A rare gathering for both the academic and musical worlds, the Tang Prize and its entire week of accompanying events—including the award ceremony, banquet, lectures, and concert—are well underway. Last night (September 24), the Tang Prize Concert was held at Taipei’s National Concert Hall. For this gala gathering of the best of Taiwan’s musical world, the Tang Prize Foundation invited no shortage of musical masters: conducting for the night was Shao-Chia Lü, who led the National Symphony Orchestra and Taipei Philharmonic Chorus through a time-tested repertoire, including the Taiwanese composer Gordon S. W. Chin’s The Sun Rises over Taiwan, and Jörg Widmann, an artist who has been dubbed the “Modern Mozart,” to perform Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A major and Requiem. And at the center of it all were the stars of the night, this year’s (2018) Tang Prize laureates.
Whetting the musical appetite, the concert began with a perennial favorite, the Fanfare for the Tang Prize, a work bridging the musical tastes of East and West and composed by the former General Director of the Taipei Chinese Orchestra Yiu-Kwong Chung. Brass quintet, timpani, and percussionists from the Western canon play alongside the bianzhong and suona from the Chinese musical tradition. This was followed by Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A major, his last piece for a single instrument after his opera The Magic Flute. Mozart’s signature musical style reveals itself at all points in the concerto: sprightly, cheerful, nimble. And for that very reason, it has been used in dozens of movies, from Out of Africa (1985) to The King’s Speech (2010). It showed clarinetist, composer, and conductor Jörg Widmann at his best, brilliantly displaying the verve and splendor of one of Mozart’s subtlest pieces.
As above, so below. The second half of the evening began with another piece from Mozart, this time his Requiem. Shao-Chia Lü, conductor and musical director of the NSO, said of the requiem form that it while its origin is in the church, it has since become a style in the Western tradition that stands on its own artistic merits. Many composers have left to us great pieces in the requiem style, Mozart’s a notable example. The piece is a wonderful exposition of the limits of the flesh and the eternal brilliance of the human spirit. “For the Tang prize concert to play such a great song,” Lü added, “is to give the concert a norm-breaking precedent and also a sustainable significance.”
Wrapping up the evening was the NSO and Taipei philharmonic chorus, who came together to present Gordon S. W. Chin’s The Sun Rises over Taiwan, a paean to Taiwan’s famous Alishan (Mt. Ali). Taking inspiration from seeing the sunrise from that lofty peak, Chin was inspired to write this song in the native Taiwanese language. His sentiment is perhaps best encapsulated in a line from the song: “Wheresoever the sun rises, that is where I see Formosa.” Like The Sun Rises over Taiwan, each of the night’s songs was chosen for this special occasion, to give the laureates an unforgettable evening.
In attendance were the recipients of the 2018 Tang Prize, eight persons across four categories: James E. Hansen and Veerabhadran Ramanathan in Sustainable Development; Tony Hunter, Brian J. Druker, and John Mendelsohn in Biopharmaceutical Science; Stephen Owen and Yoshinobu Shiba in Sinology; and Joseph Raz in Rule of Law.
Tang Prize CEO Jenn-Chuan Chern, apropos to the occasion, likened the Tang Prize laureates to great musicians, dedicated to their craft, laboring over the smallest of details: getting every note just in the right place, and, if the result is not perfect, starting over again from scratch, until they create something that can produce the maximum good in the world.