In its 50th anniversary year, the Taipei Symphony Orchestra is making a special trip from its home in Taiwan to America’s capital region. The visit is also a celebration of what director Dr. Kang-Kuo Ho calls his homeland’s “best friend.”
The relationship with the United States, he said, is “very far-reaching for Taiwan…often [in collaborations] in culture and art.”
Following the 17-hour flight from Taipei to Washington, D.C., the ensemble will perform at the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda on the evening of Friday, Nov. 15. Under the baton of Jahja Ling, the program will feature Leonard Bernstein’s “Overture to Candide” and Johannes Brahms’ “Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 58.”
The symphony orchestra itself is derived from the German tradition, [and] the first symphony of German master Brahms [showcases] the orchestra’s ability to perform traditional repertoire,” Ho said.. To show off the Taipei Symphony’s virtuosity, the ensemble also will play “Double Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra” by Taiwanese composer Gordon Shi-Wen Chin. At center stage will be 29-year-old violin virtuoso Paul Huang, who will perform solos from that work as well as the other pieces on the evening’s program.
“[Chin’s] concerto premiered 15 years ago, but it hasn’t been played in quite a while. So, it’s really nice to bring it back and play it in Washington, D.C.,” said Huang, adding that Chin is prolific, but little known in the West.
Huang began studying violin at home in Taiwan at age 7 and made his debut as a soloist with the Taipei Symphony at 15. “It’s a very special musical home for me because this was the first professional orchestra I ever played a concerto with,” Huang said.
Huang came to the United States to study at the Juilliard School in New York, the city he now calls home. But it was in the Washington area that he began to get serious notices as a professional violinist. In 2012, he was featured at a Kennedy Center event co-sponsored by Washington Performing Arts [WAP]. “Huang’s comportment is professional, but there is a wide-eyed youthfulness, as well; he looks directly at the audience in expressive moments and unabashedly milks climaxes,” the Washington Post reviewer wrote.
WPA is also the presenter of the Taipei Symphony’s Strathmore concert, which Huang says brings him back to his musical beginnings in more ways than one. “WPA gave my very debut recital in America at the Kennedy Center, so [the Nov. 15 concert] is kind of like my two musical homes, Taiwan and America, coming together in a new way,” Huang said. “It really does feel like a full circle that those two institutions collaborate together and invited me as a soloist.”
Huang’s accolades have only increased since that 2012 showcase. He was awarded the 2015 Avery Fisher Career Grant, one of classical music’s most prestigious awards, and released his first solo CD in 2014, “Intimate Inspiration.” His subsequent WPA performances have included a 2018 recital with composer/pianist Conrad Tao.
And wherever he goes, Huang travels with his 1742 “ex-Wieniawski” Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù violin, which is on loan to him courtesy of the Stradivari Society of Chicago.
“I only have one violin, and it’s not even mine,” Huang said. “Like great paintings or sculptures, sometimes you need regular maintenance. You want to clean it every day after playing it.” Every few months, he sends the 18th century stringed instrument to a professional luthier — a “violin doctor” — for tune-up.
For the Strathmore show, Huang will be joined at center stage by cellist Felix Fan. “This will be my first time playing with him, and also my first time with conductor Jahja Ling,” Huang said.
Having Chin’s music on the Strathmore program will expose audiences to Taiwanese music they might not hear otherwise, and Ho, the symphony’s director, said that this is partly to inspire people to visit Taiwan. Furthermore, Huang said, a work like Chin’s forces him to work harder as the recordings of this lesser-performed work are few and far between — if they exist at all.
“It requires even more dedication because it’s not a piece like a Tchaikovsky concerto or Brahms concerto where you have a lot of references,” Huang said. “You have to dig even deeper into the score and the parts.”
The violinist is certain that audiences will be able to relate to Chin’s “Double Concerto” simply because it is great music, which he believes transcends cultural viewpoints. “Music is a wonderful platform for all different races and different nationalities to come together,” he said. “I think that is one of the many wonderful things that WPA does throughout the season: bring different cultures and backgrounds and present [them] in the musical context.”
In the Far East, classical music is enjoying a renaissance. In China, Korea and Taiwan, Huang said, younger people are coming out to see classical concerts in droves, which is not surprising considering it is largely a newer artform to that part of the world.
“You see a lot of young audiences in classical music concerts in the Far East, much more so than in the States or Europe,” said Huang. “Sometimes that’s almost as exciting, if not more so, than going to a pop concert.”
Whatever its audience, Huang believes music has the power to bring people together, whether for a few minutes or a few hours in a performance hall. “Music is nonjudgmental, and we’re all there in this wonderful [space] where we are all sharing music together,” he said. “And without using words.
“It’s really wonderful that we get to play at the Music Center at Strathmore, which is, in my opinion, one of the great concert halls in America right now,” Huang said. “It will be wonderful.”
Washington Performing Arts presents the Taipei Symphony Orchestra at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 15 at Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda. For tickets — $25 to $75 — visit www.washingtonperformingarts.org or call 301-581-5100.