Fiendishly Good Fun

The Devil (Alton Thompson) and Soldier (Yi-An Chen) play cards to determine the soldier's fate in
The Soldier's Tale by Igor Stravinsky. The production by conductor Chia-Hsuan Lin event was the work's premier at the National Taiwan Normal University. (Photo by Melody Hsiao)

I had a rollicking good time in The Soldier's Tale Sunday night. Playing the archetypal villain helps, of course. You don't have to concern yourself much with your character's arc. You just take each scene as a new opportunity to torment your prey while making everyone in the room want to slap you. It's easy enough work for anyone who grew up with siblings.

I was delighted to learn that this production, produced by conductor Chia-Hsuan Lin, was actually the premier of the work at the university. From the outset Ms Lin brought ideas to the piece that made her Soldier's Tale a true ensemble work, for the actors as for the instrumentalists. Each character, like each player, had his or her moment. This wasn't one of those shows that one actor steals while the rest of the cast acts as foils. To begin with, no one steals anything from talented actress Yi-An Chen. The violin major at NTNU played the title role with zest and ginger, which is pretty much how she does everything else, too. Kris Falk used his Narrator spot as a springboard to create a kaleidoscopic array of distinct characters. Cipher Kao's images, in both publicity and on stage, drew knowing inspiration from Stravinsky's neo-classic priorities, including his savvy humour.

The high point of the show was exactly where it should be but often isn't: the ballet depicting the rendezvous of the Soldier and his bride. The scene was danced imaginatively by Yi-An Chen with Mr Ta-Wei Wang as the Princess. To have both Soldier and Princess played by actors of the opposite sex makes a playfully novel effect, but as the Soldier and Princess danced, this casting paid off in the increased sense of intimacy that develops between the two characters. Not only do they meet and get acquainted, but they inhabit each other's personas.

All of us in the cast are also musicians. We often remarked to each other in rehearsal that we were noticing details in Stravinsky's music in a new way. His music frequently alludes to some aspect of the setting or of a character, or to physical action. The references leap at you when you are involved in the work dramatically.

I was delighted to see friends there, like my classmates from the NTNU Mandarin Training Center and language exchanges who came. My sweetheart, Melody, got lots of good pictures for us and did us the favour of acting a bit part at the same time.

Congratulations to the company, especially to conductor Chia-Hsuan Lin and her adviser Apo Hsu. Great fun. And a distinct honour. Thank you.


Conductor's Notebook


Stravinsky in Taipei

2010 January 17 Sunday 19:30 (7:30 pm)

Igor Stravinsky
Octet for Winds
The Soldier's Tale (L'histoire du Soldat)

Taipei Chamber Players
Chia-hsuan Lin,

NTNU Historic Auditorium
National Taiwan Normal University
Taipei, Taiwan
Soldier: Yi-An Chen
Devil: Alton Thompson
Narrator: Kris Falk
Princess: Ta-Wei Wang
Admission is free to the public.

台北室內樂演奏家樂團 即將推出室內樂經典系列之一 ---- 史特拉汶斯基
曲目:木管八重奏 Octet for Winds
音樂戲劇--士兵的故事 The Soldier's Tale
時間:2010年1月17日 晚上 7:30
演出者:台北室內樂演奏家樂團 Taipei Chamber Players
陳羿安 Yi-An Chen(飾士兵, The Soldier)
唐博敦 Alton Thompson(飾惡魔, The Devil)
克里斯˙福克 Kris Falk(說書人, The Narrator
王大維 Ta-Wei Wang (飾公主, The Princess)


Conductor's Notebook


Google Stands Up

This week I've been preparing for a role in a performance of The Soldier's Tale. The theatre piece, drawn from a European folk tale, shows a person of essentially good character making an ill-advised pact with the devil. He soon learns that the acquisition of wealth is cold comfort for the price he pays. He learns that he can get out of the deal, but only by renouncing everything of the devil's he has acquired.

Interestingly, the news this week has presented a real-life enactment of the tale. Google, in party by taking the measure of the devil with which it has been dealing, has decided it doesn't like the deal, either.

Google has announced a 'new approach to China'. In the process it publicly exposes a rampant amount of spying and hacking originating inside that country. The spying is intensive and is not limited to users of Google. The Internet giant has announced that it will no longer filter news content in Google.cn as China's government has insisted. If it cannot offer the kind of open internet service in China that it does elsewhere, Google will leave.

Google opened Google.cn in 2006. Like other search engines operating in China, the service proved spectacularly unhelpful to China's citizens in locating a number of sites available to most people around the world. These include weblogs such as this one, social sites such as Twitter, human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders and Freedom House, and articles on subjects such as dissent inside China, Tibetan and Taiwanese nationalism, the Dalai Lama, the Falun Gong, and human rights topics in general. A search on the 1989 student protests at Tiananmen Square produces around 442,000 results on Google.uk; it produced no results at all on Google.cn.

But it will now. Google is now having discussions with the Chinese government about how to operate a more open service within the country. If the results of those talks are not fruitful, Google is ready to leave.

The move places China's government in a dilemma. The Communist Party that rules China is committed to filtering news that reaches citizens. But it is also committed to, and depends on, attracting foreign investment. It is especially eager to attract technology and communications companies. It is now faced with making a substantial shift in its approach to speech rights or, thanks to Google's exposure, establishing itself more prominently in the yes of the world as an enemy of privacy and the free exchange of information, even for people who live beyond China's borders.

A dilemma also faces Microsoft and Yahoo, two companies who have likewise cooperated on censoring content in oppressive ways in order to gain market share in China. They are now being called upon not only to defend their willingness to help an oppressive regime oppress its citizens for the sake of profit, but to explain what they intend to do to guarantee privacy for members' accounts.

BBC News presents the news concisely.

CNet offers a detailed look at how cyber-attacks operate and the implications of Google's move.

Guardian UK examines the story in a series of articles.

Taiwan News offers observations by a dissident now working in Taiwan.

Reprinted below is the complete text of the announcement as it appears in Google's official blog.


Conductor's Notebook

Google's 'new approach to China'

Reprinted below is the complete text of the announcement in Google's official blog.

A new approach to China

1/12/2010 03:00:00 PM
Like many other well-known organizations, we face cyber attacks of varying degrees on a regular basis. In mid-December, we detected a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google. However, it soon became clear that what at first appeared to be solely a security incident--albeit a significant one--was something quite different.

First, this attack was not just on Google. As part of our investigation we have discovered that at least twenty other large companies from a wide range of businesses--including the Internet, finance, technology, media and chemical sectors--have been similarly targeted. We are currently in the process of notifying those companies, and we are also working with the relevant U.S. authorities.

Second, we have evidence to suggest that a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. Based on our investigation to date we believe their attack did not achieve that objective. Only two Gmail accounts appear to have been accessed, and that activity was limited to account information (such as the date the account was created) and subject line, rather than the content of emails themselves.

Third, as part of this investigation but independent of the attack on Google, we have discovered that the accounts of dozens of U.S.-, China- and Europe-based Gmail users who are advocates of human rights in China appear to have been routinely accessed by third parties. These accounts have not been accessed through any security breach at Google, but most likely via phishing scams or malware placed on the users' computers.

We have already used information gained from this attack to make infrastructure and architectural improvements that enhance security for Google and for our users. In terms of individual users, we would advise people to deploy reputable anti-virus and anti-spyware programs on their computers, to install patches for their operating systems and to update their web browsers. Always be cautious when clicking on links appearing in instant messages and emails, or when asked to share personal information like passwords online. You can read more
here about our cyber-security recommendations. People wanting to learn more about these kinds of attacks can read this Report to Congress (PDF) by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (see p. 163-), as well as a related analysis (PDF) prepared for the Commission, Nart Villeneuve's blog and this presentation on the GhostNet spying incident.

We have taken the unusual step of sharing information about these attacks with a broad audience not just because of the security and human rights implications of what we have unearthed, but also because this information goes to the heart of a much bigger global debate about freedom of speech. In the last two decades, China's economic reform programs and its citizens' entrepreneurial flair have lifted hundreds of millions of Chinese people out of poverty. Indeed, this great nation is at the heart of much economic progress and development in the world today.

We launched Google.cn in January 2006 in the belief that the benefits of increased access to information for people in China and a more open Internet outweighed our discomfort in agreeing to censor some results. At the time
we made clear that 'we will carefully monitor conditions in China, including new laws and other restrictions on our services. If we determine that we are unable to achieve the objectives outlined we will not hesitate to reconsider our approach to China.'

These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered--combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web--have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China.

The decision to review our business operations in China has been incredibly hard, and we know that it will have potentially far-reaching consequences. We want to make clear that this move was driven by our executives in the United States, without the knowledge or involvement of our employees in China who have worked incredibly hard to make Google.cn the success it is today. We are committed to working responsibly to resolve the very difficult issues raised.


Conductor's Notebook


Audio Myths

Have you ever met an audiophile who pays high prices to get the very best connection cables? Who wants all the ultrasonic frequencies? Who swears that vinyl records remain unsurpassed for fidelity?

In Skeptic magazine this week, a sound engineer examines the superstitions and pseudoscience that circulate in the world of high-fidelity audio. The article, by Ethan Winer, shows how audio consumers are led astray by sales pitches, misunderstandings and placebo rewards. In the process, he offers an excellent primer in the way high-fidelity audio really works.

Audiophiles who prefer vinyl to digital playback are, of course, as correct as anyone can be about what they prefer. But it turns out that what they prefer in this case is not fidelity, as they claim, but distortion. Finding distortion pleasing is certainly allowed as an aesthetic choice. Rock musicians have lived by distortion for years, just as art enthusiasts exist who liked the Sistine Chapel ceiling better when it was dirty. One is entitled to one's tastes, but it does little good to justify these preferences by appeals to fidelity. What one loves is not fidelity to reality but the distortion of it that one has come to regard as an improvement.

The entire article may be viewed at Skeptic's reading room.


Conductor's Notebook


Computer Dreams

You know you're spending too much time on the computer when your dreams have pop-ups.

I was dreaming this morning and the pop-up came on and told me it was time to wake up. It was. My alarm was set to ring only a minute later.

Not a bad 'feature,' actually.


Conductor's Notebook


Image: Privé


Danshui, Taipei CountyTaiwan
台灣 新北市 淡水

Model: Cherry Chen
Makeup: Lunarlu Chen

©Alton Thompson 唐博敦


League puts magazine online

With the arrival of 2010 the League of American Orchestras has begun making its professional magazine, Symphony, available on the Net. Bookmarking this page provides access to all future issues of Symphony:


Features are displayed as they appear in the print publication. The interactive web page provides easy scrolls, text zooms and page turns. The first issue, 2010 January-February, is already posted.

Thanks to my colleague Apo Hsu for the tip.


Conductor's Notebook


New Year 2010

Here's wishing you joy, peace and abundance in all the days ahead.

From Taipei, Taiwan: happy new year!


Conductor's Notebook