Musical literature

A new production helming the Taiwan International Festival of the Arts aims to bring Taiwan’s literary heritage to an international audience

By Ian Bartholomew  /  Staff reporter

Fri, Feb 22, 2013 - Page 12

The Taiwan International Festival of the Arts (台灣國際藝術節) has established itself over the last five years as one of the most highly anticipated events of Taipei’s cultural calendar for the high quality of productions that it brings to these shores. Just as important is the support it provides for the creation of new productions that push at the boundaries of contemporary theater, looking for new and interesting ideas that combine the talents of local and foreign artists to create productions that span artistic genres and cultural traditions.

Last year the festival commissioned YogeeTi (有機體), bringing in French choreographer Mourad Merzouki to work with Taiwan fashion designer Johan Ku (古又文) and a group of dancers from France and Taiwan to create a work that incorporated contemporary dance and modern fashion in a single work. YogeeTi premiered at the festival and subsequently enjoyed success overseas.

This year, the National Chiang Kai-Shek Cultural Center (國立中正文化中心) has invited German composer Christian Jost to collaborate with local musical luminary Chung Yiu-kwong (鍾耀光) together with the well-known theater director Li Huan-hsiung (黎煥雄) in producing a musical-theater work Fall for Eileen Chang (落葉‧傾城‧張愛玲), based on the writings of Eileen Chang (張愛玲).

Huang Pi-twan (黃碧端), director of the National Chiang Kai-Shek Cultural Center, emphasized the uniqueness of the current project. “Although Chang’s works have been extensively adapted for film, television and the stage, this is the first time that her work has been interpreted through the medium of music,” she said.

“Chang did not often write poetry, and few people know her poetry, but when you think about it, her prose is suffused with a poetic temperament,” Huang added. This poetic temperament is suited to musical expression, though Jost, speaking at a press conference in December 2012, said that he believed that this was the first time that a western composer had been called upon to interpret the works of Eileen Chang.

Jost also emphasized that Fall for Eileen Chang was a piece of music theater, and in his collaboration with director Li, he would be able to present “a real subtle opera.”

Li said he was looking to reveal the musical colors that are present in Chang’s work. “Love in a Fallen City is a book that every fan of Chang’s work is familiar with, but have these fans fully appreciated the images of colors and sounds within the text?” Li asked.

At first glance, the nature of the collaboration with Jost would seem to pose challenges far greater than were encountered with YogeeTi. Contemporary dance and fashion are both areas in which Taiwanese artists have established an international reputation, successfully bringing Chinese-inspired themes into the international mainstream. This has not been the case with either Chinese-inspired Western classical music nor with literature or drama.

Fall for Eileen Chang features a mixed ensemble of Western and Chinese instruments. The main body of the music will be performed by the National Symphony Orchestra, with soloists performing on the erhu (二胡) and the gaohu (高胡), both types of Chinese fiddle, with support from Music Forum (十方樂集), a group that specializes in percussion music. In the first section composed by Jost, the talents of two sopranos and a mezzo-soprano will be used. The second section, composed by Chung, is purely instrumental.

Taiwan has some outstanding musicians trained in the Western classical style, and there have been many efforts to use their skills in realizing projects with an Asian inspiration. This has proved a difficult task and one can only wish this project every success.