Two extraordinary features characterize this year's Asian Youth Orchestra (AYO), due to perform in Taipei on Aug. 22 and Aug. 23. The first is that, out of 100 orchestra members, 27 are from Taiwan, far and away the highest number from any contributing country. And the second is that, in an organization wholly dependent on private sponsorship, nothing, this year at any rate, comes from Taiwan.
“We are the only major arts organization in Asia not funded by a government,” says AYO director Richard Pontzious. “The concertmaster, Chou Chien-yin (周建瑩), is Taiwanese, as is the leader of the second violins. With 27 members — the next biggest presence is Japan's with 21 members — Taiwan should be proud. The AYO puts Taiwan's musicians on the international stage, and that should be important to all Taiwanese, most especially in these times. Yet we don't get a dime of Taiwanese sponsorship money.
“All orchestral members come to AYO on scholarships, and for all countries except Taiwan, sponsorship of those scholarships (US$2,600 each) comes from a sponsor in the local country, or outside the country but with links to that country. The question we ask each year is, why can't we get the Taiwanese — government or corporate or individuals — to sponsor our Taiwanese orchestra members?
“So we have to find funds for our Taiwanese instrumentalists from the general sponsorship money. But we think the way it is now is a huge embarrassment to Taiwan — a country that says it wants to be a player in the region.”
Precise totals for this year's AYO musicians are as follows: Taiwan 27, Japan 21, South Korea 15, Hong Kong 11, China 7, Thailand 5, the Philippines 4, Vietnam 4, Malaysia 3 and Singapore 3. The orchestra's top sponsors this year are Cathay Pacific, Barclays, Fuji Xerox and Standard Chartered Bank, with significant support from the Financial Times.
What: Asian Youth Orchestra
Where: National Concert Hall, Taipei
When: Aug. 22 and Aug. 23
Tickets: NT$300 to NT$1,500, available through ERA ticketing
Representatives from Taiwan
Cello: Sun Yun-Chun; Jan Shu-ting (詹書婷); Chang Wen-hsiu (張雯琇); Han Ju-ling (韓如伶); Hsueh Hui-wen (薛惠文); Kao Chi-hui (高琦惠)
Violin: Chen Yi-an (陳怡安); Chien Shao-yu (簡紹宇); Pan Ying-li (潘映利); Liang Li-mei (梁立美); Ho Chia-li (何佳俐); Chou Chien-yin (周建瑩); Liu Tai-wen (劉黛汶); Yang Hui-ju (楊蕙如); Liu Wei-shin (劉洧忻); Pan Yung-tin (潘詠庭)
Viola: Teng Tze-yin (鄧梓吟); Liu Ying-chun (劉盈君) Viola; Tseng Ching-lin (曾慶琳)
Bassoon: Lin Hsiao Mei (林曉楣)
French Horn: Huang Hsin-yi (黃昕誼)
Harp: Ding Yi-wen (丁怡文)
Percussion:Fu I-han (傅奕涵)
Pontzious spends much of the year auditioning aspiring members, and they are selected entirely on merit, without any quota system fixing in advance how many should come from each country. It is therefore all the more to Taiwan's credit that such a huge number of instrumentalists should this year be Taiwanese.
The AYO convenes in Hong Kong in mid-July, followed by a “rehearsal camp” lasting two weeks during which the music to be played on tour is prepared. Then during August the orchestra tours eight Asian cities, playing two programs in each. This year the venues are Taipei, Tokyo, Zhongshan and Foshan in China's Guangdong province, Hong Kong, Beijing, Chongqing and Shanghai. All but the first two are in China.
It's possible that this last fact explains the lack of sponsorship money from Taiwan. In response to this suggestion, however, Pontzious asks why there are no potential Taiwanese sponsors stepping up and saying, “I'll sponsor the scholarships for Taiwanese musicians but could you play more concerts in Taiwan next time?” So far no one has asked him that.
"How much investment does Taiwan have on the Mainland?" he adds, clearly feeling passionate on the issue. "We dash between the Mainland and Taiwan with members from both more than any other cultural institution. Isn't it just good PR to show off Taiwan as a leader in cross-strait ties – not just in making money, but being involved in important educational and cultural exchanges that strengthen relationships and ensure a peaceful future?"