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15 November 2018

2018 Asian Composers League Festival and Conference in Taiwan

Andrián Pertout, Bruce Crossman, Eve Duncan, Michael Bakrnčev, Clare Maclean and Natalya Vagner in Taiwan Image: Andrián Pertout, Bruce Crossman, Eve Duncan, Michael Bakrnčev, Clare Maclean and Natalya Vagner in Taiwan  

Andrián Pertout reports from the 2018 Asian Composers League (ACL) Festival and Conference in Taiwan, where five of the AMC's artists represented Australia and the Melbourne Composers' League, the Australian member organisation of the ACL.

Established in 1973 as a means of promoting art music activities in Asian countries and fostering cultural exchange, the Asian Composers' League (ACL) is a contemporary music organisation in the Asia-Pacific region, currently comprising fourteen official member countries and regions (see the website for more details). The inaugural ACL Conference and Festival took place in Hong Kong in 1973, and since then events have been organised annually or biennially.

The recent 35th Asian Composers League Festival and Conference was held in Taipei on 19-23 October 2018, organised by the Taiwan National Committee. The five-day event consisted of ten concerts dedicated to symphony orchestra, chamber music (Chinese and Western instruments), choral music, electroacoustic, percussion ensemble, and Chinese orchestra, as well as a special 'Lotus Pond Stage' concert of traditional music, and the obligatory ACL Young Composers Competition concert. The slogan for this year's festival was 'Fusion and Transformation: Towards a New Ear of Asian Music', and included was a conference component featuring two forums. ACL Taiwan received 238 submissions from around Asia through an open call for scores and selected 81 works for performance.

The young composer selected to represent Australia was Michael Bakrnčev from Melbourne (a graduate of the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, University of Melbourne) with his Duet (2018) for clarinet and viola, performed in the ACL Young Composers Competition concert on 22 October. Other representation from Australia included Bruce Crossman's Dying of the light: Pacific Resonance for Peter (2014) for soprano saxophone; Eve Duncan's Seahorses (2009) for percussion quartet; and Clare Maclean's (2015) Above the Water for SSAATTBB choir. Andrián Pertout presented a paper, as part of the conference forum 'Hearing Asia in Music', focusing on his multimedia work Un'immagine mobile dell'eternità (2017) for reciter, harmonically tuned guzheng and visuals. All five composers were present at the Festival.

This year's event was marked by the sad passing of Isao Matsushita (Chairman of the Asian Composers League and President of the Japanese Federation of Composers) - a great composer and a great human being. As Vice-Chairman of the ACL, Dan Yuhas from Israel assumed the leading role, and delivered a touching and inspirational speech at the onset of the festival events in honour of Matsushita. The opening concert took place at the impressive National Concert Hall - designed by Taiwanese architect Yang Cho-Cheng, this hall in the Zhongzheng District of Taipei is one of the first major modern performing arts facilities to have been established in Asia.

The opening concert featured the Taiwan National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Yin-Fang Chang, with music of Kin-Yee Raymond Mok (Hong Kong), Marisa Sharon Hartanto (Indonesia), Yonatan Shenkar (Israel), Hoon Kang (Korea), Vivian Hui Kiang Chua (Malaysia), Rashid Kalimullin (Tatarstan), Tsang-Houei Hsu (Taiwan), and Fan-Ling Su (Taiwan). Highlights included Yonatan Shenkar's 0/1 (2016) - a fast-paced, jazz-infused and pulse-driven work featuring muted trumpet solos over beds of jazzy harmonies; and Fan-Ling Su's Legend of The Three Mountain Kings (2013/2018), incorporating indeterminate rhythmic elements in the brass writing as well as a distinctly 'Hakka' theme (the Hakka are Han Chinese people with a common language, art forms, cuisine, folklore and customs). As explained in the program notes: 'the composer structures the music with notes A, C and E, which are the tonic notes in traditional Hakka music, to portray the persistent and indomitable spirit of Hakka spirit'.

The second day of the festival included two concerts at the Soochow University (Waishuanghsi Campus) Song Yi Hall. The first one, featuring chamber music for Chinese and Western instruments, showcased what had to be one of the best compositions of the festival: Malaysian Kee Yong Chong's Yuan-He (Origin-Harmony, 2010/2018), concerto for five Chinese and five Western instruments. Chong's stunning work managed to not only philosophically convey the theme of the five elements but to also generate an emotive and meaningful modernity. It was not only timbrally colourful but also possessed a sensitive musicality that I found very appealing. The work was unquestionably musical, with a deep sense of drama, fragmented yet meaningful, integrating quasi-folk melodies tinged with melancholy that connected with the listener. One of the great works in the program of the second concert was Bruce Crossman's meditative and elegant Dying of the Light: Pacific Resonance for Peter, displaying an exquisite melodic framework marked with isolated strikes of a kin (Japanese Buddhist prayer bell) alluding to the Honkyoku traditions of the Japanese 'Komusō' Zen monks. This tribute to Peter Sculthorpe was masterfully interpreted by Li-Fong Chen. The concert also featured a beautifully crafted work, with a plaintive expansive melody, by Isao Matsushita (Japan): To the Air of Time (1996) for violin and piano.

Two more concerts, with choral music and chamber music, followed on the third day. The first one featured the brilliant Taipei Chamber Singers, conducted by Yun-Hung Chen. What a superb choir! Clare Maclean's plainchant-inspired Above the Water, adorned with canonic textural webs, and intertwined with lush harmonies, featured a glorious aleatoric moment that, while sounding multi-textual, was in fact a melodic phrase marked 'tempo libero' in the score. The moto perpetuo (perpetuum mobile) nature of Mary Katherine Trangco's (Philippines) Salitaan (Conversations/Dialogues, 2013) with its immutable rhythmic drive and distinct simultaneities proved to be extremely exciting. The highlights of the second concert of the day were Dan Yuhas's (Israel) playful yet sophisticated Quartet (2007) for clarinet, violin, cello and piano and Joyce Bee Tuan Koh's (Singapore) extremely quirky and original Waiting (2009) for piano quintet.

Two works made a mark in the following day's electroacoustic concert. Pei-Fen Huang's (Taiwan) In the Name of Love (2016) for flute and electronics was electric, and Pei Hua's performance sensational. The work featured actual flute recordings (samples), expertly manipulated within the digital domain. Yu-Chung Tseng's (Taiwan) Road Turns…Suddenly Appears (2017) for zheng, pre-recorded and live interactive electronic music was another excellent work featuring zheng virtuoso Hsin Fang Hsu and highlighting extremely dynamic interactive interplay between the live instrument and electronic sounds. The musicians of the fabulous Ju Percussion Group (JPG) were the stars of the percussion concert. This group, which comprises of 15 talented percussionists and one composer in residence was founded by percussionist Ju Tzong-Ching in January 1986, and has an incredible history of more than 3,000 local and international performances (33 countries around the world) and 230 commissions. There were many highlights in this concert, such as Eve Duncan's wistful Seahorses; Chee Kong Ho's (Singapore) gamelan-like and spirited Folksongs (2018) for percussion trio; Jon Lin Chua's (Singapore) subtle and distinctly inflorescent Mind Monkey (2017) for percussion trio, and Wen-Chi Tsai's (Taiwan) intricate and highly explorative Forêt vaporisée d'une légère brume (2017) for percussion trio.

The closing concert on 23 October at the Concert Hall of the Taipei National University of the Arts delivered the results of the 24th ACL Young Composers Competition, with three prizes awarded: equal first and third prizes going to Ryle Nicole Custodio (Philippines), Marcus Jackson (New Zealand) and Jian Han Ding (Singapore) respectively. The 2018 ACL Yoshiro Irino Memorial Prize went to Chiu-Yu Chou (Taiwan) for her work Lhialeven cekelely! (2017) for mixed voices a cappella. This award, initiated in 1988, nominates the best musical work by a composer from the host country under the age 35 at each ACL festival. The 2018 ACL Hsu Tsang-Houei Memorial Prize (best work utilising traditional instruments by a composer from the host country) went to Wen-Chi Tsai (Taiwan) for her work Forêt vaporisée d'une légère brume (2017) for percussion trio. The Best Performance Award went to the New Music Workshop (TNUA) of Taipei National University of the Arts. Highlights of the actual concert, which featured the TCO Academy Orchestra conducted by Yuan-Yu Liao, were Chenwei Wang's (Singapore) Confluence (2009) for Chinese orchestra, and Hong Quan Do's (Vietnam) Spirit of Spring (2007) for Vietnamese dan bau and Chinese orchestra, featuring the amazing Hoang Anh Tu on dan bau.

This Taiwan 2018 edition of the ACL festival (under the artistic direction of Wen-Tze Lu, Chairperson of the Asian Composers League: Taiwan National Committee) ran like clockwork, with an incredible number of helpers, and an extremely high standard of not only venues but also performers. Congratulations Taiwan! The next Asian Composers League Festival and Conference will take place in Christchurch, New Zealand between 27 April and 2 May 2020.

Further links

2018 ACL Taiwan website (http://2018acltw.acl-taiwan.org.tw)

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 forty countries around the world, and was Honorary Fellow at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, University of Melbourne (2007-2015). He is currently President of the Melbourne Composers’ League (MCL), Australian delegate of the Asian Composers League (ACL); Lecturer in Composition at the Faculty of Fine Arts and Music, University of Melbourne. 


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