The coup that the National Symphony Orchestra has brought off in getting Krysztof Penderecki to Taiwan deserves the highest praise.
Born in 1933, he became famous for writing avant-garde music when his native country was still under Soviet control. The Soviet authorities had always insisted that only traditional, tuneful music with a strong political message belonged within their empire. But when Penderecki, at the age of 27, penned a work Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima in agonized ultra-modernist, John Cage-like style, his name was made, in the West at least.
What he brings to Taiwan tonight and tomorrow evening will be very different, however. The central items in both concerts feature a solo French horn, and that Penderecki has moved from his youthful experimentalism to a more traditional romanticism is well-known. The French horn, despite earlier associations with hunting, is as atmospheric an instrument as you can find anywhere.
Penderecki's Horn Concerto, the centerpiece of tonight's concert in Taipei's National Concert Hall, was only unveiled in Bremen, Germany, earlier this month, and this will be its Asian premiere. The soloist then was the same we will hear in Taipei tonight, Croatian-born Radovan Vlatkovic, one of the world's most recorded horn players.
And tomorrow evening's concert in the Recital Hall will be another horn extravaganza, featuring Mozart's Horn Quintet (K.407), Brahms's Horn Trio (Opus 40), and Penderecki's Sextet for horn, clarinet, piano, violin, viola and cello. Vlatkovic also played in the premier of this work (in Vienna in 2000) with none other than Rostropovich, another old friend of Taiwan's, on the cello.
These two concerts are both musts for any classical music enthusiast. To hear Vlatkovich play the three chamber pieces tomorrow will be a unique pleasure, and the thought that Penderecki himself will have coached the players in his own item will add a unique flavor. And the great man will himself conduct tonight's larger-scale concert, which also includes his Sinfonietta for Strings and Beethoven's Seventh Symphony.
Tonight's concert is in Taipei's National Concert Hall, starting at 7.30pm. Tickets are NT$400 to NT$1,500. Tomorrow's concert is in Taipei's Recital Hall, also at 7.30, with tickets NT$300 to NT$500. For booking go to www.artsticket.com.tw, or call (02) 3393-9888.