The local art scene last week continued its slow return to normal in the wake of the COVID-19 epidemic. The weekend saw a surprising variety of classical music performances around Taiwan, with a number focusing on Ludwig van Beethoven in the 250th year of his birth.
In Taipei alone, fans of the German composer could choose a nationally televised concert by the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) on Friday, a children’ concert early on Saturday and a previously canceled performance by the Artrich String Quartet.
The NSO’s performance was its first with a regular audience since it suspended all activities in March, after Australian composer and artist-in-residence Brett Dean tested positive for the coronavirus. The unusual program at the National Concert Hall featured Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor, directly followed by Beethoven’s Symphony 7 in A major.
Photo: Shir Bashi
Sitting through two of the German composer’s most iconic, and bombastic, pieces in succession — while a treat — is a bit much under any circumstance. The NSO took up the challenge and elected to launch straight into the Fifth, without the common overture or prelude, to a mixed result.
The orchestra, under acclaimed conductor and music director Lu Shao-chia (呂紹嘉), was slow to gain steam, struggling in the first two movements of the Fifth to get some of the rhythms right. Yet the ensemble showed it was up to the task by playing both symphonies at a gratifying pace and with great dynamics, hitting it home in the final two movements.
Beethoven’s Seventh, after the break, similarly started off to a less coherent first movement. However, the NSO quickly retook itself and played the rest of the symphony with zest, making for an overall convincing performance, which nevertheless at times failed to intrigue.
A very different energy permeated an excellent performance by the Artrich String Quartet at the Eslite Performance Hall in Taipei’s Xinyi District (信義) on Saturday night featuring works by Yen Ming-hsiu (顏名秀), Beethoven and Pyotr Illyitch Tchaikovsky as part of the largely canceled Eslite Chamber Music Festival.
Beethoven’s challenging String Quartet No. 7 was preceded by the world premier of Yen’s Message from the paddy fields, an open, lively, hopeful contemporary piece that perhaps reminded more of a countryside idyll than the farmers toiling down in the fields, played beautifully with Taipei Symphony Orchestra (TSO) member Lin Yi-hsin (林一忻) as first violinist.
Lin continued to lead a brilliant rendering of the Beethoven quartet, weaving through the formation’s other members’ parts without apparent effort as the four musicians kept the audience thoroughly engaged — with some rocking heads and limbs. He was perfectly complemented by TSO assistant concertmaster Hu Ting-hsuan (胡庭瑄) in the second seat, whose clear intonation and volume lent the quartet a great sound.
Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet No. 1 saw Lin switch seats with Hu, whose slightly more stiffly paced style in the first movement soon made way for a beautifully intoned and balanced — if less sentimental — rendition of the Russian composer. Cellist Chang Chi-yi (張琪翊), who had been experiencing tuning issues throughout Beethoven, took the chance to redeem herself with a smooth and interactive contribution and TSO violist Tsai Hsien-Hsiu (蔡弦修) had a rare solo before an ending that left listeners visibly craving more.
With the cultural season soon to end, a number of postponed and never canceled concerts in the coming weeks give classical music buffs plenty of choice to end the year with a bang — and more Beethoven.
Lu, who is this summer to retire as NSO music director, is on Saturday to conduct Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 and Franz Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 45 (the “Farewell Symphony”). National Concert Hall at 7:30pm, tickets are NT$500 to NT$2,000 through Arts Ticket, www.artsticket.com.tw.
Also on Saturday, the next installment in the Eslite Chamber Music Festival will see the Wuduyin String Quartet perform Franz Schubert, Beethoven and Claude Debussy. Eslite Performance Hall at 7:30pm, tickets are NT$500 to NT$1,000 through Arts Ticket, www.artsticket.com.tw.
Back to Beethoven, pianist Yang Chien-ying (楊千瑩) will perform on June 26 some of the composer’s late piano sonatas. National Recital Hall at 7pm, tickets are NT$600 through Arts Ticket, www.artsticket.com.tw.
Finally, for the real fans, a recital by pianist Yang Teng-kai (楊登凱) on July 5 will feature Beethoven-inspired works. National Recital Hall at 7:30pm, tickets are NT$300 to NT$800 through Arts Ticket, www.artsticket.com.tw.
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