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20 December 2011

29th Asian Composers' League Conference and Festival, Taiwan

Bruce Crossman and Andrián Pertout in Taiwan Image: Bruce Crossman and Andrián Pertout in Taiwan  

Andrián Pertout reports from the 2011 Asian Composers' League Conference and Festival in Taiwan.

Established in 1973 as a means of 'promoting the art music activities in Asian countries, as well as fostering mutual exchange between these countries', the Asian Composers' League (ACL) is a contemporary music organisation in the Asia-Pacific region comprising twelve official member countries and regions: Australia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand. The inaugural ACL conference and festival took place in Hong Kong in 1973, and became an either annual or biennial event focusing not only on Western contemporary art music, but also on 'traditional music of the Asia Pacific region' and 'contemporary art music which uses both Western and Asian Pacific instruments and influences'. The ACL board currently consists of Joshua Chan (Hong Kong, chairman), Dan Yuhas (Israel), Michael Norris (New Zealand), Young-Eun Paik (Korea) and Hwang-Long Pan (Taiwan).

The recent 29th Asian Composers' League Conference and Festival in Taiwan (ROC, or Republic of China) was held in three cities: the capital city Taipei, Taichung and Hsin-Chu on 26 November to 3 December, 2011. The 8-day ACL event - with the theme of 'Crossing the Barriers of Time and Spaces' - was organised by the Taiwan National Committee of the ACL and consisted of 15 concerts dedicated to orchestra/chamber orchestra, Chinese orchestra, choral music, chamber music, solo and duet, percussion ensemble, Chinese instrumental ensemble, chamber music for Chinese and Western instruments and electroacoustic/multimedia concerts, not to mention the obligatory ACL Young Composers' Competition concert, as well as three 'Innovation Rooted on Tradition' lectures and forums.

The Taiwan National Committee received 475 compositions and 21 papers from 22 countries, and selected 90 compositions and 6 papers for presentation during this year's Asia Pacific Music Festival. The ACL Young Composers' Competition included the performance of a further 11 compositions individually selected by each member country and region. The young composer selected to represent Australia was Holly Harrison from Sydney with the work Take Care of the Sense, and the Sounds Will Take Care of Themselves (2011) for chamber ensemble, presented as part of the Young Composers' Competition' concert on 28 November at Soochow University Performing Arts Centre in Taipei. Other representation from Australia included Simon Charles's River Walk (2005) for percussion trio, Peter Myers's Entasis (2002) for solo trumpet and Bruce Crossman's Not Broken Bruised-Reed (2009) for violin, percussion and piano, as well as Scott McIntyre's paper presentation 'The Simplification of Complex Notation Presented in Aleatoric Forms'. All invited composers from Australia were present in Taiwan.

Highlights of the festival included Jack Body's (New Zealand) Palaran: Poems of Love and War (2004) for orchestra and Javanese singer, performed by the National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Alexander Drčar. This was definitely one of the memorable moments of the Saturday night opening concert at the National Concert Hall (NTCH), and was Body at his riveting best, juxtaposing Western art music with subtle Javanese melodic fragments, while incorporating pulse infused pizzicato motivic figures in tandem with an impassioned lyrical voice soaring above masterful orchestrations. It gives me great pleasure to report that Jack Body's nomination as Honorary Composer of the ACL was granted unanimously by voting members at the ACL General Assembly on the 1st of December, 2011.

Ka-Wai So's (Hong Kong) In the Dream of Ancient Path (2011) for four percussionists, with its mix of Western and Chinese percussion provided dynamic contrast at the following day's concert with the Ju Percussion Group. Later on that day, the Little Giant Chinese Chamber Orchestra conducted by Chih-Sheng Chen presented Yi-Chen Tsai's (Taiwan) The Original Intention (2010) for di-xaio, pipa, zheng and chung-hu . This work was not only dazzling, but inspirational - an extremely well crafted contemporary work filled with technical prowess, but at the same time, imbued with a great sense of musical purpose.

The fourth concert of the festival on Sunday featured the brilliant Taipei Chamber Singers conducted by Yun-Hung Chen. Although various works made a mark in this concert, special mention should go to the serenely beautiful harmonicity of Shan-Hua Chien's (Taiwan) Alleluia (2008) for a cappella choir; the exquisite melodious sensitivity of John Sharpley's (Singapore) A Dream Within a Dream (2008) for mixed choir, erhu, zheng and vibraphone; as well as the charming Chinese folksong expressions of longing and desire communicated within Nalin Shen's (New Zealand) Xia Sichuan Going Down to Sichuan Province (2009) for two soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor, baritone and bass. The venue for all the abovementioned concerts was none other than Taipei's NTCH complex, which is certainly impressive, with its colossal traditional Chinese palace structure incorporating four major performance spaces that include the National Theater, Experimental Theater, National Concert Hall and Recital Hall.

Monday delivered the results of 18th ACL Young Composers' Competition, with first, second and third prizes awarded to Yong-Min Han (Korea), Zhang-Yi Chen (Singapore) and Jessica Kah Poh Cho (Malaysia) respectively. The 2011 ACL Yoshiro Irino Memorial Prize went to Ming-Hsiu Yen (Taiwan) for her work Yun (2008) for orchestra, performed in the opening concert. This award, initiated in 1988, nominates the best chamber musical work by a composer under the age 30 at each ACL festival. The concert that followed featured Ahmet Yürür's (Turkey) Suite des femmes et des passions (2011) for double bass and piano. The performance by the Ensemble ISCM-Taiwan presented a unique sound world of delicately ornamented and superbly elegant virtuosity.

On Tuesday morning, the festival then moved to our new base in Taichung (138 kilometres from Taipei), and to the amazing NTSO Music Culture Park. This is the home of the National Taiwan Symphony Orchestra, and Taiwan's only music culture park, which includes a concert hall for the orchestra, a permanent exhibition of musical instruments, digital technology and audio visual equipment allowing visitors to learn about the musical instruments, a multimedia centre with a music library, a studio for artists in residence, a musical training centre, a dining hall; and if that's not enough, a 64-room hotel with message chairs on every floor. Clarence Mak's (Hong Kong) The Approach of Day (2004) for violin and viola proved to be the favourite at the solo and duet concert at the National Taichung University of Education, while Shui-Long Ma's (Taiwan) Searching for gu-cheng and orchestra amused and bemused the audience with the stunningly dramatic physical gestures of gu-cheng player Hao-Yin Huang in her beautiful green dress. The work's many animated cadenzas framed by orchestral interludes were each time more exhilarating.

Wednesday's two chamber music concerts again featured members of the National Taiwan Symphony Orchestra conducted by Fusao Kajima, while Friday presented two electroacoustic/multimedia concerts. Jason Long's (NZ) The Subaquatic Voltai (2011) for electronics, with its quirkiness and noise fundamentals was certainly the highlight of the first concert at the National Chiao Tung University Arts Center Theater in Hsinchu, while Chris Cree Brown's (NZ) Inner Bellow (2010) for clarinet and tape, featured at the second concert at the National Taiwan Normal University's Zhi-Ying Theater in Taipei, was no doubt one of the best instrument and tape pieces I have heard in years. It is no surprise to hear that this brilliant work was the winner of the 2010 SOUNZ Contemporary Award in New Zealand. This is music composition with creativity in abundance, and a refined sense of artistry that bestows the composer with credibility in overdrive.

Friday night presented the Taipei Chinese Orchestra, conducted by En Shao, and two undeniable masterpieces: Lok-Yin Tang's (Hong Kong) Cháo for suona and orchestra and Isao Matsushita's (Japan) Dance of the Firmament, concerto for two shakuhachis. Tang's work fused jazz and avant-garde techniques in a fast-paced exuberance, masterfully executed by suona virtuoso Tzu-You Lin, while Matsushita's work presented distinctly refined harmonic and melodic timbres, delivered by shakuhachi greats Hozan Yamamoto and Shinzan Yamamoto. Incidentally, in 2002, Hozan Yamamoto was recognised as a National Living Treasure by the Agency for Cultural Affairs in Japan.

If Thursday seems to be missing from the program it should be noted that this was a concert-free day, whereby all participants were treated to a trip to Sun Moon Lake - an alpine lake situated in Nantou County's Yuchi Township, which is Taiwan's largest lake located near the centre of the island.

On the final day's chamber concert at the Taipei National University of Arts Performing Arts Center Dance Theatre, Amit Gilutz's (Israel) Tslila - Diving (2010) for clarinet, harp, piano, violin and cello and the Australian Bruce Crossman's Not Broken Bruised-Reed (2009) for violin, percussion and piano were certainly the highlights, while Stephen Yip's (Hong Kong) The Legendary Phoenix (2009) for piano and orchestra and Michael Norris's (New Zealand) Sgraffito (2010) for chamber orchestra featured in the next and final concert of the festival featuring the Taipei National University of the Arts Orchestra conducted by Tien-Chi Lin.

At the outset, it should be stated that the level of care given not only to the official delegates but every single participant by the hosts of this festival was truly overwhelming, to the point of being almost an emotional experience. Every meal was provided for, and every single artistic organisational and political body came on board to lend their support to the festival at the appropriate juncture. The performers were almost without exception sensational, and the venues, unbelievable. We were all even issued with metro cards, and every single detail was taken into consideration. All this saddens me of course, as it brings to light the very fact that it is such a pity that a rich country such as ours lacks the vision or inclination to follow suit and support such events to the level that they are in Asia. Unfortunately, composers do not sport tennis rackets, and Australia is just not ready to accept artists as their heroes.

The next ACL Conference and Festival is scheduled to take place in Israel during 14-20 October, 2012, which coincides with the next International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM) 2012 World Music Days in Brussels, Belgium (25 October-4 November, 2012).

AMC resources

Andrián Pertout (AMC profile)
Bruce Crossman (AMC profile)

Further links

29th Asian Composers' League Conference and Festival, Taiwan, 26 November - 3 December, 2011
Asian Composers' League (www.asiancomposersleague.com)
Melbourne Composers' League (www.melbournecomposersleague.com)

Andrián Pertout is a freelance composer. His music has been performed in over thirty countries around the world. Pertout is currently the Australian Delegate of the ACL (Asian Composers’ League), President of the Melbourne Composers’ League, as well as Honorary Fellow at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music (University of Melbourne) and National Academy of Music (Thessaloniki, Greece).


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