Taichung: between us is media celebrity Susan Yeh

I’ve played in Taiwan before, but only in Taipei. This tour also includes stops in Taichung and Tainan. According to Jimmy, the preponderance of “Tai-“ as a city prefix is a point of pride, and is indeed related to “Tai-“ as the country name’s prefix.

On Wednesday Cho-Liang “Jimmy” Lin and I played our first recital in Taichung. It was an evening concert, and although it was billed as an educational concert, it wasn’t like any educational concert I’ve played before. I love giving school concerts, but typically much of my energy is devoted to simple crowd control. This audience had kids of all ages, but they were spectacularly attentive, silent during the performances, and demonstratively cheering after each piece.

On Friday, after a blazingly fast bullet train trip, we played in Tainan. The hall had marginal air conditioning and we pretty much dripped through the whole thing, but the acoustics were wonderfully warm and live, and the audience most appreciative.

This isn’t the worlds’ most user friendly violin-piano recital program. For starters, there’s no Beethoven, Brahms, Fauré or Franck. The program begins with Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne, a work I’ve always admired from afar but never played. We then veer into French territory, with two works of Ravel: the Habanera, and the Sonata.  I love playing the Ravel Sonata, a work that traverses almost haunted territory in the 1st movement, jazzy elements in the 2nd, and violinistic fireworks in the finale.  Should I start the finale too fast, any violinist would find themselves in hot water immediately. Consequently I find that violinists are always very nice to me when we’re playing the Ravel!

The 2nd half of our program starts with Debussy’s Beau Soir, an encore really, and then the terminally weird sonata by Poulenc. In memory of Garcia Lorca, the work is puzzling in the extreme, featuring biting rhythms alternating with what sounds a lot like lounge music. We’ve spent hours debating the meaning of the finale’s marking “Presto Tragico.” Firstly, it’s not in the nature of most prestos to be tragic; secondly, some of the music, while always compelling, sounds a bit silly. At any rate, the ending features Garcia’s death and is suitably somber. I’ve grown to love this work, but I’m not sure that I yet understand it.

Our recital finale is another oddity, the Grand Duo Concertante for violin and piano by Franz Liszt. One of only two works by Liszt for violin (the other is a short wedding ditty) this virtuoso showpiece fits the piano like a glove and the violin like a…hmmm. It’s a theme and variations framed by an introduction and a finale, and both parts are dazzling and fillied with technical tricks. I’m a bit surprised it’s not played more often; we’re having a blast with it.

Looking up at Chiang Kai-Shek National Concert Hall

 

 

•    •    •    •    •    •    •

 

Today we’re giving our last performance of this program on this tour, in Taipei. The National Concert Hall in the Chiang Kai-Shek Cultural Center is a wonder. I recall playing here 21 years ago, shortly after the hall was built, and I’ll never forget the experience of being asked to choose my piano.

For me, a typical piano selection means dashing out onto stage between orchestra rehearsals, trying the two Steinways very quickly, and picking one for the concert. Of course, this is only when I actually have the luxury of choosing between the two. Here at the National Concerto Hall there is a Piano Selection Room, and at all times there is a minimum of 6 concert grands to choose from, including Hamburg Steinways, and at least one each of Yamaha, Bösendorfer, and that special Venetian handmade wonder, the Fazioli. I am drawn to the Fazioli immediately, partly on the basis of its looks: it’s a 10-ft piano (the largest ever made by anyone) and the lid has two supporting sticks instead of the traditional one. It also has a way cool bench. I love this particular piano, and if I was playing a solo recital I would have chosen it. But given the color and combination of sound that Jimmy and I are used to, I finally opt for one of the German Steinways.

The First Lady of Taiwan - a true music lover

Tonight’s recital feels somehow a little more formal than the others; the hall is more opulent, the audience more experienced, and the stage much bigger. But we’re thrilled with the result, and we have a few tangos up our sleeve to play as encores – the ubiquitous Albeniz charmer, and the fiery Libertango of Piazzolla.

Our first backstage guest is the First Lady of Taiwan, a music lover very pleased to have a casual night out to listen to our recital.

The next 200 backstage guests all want autographs, so we camp out in the autograph room, and the whole process takes almost an hour.

Should I really be autographing a violin case?!

At long last, our tour is over, and our presenter Mr. Niu has located – what else?  – a late night restaurant for one last meal together before I head home. I have to say I’m looking forward to coming back to visit this extraordinary country.