Tseng Han-jung (曾涵榕) considers the flute the problem child of Taiwan’s classical music scene. This instrument is always hanging around, is both seen and heard, but rarely ever reaches its full potential.
“Sometimes you hear the flute in wind ensembles, where it goes bong-qia-bong-qia, a bit like circus music,” said Tseng, a teacher and performance flautist who studied under Andrea Wild and Claus-Christian Schuster at the City of Vienna University.
“Or you hear the flute in unaccompanied pieces, which usually focus on displaying technique and go hua-la-la-la-la, up and down and up and down.”
For Tseng, classical flute performances are trending toward these selections in part because musicians have relatively few Baroque, Classical or Romantic flute pieces to choose from.
Beethoven wrote countless sonatas for piano, cello and violin, but none for the flute. And though Mozart’s best-known opera is The Magic Flute, the composer himself did not favor the flute, which up until the 1850s was an intractable recorder-like instrument.
“He received requests for flute concertos, but he didn’t want to write them. Once he just rearranged his oboe concerto, from C major to D major, and said, ‘Here you go,” she said.
At an upcoming recital, Tseng will play a program of just four pieces, but she hopes they present traits of the flute that are rarely seen.
She opens with Johann Nepomuk Hummel’s flute and piano sonata in D major, a repartee between her and pianist Liu Hui-ping (劉慧平): The piano asks questions, and the flute has a bright simple voice that sings back flirtatiously.
From the Romantic repertoire, she has chosen Franz Schubert’s Introduction and Variations on Trockne Blumen, a 25-minute showcase of sadness. Each of the seven variations is slightly and differently mournful — even the last one, when the flute shifts to a joyous E major.
What: 2013 Tseng Han-jung Flute Recital (2013曾涵榕長笛獨奏會)
When: Today at 2:30pm
Where: National Recital Hall (國家演奏廳), Taipei City
Tickets: NT$300 to NT$500; available through NTCH ticketing and online at www.artsticket.com.tw
Tseng will also play two 20th century pieces, Jindrich Feld’s Flute Sonata and Nino Rota’s Trio. Rota, composer for the first two Godfather films, features the flute as the most nimble character in a tense standoff against piano and violin.
Feld’s sonata sounds like “a hamster running a wheel,” said Tseng. The flute moves awkwardly and sometimes humorously along a percussive piano score. Along the way, the duo produces a pileup of pretty but mostly dissonant notes.
“It will sound like the performers are doing something wrong,” Tseng said.
Tseng is a proponent of Feld and other contemporary classical composers of ear-bending music: pieces that do not trade on pleasing melody or dazzling speed. She tries consciously to perform their works. “Musicality isn’t just about beautiful and driving melodies — music can be like drawing, telling a story. Sometimes there are no melodic lines, just a series of effects.”
“I don’t think it’s that people cannot accept it, it’s that they don’t have much exposure or knowledge of how to receive it,” she said.