `I'm used to listening to popular music.' But pop music is always the same, so it's all gone bad. We need that element of experimentation."

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