19 Sep 2018

Passing of Japanese composer Isao Matsushita felt throughout Asia Pacific

On September 16 Japan lost its veteran composer Isao Matsushita, who passed away at the age of 66. He was vice president of Tokyo University of the Arts, Professor of Performing Arts Center and President of the Japan federation of Composers (JFC).

His departure was strongly felt throughout the  Asia Pacific region.

According to his biography, Matsushita obtained both his undergraduate and graduate degrees at Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. Matsushita has participated in several music festivals, such as the "World Music Days of International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM) Festival in Graz '82, in Hong
Kong 1988, in Mexico 1993", "Horizonte Festival Berlin '85", "European Music Days Copenhagen '85", "Invention Festival Berlin '86" and so on. His composition, "TOKI-NO-ITO 1 (Threads of Time) for String Quartet" took first prize in the Moenchengladbach International Composition Competition in West Germany in 1985. In 1986, Matsushita gained the seventh annual Irino Prize with "TOKI-NO-ITO 2 (Threads of Time) for Piano and Orchestra."

In 1994 his composition ”Hi-Ten-Yu” (Fly Heaven Play) for Japanese Drums and octet was premiered by Berlin Philharmonic Scharoun Ensemble, then it was rewritten by himself as the Concerto for Japanese Drums and Orchestra in 1996, since then it has been performed all over the world. In 2000 it was performed by Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Kent Nagano. His Opera "Shinano-no-Kuni, Zenkoji-Story" was premiered as cultural Program of Winter Olympic Game 1998 in Nagano.In 1999 “ Fujito” for Noh and Strings Quartet was premiered inTokyoOn the same year he produced the concerts of “Asian Arts Festival” presented by the Agency for Cultural Affairs of Japan.

7 Sep 2018

Fusion and Transformation in Taiwan

On the morning of 15 August, an exciting conglomerate of composers, conductors and musicians gathered at the National Theatre and Concert Hall in Taipei to kick off the 35th “Asian Composers League Conference and Festival.”

The honorable guests at the opening meeting included Tsung-Huang Hsiao, the Political Deputy Minister of Culture; and Yu-Pei Liao, the Chief Secretary of Hakka Affairs Council, a government institution that fully supports the event. Taipei National University of the Arts, Taipei Chinese Orchestra, National Symphony Orchestra, Mȕller Chamber Choir, Chai Found Music Workshop, and Taipei Chamber Singers also joined the meeting to announce the start of this much-anticipated event in Taiwan.

Other guests from local organizations and music groups included Hsien-hsun Chiu (vice president of TNUA), Hsiao-ping Chen (vice director of Taipei Chinese Orchestra), Hsin-yuan Shih (manager of Programming & Planning Department, NTCH), Wen-Chen Kuo (executive director of NSO), Cheng-Ming Huang (director of Chai Found), Su-chen Fang (director of TCS), Chia-He Wu (executive director of Mȕller Chamber Choir), Tsu-Yi Lai (manager of Ju Percussion Group), Han-Chih Tai (member of Ju Percussion Group), Yuan-yu Liao (conductor for the closing concert), and Po-Chien Liu (winner of 34th ACL Young Composers Competition). Tsung-Huang Hsiao, the Political Deputy Minister of Culture of R.O.C., was known for his achievements in the field of visual arts.

At the meeting he shared some of his observations about the intersection between art, music and social science. “The visual design of this edition reveals this 45-year-old association’s ambition in becoming a hub that links the music communities around Asia. Music knows no boundaries, and composers play an important role in connecting music from different regions and turning music into a medium that goes beyond borderlines. As we know, music plays a vital role in our life and our connection with it lasts from birth to death. We hear rhythmic beats of the mother’s heart as a fetus, and music is usually the best companion one can have when leaving this world.

Yu-Pei Liao, the Chief Secretary of Hakka Affairs Council, also stated that, “Music is an excellent carrier of culture which consolidates collective identity and continues the national heritage and legacy.” She also gave a brief introduction to the four Hakka pieces which were to be presented at the festival, including the choral “Weng Ahong” by Wen-Tzu Lu (artistic director of the 35th ACL Conference & Festival), which was based on the Meinong mountain song “Ban-shan Yiao”; the “Legend of The Three Mountain Kings,” an orchestral piece based on the Hakka belief of “Three Mountain Kings” composed by Prof. Fan-Ling Su; and two Chinese orchestral pieces based on Hakka folk songs created by Po-Chien Liu, the 2016 ACL Young Composers Competition winner and the Hong Kong composer Ming-Chi Chen. The Opening Ceremony will present Mȕller Chamber Choir singing the works of Yu-Hsien Teng, a highly venerated early Hakka composer.

The Hakka Affairs Council hopes to bring international audience closer to Hakka music and culture with these beautifully crafted works.

The honorary president of ACLTW Hwang-Long Pan began by expressing his appreciation to the music groups and government departments for their continued support to the ACL through the years. He pointed out that Asia was known for its diversified cultures and traditions. Sometimes different sides of a mountain could mean different countries, each with a distinct music scene. Despite the geographical immensity, ACL has successfully forged a new music community which runs the gamut from Northeast and Southeast Asia to West and Central Asia, including Israel and Turkey, even the Oceania.

With the advantage of multiculturalism, composers should not satisfy themselves with simply adapting the traditional music, boasting, “This is my work.” Rather, they should “transform” from where they are. It is through this way that each composer shows their individuality. The concept is important to the participating composers and this is why the 35th ACL Conference & Festival is themed with “Fusion and Transformation.”

Pan also noted several contemporary young Taiwanese composers who had been recognized with several prestigious awards. Some of the awards they have obtained since 2012 include the first prize of International Society for Contemporary Music, first prize of ACL, and the Best Performance Award of the ACL Conference & Festival. Their works even become a subject for academic research because of the rich cultural implications in their music. By combining the efforts of all participating composers, musicians, audience and media, ACLTW hopes to introduce more people to the fascinating world of contemporary music and feel its beauty.

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1 Sep 2018

Singapore's Straits Times reviews Wong's Herringbone

Singapore's Straits Times reviews Yong Siew Toh Conservatory's concert 'The Modern Playground', a violin-piano recital by visiting artists Foo Mei-Yi & Bartosz Woroch:

A 90-minute concert of modern music for solo piano and solo violin on a Tuesday evening might not seem an enticing prospect for any except the most dedicated supporters of new music. Yet this one attracted a near-capacity audience.

Possibly, they were there for the world premiere of a work by Singapore-based Malaysian composer Adeline Wong. If so, they had nothing to complain about.

Herringbone was a coherently constructed, absorbing work which presented a vivid and visceral musical experience. One of the most spectacular things about this was the dazzling virtuosity of Malaysian pianist Foo Mei-Yi, who, among other things, reiterated a single note with absolute and tireless precision.

One should also not overlook the behind-the-scenes work of piano technician Eddie Low who had prepared the Steinway to such peak excellence that it easily withstood this concentrated attention on a single note.

Otherwise, much of the concert's first half took the form of an ingeniously devised programme of 21st-century miniatures for piano, organised into a single, continuous thread, linked by a sense of musical humour.

Some of the humour was obvious. Any piano piece called A Bear Playing The Double Bass And The Black Woman gets you giggling even before you hear the first note.

Some of the humour was gentle. Peter Eotvos ended his Dance Of The Brush-Footed Butterfly by instructing Foo's right hand to fly up beyond the highest notes of the keyboard.

Some was more subtle. Helmut Lachenmann's Hanschen Klein moved down the entire piano keyboard as it pretended to echo a song from Bizet's Carmen.

But Foo's brilliant pianism and easy, accessible musicianship ensured that, while there were no real belly laughs, everyone in the audience frequently broke into a smile.

Continuing the theme of musical wit, Foo's Polish husband, violinist Bartosz Woroch, ended the first half of the concert with a breathtaking performance of Dai Fujikura's Samarasa, in which a single note was played by the violin in more ways than anyone could have thought possible.

In the second half, Woroch excelled even himself with a truly stunning virtuoso account of the Sonata No. 2 by his compatriot, Grazyna Bacewicz.

The remainder of the second half seemed like a blast from the past. John Cage's Six Melodies for violin and keyboard had the haunting atmosphere of folk songs, but after the first two melodies, the limited sound world of this 1950 musical experiment made it outstay its welcome.

And in her Dancer Of A Tightrope, composer Sofia Gubaidulina revisited all the avant-garde cliches of the late 20th century, with Foo doing just about everything to the Yamaha grand piano other than actually playing on the keyboard.

Meanwhile Woroch tottered high above her and, at the end, remained poised, tantalisingly, in mid-air.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 30, 2018, with the headline 'Playground of musical humour brings out the smiles'.

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