Fri, Sep 17, 2010 - Page 13 News List

Expect the unexpected

Guessing what a capella group B Vocal will come up with in any particular appearance is part of the attraction

By Bradley Winterton  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER


Spanish a capella group B Vocal returns to Taiwan for their third visit this weekend. They’re five men from Zaragoza, currently on tour in Asia. How to categorize them is difficult, except to say that they are very, very funny.

They’re not in their first youth, yet they perform a huge variety of songs and other musical items. All you see is five men in black suits with hand-held microphones, and indeed that’s all they are. But with their voices alone they impersonate famous artists past and present from Elvis Presley to Robbie Williams, together with opera singers and Renaissance madrigalists, and in addition fill in any instrumental backing that’s appropriate (or not), all with their voices alone.

They’ve been hugely popular, both in concert halls, on Spanish TV, and at all kinds of receptions, expos and festivals. They’re just what’s required, it seems, to get everyone into a good mood, and there’s no limit to the events that welcome exactly that.

Is it possible to take a serious line on them? Only in as far as comedy always has its serious implications. They’re certainly satiric, but because they’re satiric of just about everything and anything it’s hard to discern any particular point of view.

Do they ever take anything at face value? Yes. They perform madrigals and jazz classics, and indeed just what they’re going to come up with in any particular appearance is always part of the attraction. Comedy isn’t often far away, though, with a dog barking and a cat howling emerging above at least one Renaissance vocal line.

The only way to find out

what they have in store for

Taiwan this time is to go along. They’re appearing in Kaohsiung tonight, at Novel Hall (新舞臺) in Taipei on Sunday and in Taichung on Monday.


What: B Vocal

Where: Kaohsiung Cultural Center’s Chih-teh Hall (高雄市立文化中心至德堂), 67 Wufu 1st Rd, Kaohsiung City, (高雄市五福一路67號); Novel Hall (新舞台), 3-1 Songshou Rd, Taipei City (台北市松壽路3-1號); Chunghsing Concert Hall, Taichung (台中中興堂), 291-3 Cingwu Rd, Taichung City


When: Tomorrow at 7:30pm (Kaohsiung), Sunday at 7:30pm (Taipei), Monday at 7:30pm (Taichung)

Admission: Tickets are NT$400 to NT$1,500 (Kaohsiung), NT$500 to NT$2,000 (Taipei), NT$400 to NT$1,600 (Taichung), available online at or by calling (07) 226-5998 in Kaohsiung, (02) 3393-9888 in Taipei or (04) 2208-0128 in Taichung

What: National Symphony Orchestra, Passing On — From Modern Through Classic to Romantic (NSO維也納世代對話系列—穿梭浪漫200年)

Where: National Concert Hall, Taipei City

When: Sept. 25 at 7:30pm

Admission: NT$400 to NT$1,500, available at the National Concert Hall box office, online at or by calling (02) 3393-9880

Meanwhile, the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) is offering altogether more weighty material in Taipei’s National Concert Hall next weekend. We’re not giving advance notice in any expectation that tickets will sell out — far from it. Bruckner has never appealed much to Taiwanese tastes, and it’s not hard to see why. Long ago he was coupled with Mahler as one of a pair of eccentric Viennese. Today Mahler’s stock is riding high, while poor old Bruckner continues to puff his way laboriously along, often at enormous length. Some modern conductors have even expressed their uncertainly as to whether his symphonies are really worth the effort.

But the NSO is plunging into his Fourth Symphony as if there were no tomorrow, with conductor Lu Shao-chia (呂紹嘉) opting for the work’s 1878-1880 version. Bruckner, country bumpkin that he always thought he was, was forever re-writing his works in the hope of making them more attractive to his sophisticated city patrons. In the case of the Fourth Symphony, he actually wrote seven versions. The one the NSO will play was the one performed at the work’s premiere in 1881. It lasts 70 minutes, so if you go along you’d better go prepared for the long haul. On the other hand, this symphony, in this version, was Bruckner’s first major success with the smart Viennese, and it remains his most popular composition today.

The concert begins with Webern’s Sechs Stucke (“six pieces”) for Large Orchestra,

also in a revised version, in

this case undertaken in 1928.

This work, though important in the history of serial composition (i.e. a composition not in any specific key, and so sounding excessively dissonant to most ears), will doubtless make many grateful for the courtly harmoniousness of Haydn’s First Cello Concerto, which follows. The soloist will be the charismatic German cellist Alban Gerhardt (also on an Asian tour). You can see him and hear him playing on his Web site, and also read his blog, at

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