2007-03-26

326 Peace March

Today marks two years since a million of Taiwan's citizens poured into Taipei streets to protest a law passed in China two weeks earlier that authorized 'non-peaceful' actions to annex Taiwan.



The event received widespread coverage in international media. Yet to this day the PRC's official news sources have provided the people of China no information about the event.

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2007-03-21

Top of the News in Taiwan

This month in 1891 saw the publication of Taiwan's first printed news. Published by the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan, the Taiwan Provincial Church News (Tâi-oân-hú-siâⁿ Kàu-hōe-pò 台灣府城教會報) used a romanization system for putting the Taiwanese language into written form for the first time. The anniversary arrives in the same month as the birthday of missionary George Leslie Mackay (1844-1901) on March 21.

The event stands as a representative example of the significant role played by the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan's modern history. The influence of the Presbyterians in Taiwanese history has been far out of proportion to their actual numbers here because of their commitment to protecting the island's natives and preserving their culture. Worship services and news bulletins in Taiwanese, for example, validated the use of the language under Japanese and Kuomintang regimes that attempted to eradicate its use from public life. People who found themselves under threat of arrest for political reasons often found in the Presbyterians a means of escape to destinations abroad.

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2007-03-17

HSR 405 to Tainan

We're pretty buzzed about our new Taiwan High Speed Rail. Want to go for a ride?



Let's go to Tainan. We buy our ticket at Taipei Main Station from a touch-screen machine that features instructions in Chinese and English. But we could have bought our ticket online, or from any of the well-dressed people standing about.

Making this trip to Tainan by normal rail means a four-hour ride in a crowded car with many people standing. By bus the trip lasts the same amount of time, but only if you encounter no traffic jams along the way. Add congestion and the trip can easily take six or seven hours.

But this? Our ticket says we will leave Taipei at 9:15 and disembark in Tainan at 11:08.



Now finish eating your mantou. It's time to board.



We steal a quick look through a window. The aisle is wide and will easily accommodate our luggage.



We enter. Everything has that new car smell. We stow our bags overhead and take our seats. The trays in front of us show us where to find everything.



And we're off!


The train accelerates through a series of tunnels. The ride is smooth and quiet. No clackety clacks. Like the monorail at Disney World, only bigger--and you don't have a narrator who keeps telling you what a wonderful time you're having.

Light streams through the windows. We're in the open.



We make stops in Taoyuan and Hsinchu. The train then gathers speed for the longer stretch to Taichung. We reach a top speed of 285 kilometers per hour.



After letting some passengers off in Taichung we head into Chiayi.


After the Chiayi stop we begin gathering our luggage. Tainan is next.

We pull into the station at 11:08.





The driver looks to make sure the side of the train is clear. The last stop for the 405 is Zuoying, near Kaohsiung.



The train whooshes away.



The station is bathed in natural light. The spacious lobby features exhibits promoting the city's annual Orchid Festival.





We enjoy some sushi and soft drinks from the 7-Eleven before heading into town.

Tonight we ride another train back. We board at 20:45 and take our leave at Taipei Main Station, where our journey began.





I've enjoyed your company on the journey. Thanks!

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2007-03-15

Freedom of Expression Awards

Someone has to fight for people with no voice. I guess that person is me.

- Chen Guangcheng

The Index on Censorship presented its 2007 Freedom of Expression Awards today in London. As the organization describes its purpose:
Each year we honour people who have made outstanding contributions, often heroic ones, to the defence of freedom of expression. Awards are given to those who achieved this by making films or writing books, through the law, or their journalism, or for whistleblowing in environments that would deter most of us from the tiniest dissent.

The whistleblower award went to Chen Guangcheng, a self-taught attorney in China's Shandong province. Mr Cheng, also known as 'the barefoot lawyer,' called attention to forced abortions, carried out on women as late as eight months pregnant, and forced sterilisations in the city of Linyi. The operations were carried out in enforcement of the regime's one-child policy.

The award for journalism went to young Egyptian blogger Kareem Amer, recently sentenced to four years in prison for outspoken commentary on Egyptian politics and Islam.

The book award went to Lebanese historian Samir Kassir for Being Arab. Kassir, an outspoken critic of the Syrian occupation of Lebanon, was killed in a car bomb attack in 2005.

The film award went to Yoav Shamir for the documentary Five Days. The film chronicles the evacuation of 8,000 Israelis from a settlement in Gaza to make way for the arrival of 250,000 Palestinians.

The law and campaigning award was presented to Siphiwe Hlophi of Swaziland (also spelled Sempiwe Hlope). Ms Hlophi was diagnosed as HIV positive in 1999. When she subsequently lost both her academic scholarship and her husband, she responded by helping to create Swazis for Positive Living, an organization dedicated to overcoming discrimination against women and HIV/Aids sufferers.

The Index on Censorship, founded by poet Stephen Spender in 1972, upholds freedom of expression as a basic human right.

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2007-03-12

Taipei Artist Village

The latest Taiwan Review features a report by Kelly Her on the Taipei Artist Village. The Village has been enriching lives in Taiwan and around the world for several years now and is fast earning a distinguished international reputation. The Village's web site offers a succinct statement of its goals:

Mission

With Taipei city as a backdrop for creativity, TAV will provide freedom and opportunity for innovation in the making of visual art, music, literature, and performance art and foster artistic and cultural exchange between Taiwan and the rest of the world.

Vision

Taipei Artist Village will achieve a "Creative City" by promoting interactions between artists in different fields and the general public. We hope to develop into one of the leading sites for Arts and Culture in Asia by building a strong network locally and globally.

Kelly Her supplies more details.

The artist village has 10 live-in studios with Internet access, a gallery, a cafe and a garden. There is also a darkroom, a dance studio and a slew of audio-visual equipment. The institute organizes residency, exchange and sponsorship programs and plays host to a variety of events and promotions. It is thus far the best equipped of the island's 10 or so artist villages.

Su Yao-hua, TAV director, says that there are few channels available for the international community to understand Taiwan, and foreign news reports about the country often highlight cross-strait issues or fighting in the Legislature. Inviting international artists to come to Taiwan is good publicity as they take their experiences here back to their home countries and share them.

"TAV aims to link Taiwan to the world," Su says. "Hopefully, it is not merely a place but a mechanism, or say, a platform for international artists to share their creative visions and for exhibition organizers and the general public to learn about them." Accordingly, the village administration has built a database that introduces resident artists' backgrounds, work and plans. Of the artists that the village has hosted so far, 60 percent work in the visual arts, 30 percent are performers and 10 percent are writers.

. . . ."TAV is mainly designed to provide artists with a place where they can concentrate on creating and experimenting," she says. "But we arrange open studios once every quarter so audiences can interact with artists and see their works in progress, as well as taking artists to schools to give talks or demonstrations."

Her offers interviews with resident artists in the complete article; the group's web site features information in English as well as Chinese.

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2007-03-09

Binoche Birthday

Félicitations, film lovers. Today is a lucky one for us: the birthday of une artiste extraordinaire.

Movies are open doors, and at every door, I change character and life... I live for the present always. I accept this risk. I don't deny the past, but it's a page to turn.

- Juliette Binoche

Here are some doors our birthday belle will be opening for us in the months ahead (from IMDb).

Due for release in 2007:
Le Ballon rouge (The Red Balloon)
An imaginative drama from Chinese-born director Hsiao-hsien Hou.
(May)

Dan in Real Life
A romantic comedy from American director Peter Hedges.
(September 21)

Paris
A film written and directed by Cédric Klapisch.
(November)

In production:

Souvenirs du Valois
A film from French director Olivier Assayas.

Another Kind of Silence
A suspense thriller from Argentinian director Santiago Amigorena.

Désengagement
A drama from Israeli director Amos Gitai.

Dates of release vary, of course, depending on your country of residence. (I'm still waiting for Breaking and Entering to open in east Asia.)

Looking for a Binoche film on video? I'm already there. Visit my Juliette Binoche list at Amazon for a survey of available offerings. You can read more about this in last year's birthday post. And Bleu is a magnificent achievement, even if a Slate critic did recoil from its 'existential masochism.'

Here's wishing Mme Binoche joyeux anniversaire!

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2007-03-08

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach

Raise your stein to the birthday of celebrated composer Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach.

*Sinfonia 4, movement 3: Allegro assai

Celebrated, that is, in his own era. Emanuel Bach was more famous in his own day than his father, Johann Sebastian, and did much to preserve and encourage greater appreciation for his father's music. Inspired as he was by his father's genius, he cultivated a style that was uniquely his own. His music influenced Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and many others.

In the years since, though, this composer has been frequently overlooked. Interest in his contemporaries--either his elders, like his father or Handel, or the younger generation, like Haydn and Mozart--led people to regard this Bach as a transitional species. He has been seen as a figure who stands between the recognized 'mature' styles we call baroque and classical. His own style wears no easy labels.

Still, if CPE Bach defies easy pigeon holies now, he did so even more in his own time. His voice was unique. Emanuel, like his father, was a virtuoso keyboardist. More than his father, though, he took an interest in a wide range of artistic media. Prominent among these interests was the spoken word. His musical style was deeply influenced not only by the art of musical improvisation but the art of spoken rhetoric. His contemporaries heard his music as eccentric, wild, romantic, and unpredictable.

C.P.E. Bach believed in the new aesthetic ideals of his time which demanded that music "touch the heart" and "awaken the passions." His works were daring for their time, and some were even considered bizarre by his contemporaries. In his music, there are often bold harmonic progressions, interjected sections in contrasting tempo, seamless transitions between movements, abrupt changes of mood, and frequent rambling passages that seem to be searching for a goal. While he was not a prodigiously prolific composer when compared to Haydn or Mozart, he produced music, often experimental, of undeniably high quality and with considerable charm and elegance.

While C.P.E. Bach's progressive and uniquely individual style was most pronounced in his keyboard sonatas and certain symphonies; his concertos for various instruments also contain many features that seize the attention of the listener with their great originality. After leaving the employ of King Frederick the Great of Prussia and settling in Hamburg, Bach was no longer restricted by the conservative tastes of the royal court, and he was able to indulge in a more daring, experimental kind of music.

Charles K Moss

Our appreciation of CPE Bach has been growing in recent years thanks to the efforts of musicologists. Performances of his music will get a further boost with the completion of a complete critical edition of the composer's works. This is under way in earnest after a frustrating series of starts and stops in the 1990s. Editors hope to finish Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach: The Complete Works by 2014, the composer's tricentennial birth year.

This process has been aided by a dramatic discovery. A huge library of music from the eighteenth century had been missing since World War 2 and presumed destroyed. The library belonged to the Berlin Singakademie, a choral group that had already been active for decades in Bach's lifetime. Its loss was bemoaned by music lovers the world over--until the library turned up intact in Kiev, Ukraine. Scholars are all over it, of course, finding all kinds of music once thought lost. John Finney tells the full detective story about the Singakademie library in 'Finding the Lost Manuscripts,' an article hosted by Greater Boston Arts.

Alles Gute zum Geburtstag, Herr Bach!


Charles K Moss: Composer Biography at Carolina Classical.

Answers.com: Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach

T L Hubeart, Jr: 'A Tribute to C P E Bach'

*Werner Icking Music Archive: CPE Bach Scores and Sound

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2007-03-05

Taipei Venues Turn Twenty


The National Theater and National Taiwan Concert Hall enter their twentieth seasons this year. The milestone, according to the Taipei Times, will be observed with 'a series of performances by local and international acts' and 'a 20-year retrospective.'

The Classic 20 series brings to the stage international heavyweights including Robert Wilson, Philip Glass and Tadashi Suzuki and musical performances by Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and The German Opera of the Rhine. Performances by local groups will include Cloud Gate Dance Theater (雲門舞), Yang Li-hua Taiwanese Opera group (楊麗花歌仔戲), Performance Workshop Theater (表演工作坊) and New-Classic Dance Company (新古典舞團).

The retrospective is called Vitality Capsule of Art and will look at the dance, music, theater and opera performed at the NTCH over the past 20 years, with a view to the future.

Detailed schedule information will appear at the center's official site.

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2007-03-04

The Red Priest

Today marks the birthday of 'the red-haired priest', Antonio Vivaldi. This baroque composer was affiliated for many years with a famous women's orphanage in Venice. Like the later association of Haydn with Esterháza, Vivaldi's situation offers a fascinating example of the way a composer's professional environment can stimulate creativity and encourage exploration in certain directions.

In Vivaldi's day orphanages offered intensive training in music. Music gave the young people something constructive and creative to do, especially in large groups, without requiring them to leave the grounds of the sanctuary. Music still allowed for the recognition of outstanding individuals. Concerts at orphanages, too, were well attended by influential citizens. This encouraged increased charitable contributions on behalf of orphans and led to career opportunities for young musicians who had distinguished themselves. Europe's leading virtuosi were often orphans who had been trained in such programs. The original meaning of the word conservatory, in fact, was 'orphanage.' The François Girard film Le Violon rouge (The Red Violin) offers a glimpse into this fascinating world. Those familiar with the story will recall the episode of the young Kaspar Weiss, an orphanage resident who shows exceptional talent as a violinist and appears destined for a major career.

Given this environment it comes as no surprise that Vivaldi is best known for his concertos. The Venetian orphanage boasted some formidably talented players who, by their teen years, were also exceptionally well trained. It is for these soloists, often violinists, that Vivaldi wrote these pieces. Of course, he had ample opportunity to write vocal music as well, both for soloists and choral forces. Anyone familiar with his Gloria can attest to his gift in writing for the human voice. It is perhaps more surprising that The Red Priest enjoyed writing operas as well, but in this field he had many more opportunities than one might expect for a cleric. Because the orphanage's 'graduates' often moved on to professional careers, Vivaldi in time had connections in opera houses all over Europe. His music was also well known, as Haydn's was later, though publishing.

Eventually Vivaldi's lifelong association with young females caused him problems. Late in life the composer, whose personality had by all accounts a way of putting people off, travelled extensively in the company of one young graduate of the orphanage in particular. Given what we know of his health and age at that time, the relationship was not likely the most steamy. Rumors flew anyway. They negatively affected Vivaldi's credibility as a cleric and, eventually, his income. Even today, if you mention Vivaldi around conservatory musicians, you can expect a few knowing wisecracks and wiggled eyebrows.

The orphanage had demanded of its chief musician the production of new work on a constant basis. Vivaldi took pride in his ability to meet this demand, and he still stands as one of the most prolific of composers. Brittanica offers this thumbnail perspective on The Red Priest's vast body of work:
His concertos were highly influential in setting the genre's three-movement (fast-slow-fast) form, with a returning theme (ritornello) for the larger group set off by contrasting material for the soloists, and he popularized effects such as pizzicato and muting. His L'estro armonico (1711), a collection of concerti grossi, attracted international attention. His La stravaganza (c. 1714) was eagerly awaited, as were its successors, including The Four Seasons (1725). In all he wrote more than 500 concertos. His most popular sacred vocal work is the Gloria (1708). Though often accused of repeating himself, Vivaldi was in fact highly imaginative, and his works exercised a strong influence on Johann Sebastian Bach.

'Antonio Vivaldi.' Britannica Concise Encyclopedia. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2006. Answers.com 04 Mar. 2007.
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Bernard's Birthday brings Beethoven, Brahms

March 4 is the birthday of one of the world's great conductors. Gelukkige verjaardag to The Netherlands' Bernard Haitink.

LSO Live features Haitink and the London Symphony in series of new releases, including commanding new cycles of Beethoven and Brahms symphonies.

Haitink presently serves as principal conductor of the Chicago Symphony while keeping a busy schedule as a guest conductor with European orchestras. Cities that have figured prominently in his career include Amsterdam, London, Berlin, Vienna and Boston. Musical America's designation of the conductor as its Musician of the Year was reported here in an earlier post.

To commemorate today's auspicious anniversary, my colleague Gary Lloyd has provided appropriate original verse. This eloquent tribute, I'm sure everyone will agree, captures a feeling shared by music lovers around the world. Here we go (ahem):
I tink
I like Haitink.
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2007-03-03

Taiwan Democracy Hall?

Reports appeared today in the Taiwan News and other publications that the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial will be re-christened as a shrine to Taiwan's young democracy. From Max Hirsch's report in the Taipei Times:

A closed-door Cabinet meeting presided over by Minister of Education Tu Cheng-sheng (杜正勝) yesterday ended with an agreement to rename the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall the "Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall," Cabinet spokesman Cheng Wen-tsang (鄭文燦) told the Taipei Times.

Managed by the Ministry of Education, the hall and its environs will be renamed to honor the country's democratic development, Cheng said.

"Any redesign of the park or buildings will reflect the country's openness, not past authoritarian rule," he said.

This development comes a month after debates in Taiwan's legislative branch of government called for action of this sort.

Discussion of renaming the hall has its partisan aspects, as crucial elections loom for both branches of government in the coming months. This February 6 report from Taiwan Headlines (via Yangmingshan) describes a few of the issues and perceptions in play, as well as detailing some of the options that exist for the memorial.

Lawmakers from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party have begun pushing for a relocation of the Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) Memorial Hall in downtown Taipei to facilitate the establishment of a "Taiwan democracy memorial hall" at the same site while seeking to consolidate their voter support as the year-end legislative elections draw near.

DPP Legislator Gao Jyh-peng said he and his colleagues favored the relocation as they claimed it would "deepen Taiwans democracy" while requiring no revision of the existing law. The organic law of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall administration "does not stipulate the exact location of the hall," he said.

. . . .

Gao urged the Executive Yuan reach a formal resolution on the relocation as soon as possible. The memorial hall could then be relocated to Taoyuan County in northern Taiwan, the location of the temporary mausoleums of Chiang Kai-shek, who died in 1975, and his son, the late President Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國), who died in 1988, he said.

He said the DPP Central Standing Committee invited Minister of Education Tu Cheng-sheng (杜正勝) to report at its weekly meeting last Wednesday, in which Tu suggested the change, and Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) said the matter could be studied.

"The Executive Yuan should approve a relocation of the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall as soon as possible," Gao urged.

He said that with the upcoming 60th anniversary of the February 28 Incident, the government should form an investigation committee to "get to the bottom of the tragedy" that he said "continues to split society today."

. . . .

Opposition parties have accused the DPP of "ruling the nation with ideology" in a bid to blot out any and all vestiges of Chinas influence from the country. In the meantime, they said, the DPP would adopt its traditional campaign strategy by escalating tensions between people of different backgrounds in order to win the sympathy from pro-green Taiwanese in the year-end legislative elections and next years presidential race.

The Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial was Taiwan's defining landmark until the completion of the Taipei 101 skyscraper in 2004. It is one more sign of the onrushing tide of change here that such a fundamental shift in the purpose of an icon can be discussed. The tide effects a corresponding erosion of the late dictator's profile. Over the last decade Chiang's face has begun disappearing from the national currency and each year more statues of the leader are removed from display.

We live in interesting times for Taiwan. But then, in Taiwan, all times are.

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2007-03-02

Hilary Hahn

Make room for another bookmark. Violinist Hilary Hahn keeps an online journal.

Another day, another airport - this time, still in Naples, I sit in the tiny VIP departure lounge, exhausted and amused. The exhaustion comes from a combination of work and a new exercise routine I began a couple of days ago, when I somehow got it into my head that I didn't have enough to do already and so would therefore aim to run in the New York Marathon next year. The amusement comes from the fact that Maestro Blomstedt is parked bolt upright in front of the only lounge computer, taking full advantage of the Internet services. Even though it's only business, there's something adorable about such a great veteran conductor demurely emailing on a public computer.

Hilary Hahn
2006 November 7

The full site offers the usual things (bio, schedule, list of recordings) but plenty more besides. In addition to her journal Ms Hahn maintains an unusual gallery of artwork given to her by fans after her concerts.

I especially enjoy the Favorites section. Here students of the violin will find valuable practice tips. Ms Hahn's Exercise Ideas for Non-Gym Rats or Frequent Travellers gave me some ideas I can put to use right away. Her discussion of Things to Watch in an Orchestra Concert brought a smile when she came to one of my own favorites--the gong.
This was my favorite instrument to watch when I was a little kid going to Baltimore Symphony Orchestra concerts. I'd wait whole symphonies just to hear it struck, to hear the tone well up as if in an exotic temple or royal court. (I read a lot of fairy tales.) Although I became a violinist in the end, I still like to tap any gong I pass in backstage hallways and rehearsal rooms. I even rammed one with my head once, to see what it would sound like. Call me crazy! But don't tell the percussionists.
Ms Hahn, you are cordially invited to visit Taiwan as often as you can make the trip. One of the delights of the island is the dazzling variety and colour of its percussion instruments. We have no end of wonderful objects here to hit one's head on.

Here's wishing you success in the marathon.

Courtesy of www.HilaryHahn.com
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