With Only 7 Casualties in Near COVID-Free Taiwan, Live Music and Lessons Return to Taipei Music Academy & Festival (Aug 2–9)
The Taipei Music Academy & Festival(TMAF) was founded last summer by celebrated violinist, curator and educator Cho-Liang “Jimmy” Lin. Now, at a time when almost all musical activity remains virtual worldwide, TMAF 2020 brings together 35 outstanding young musicians and a stellar international faculty for a week of live orchestral performance, meaningful mentorship, intensive coaching, public masterclasses and more in the idyllic mountainside setting of the National Taipei University of the Arts (Aug 2–9). Reaping the benefits of Taiwan’s extraordinarily effective response to the pandemic, the program’s return represents a rare, perhaps unique opportunity for emerging classical artists to experience live, in-person training and performance anywhere in the world this summer.
See the trailer for Between the Notes, a feature documentary about TMAF’s first season.
Designed to foster the kind of meaningful mentoring that makes for lifelong friendships, TMAF is the creation of Founder and Artistic Director Cho-Liang Lin. A former Musical America “Instrumentalist of the Year” whose discography has been recognized with two Grammy nominations and Gramophone’s “Record of the Year” award, Lin is “a beacon of musical charisma” (Philadelphia Inquirer). Having recently concluded a remarkable 18-year tenure as Music Director of La Jolla Music Society SummerFest, he currently serves on the faculties of Rice University and the Juilliard School. He explains:
“We are extremely grateful that we weren’t forced to cancel the program this summer. A year is a long time in a young musician’s life, and it’s very sad that so many of them are missing out because of the pandemic. Thanks to Taiwan’s nimble response, the amenability of our faculty and the unwavering generosity of our sponsors, we are thrilled to be able to offer our attendees the mentorship, training and performance opportunities they need if they are to develop as artists.”
Taiwan’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has been exemplary. With just 443 confirmed cases and seven casualties from among a population of 24 million, the Taiwanese response “ranks among the world’s best” (Time magazine). As a result, life on the self-governing island has already returned, by and large, to normal. Safety measures are still in place: masks must be worn, social distancing must be practiced, and, because of a near-total travel ban, only those granted special waivers, who commit to strict quarantine and testing requirements, may visit from overseas. Beyond such precautions, however, citizens are free to go about their business as usual. After initially re-opening only to half capacity, concert halls now welcome full audiences again, and the Taiwan Philharmonic is already playing to packed houses, as of old.
It is these favorable conditions that make TMAF 2020 possible. Instead of canceling the program, as initially seemed almost inevitable, Lin and his fellow organizers were able simply to make modifications to ensure the health and safety of all concerned. Whereas the inaugural season was two weeks’ long and included winds and brass, TMAF 2020 has been trimmed to a single week and is open only to string players. To accommodate a shortage of practice spaces suitable for social distancing, chamber music has been cut from the current curriculum. Masks will be worn in rehearsals, and audience members will be required not only to wear them, but also to show ID to allow for contact tracing. Aside from these concessions, though, TMAF’s summer’s offerings are as rich as before. The 2020 attendees will receive a week of daily individual coaching sessions, public masterclasses, orchestral rehearsals, mock auditions, audition tutorials and more, all capped by a weekend of publicorchestral concerts at Tainan’s Chi Mei Museum and Taipei’s National Concert Hall. At each venue, before a live audience, the students will perform a program of Vivaldi, Elgar, Grieg and Tchaikovsky that will be filmed for subsequent online streaming. They will also attend an all-star faculty chamber concert of Mozart, Mendelssohn, Delibes, Piazzolla, Joplin and Taiwanese folk song arrangements, filmed for future broadcast on Taiwan’s public television service. Full program details are provided below.
Chamber performance at TMAF 2019
Offering a teacher-student ratio of 1:5, the 2020 faculty and guest artists comprise eight superlative string specialists. Besides Lin himself, they are Carter Brey, principal cello of the New York Philharmonic and chair of cello studies at the Curtis Institute; David Chan, concertmaster of the Met Orchestra and teacher at the Juilliard School; violinist Shih-Kai Lin, who is on the faculties of Taipei National University of the Arts and National Taiwan Normal University; Philip Setzer, violinist of the Emerson Quartet and teacher at New York’s Stony Brook University; violinist Yu-Chien Tseng, a top prize-winner at the Queen Elisabeth and Tchaikovsky International Competitions; violist Hsin-Yun Huang of the Curtis Institute and Juilliard School; and double bassist Peter Lloyd, who teaches at Los Angeles’s Colburn School. TMAF counts itself fortunate that U.S. residents Brey, Chan, Lloyd and Setzer have all been granted special travel waivers by the Taiwanese consulate and have graciously agreed to quarantine in Taipei hotel rooms for 14 days prior to the start of the festival while receiving regular coronavirus testing, in accordance with Taiwan’s safety regulations.
These eight experts will work closely with TMAF 2020’s 35 young artists, who were drawn from an applicant pool of 116. Because of the travel ban, all of this year’s attendees have Taiwanese connections; unlike the U.S. faculty members, no international students were considered eligible for waivers. (The 15 overseas students who had initially been accepted to TMAF 2020 were offered the choice of a full refund, or the chance to defer their places till next summer; all 15 opted to defer.) Nevertheless, the standard of attendees remains exceptionally high this year, in part because many Taiwanese students, enrolled at top music schools around the world, returned home once classes went online and they saw the island’s deft handling of the virus. Thus, of the 35 successful applicants, eight are from Juilliard, five from New England Conservatory, three from Tokyo’s Toho Gakuen School and two from Curtis, while the others represent the Colburn School, Eastman School, Manhattan School, Michigan State University, New York University, San Francisco Conservatory, University of California, Los Angeles, University of Minnesota, University of Missouri at Kansas City, Seoul National University, and music schools and colleges in Taiwan.
Orchestral performance at TMAF 2019
No less crucial to the viability of TMAF 2020 is the vital financial contribution made by its sponsors. Back in April, when Lin and his colleagues made the difficult decision to try and hold this year’s program after all, they had less than three months to raise the necessary funds. To their delight, within just six weeks they had the support of Taiwan’s Cultural Minister Cheng Li-chun, now Title Sponsor of TMAF 2020, and of all those who sponsored the 2019 season. These include the Regent Hotel and EVA Air, both key players in Taiwan’s travel industry, which – like its counterparts the world over – has suffered crippling losses this year. Despite this, the sponsors’ generosity and dedication to the arts has been such that TMAF has been able to grant full scholarships to all 35 attendees, without even requiring them to fill out financial aid applications. As Lin notes, “It’s really incredible.”