One part traditional Taiwanese opera, one part Beethoven, and one part Rossini. The Tang Prize Concert was a recipe for musical success, combining the greatest of the East and West to express the guiding principles behind the prize—innovation and new perspectives, a mixing and mingling of cultures and values.
As guests were taking their seats inside the National Concert Hall on Tuesday, the buzz inside was already at a fever pitch as they waited for what was to be a rare and superb performance. One factor was that the Taiwanese cellist Chen-Chieh Chang was chosen as the musical director for the concert; the other factor came from the reputation of the night’s leading ladies—such talent as Chiung-Chih Liao, best known for her portrayal of the “sorrowful” role as well as her lamentations and arias; Hai-min Wei, the “prima donna of Taiwan’s Peking Opera world”; and Mewas Lin, the first descendant of the Atayal tribe to make it big on the opera stage. Also tapped for the event was Taiwan’s National Symphony Orchestra, one of the leading orchestras of the Far East.
The night was full of surprises for performers and concert goers alike. Despite a recent injury, Liao forgot the actual pain in her leg and concentrated on the dramatic pain of her lamentation from Wang Bao Chuan; The Anecdotes of Tai Zhen, sung fantastically by Hai-min Wei, was not accompanied by the usual erhus and gongs of the Chinese tradition, but rather by a Western orchestra, making for a novel performance; and Nan-Chang Chien from Four Aboriginal Art Songs was sung to such perfection by Mewas Lin that Dr. James Allison’s wife, Dr. Padmanee Sharma, could not help but deal out praise. Finally, the Rondo of the Hakka Folksong Ping-Pan Tune and Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony rounded out the evening on a contrasting note of down-to-earth folk music and grand-scale symphony.
In preparation for its inaugural year of prizes, the Tang Prize Foundation invited Yiu-Kwong Chung, General Director of the Taipei Chinese Orchestra, to compose what is now the theme for the Tang Prize—the Fanfare for Tang Prize (or, Overture for the Tang Prize). The piece, set in the sprightly cadence of an aboriginal dance, combines the ancient solemnity of the bianzhong and the unrestrained forwardness of suona, both from the tradition of Chinese music, with Western brass sections and percussionists. Composed with the spirit and heart of the Tang Prize in mind, the Fanfare was finally performed live at the concert Tuesday, to the mass appreciation of the audience.
Joint winner in Biopharmaceutical Science with Dr. Allison, Prof. Tasuku Honjo and wife were moved by the incorporation of Taiwanese culture into the music, Sustainable Development prize recipient Gro Harlem Brundtland continued to appreciate the music long after the stage had gone silent, while Rule of Law
winner Albie Sachs exited the hall alongside his family humming the Fanfare on the way back to the hotel. For laureates and concert goers alike, the concert was by all accounts a musical and cultural success.