A bold break from the pandemic’s grip on music touring

Musicians in motion — Wu Han on the right, arriving at Tao Yuan Airport in Taiwan | Credit: Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society

Travel is the lifeblood of music, and so far this year we’ve seen guest artists from home and abroad visit the SF Symphony, SF Opera, Cal Performances, SF Performances, and listen to the buzz from the bay by the Highway Philharmonic. Until recently, there were a dozen orchestras visiting the Bay Area each season, and there were plans for the SF Symphony’s (cancelled) major farewell tour with Michael Tilson Thomas to criss-cross Europe.

But this year, everyone is trying to comply with the stern orders of stay at home and facing a partial quarantine in California. Meanwhile, reopened concert halls and opera houses in Europe are closing again. There are a few exceptions, like Daniel Hope jumping from Berlin to San Francisco with NCCO (check ARTE.TV for their wonderful concerts), Val Caniparoli and Carey Perloff ranging from SF to Finland, and Esa-Pekka Salonen reverse route from Finland to SF.

Now this:

Artistic Director Wu Han and a handful of artists from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (CMS) are tour in taiwan — the first US ensemble to embark on a concert tour since March.

Getting there has been a big challenge, and CMS musicians are in quarantine until November 28. But once there it will be a relief to be in taiwan, where there have been very few casualties from the pandemic and resistance to COVID-19 is on par with New Zealand. (To date, Taiwan, with a population of 24 million, has reported only 611 cases and seven deaths for the entire spread of the virus.)

The CMS Tour starts on December 2 at the National Theater and Concert Hall in Taipei

Friends in Taiwan are happy to report “normal life”, having attended concerts by Yo-Yo Ma and Daniil Trifonov, among others, in recent days. Normality has a price, the difference between Taiwan and the United States described by a friend traveling between the two countries:

“I was shocked that no one took my temperature or asked SFO about it. In Taiwan, they take your temperature, record your information; they will follow you for the next two weeks. Your clothes and luggage are sprayed, even the bottom of your shoes, before getting into a COVID-clean taxi.

Viola player Matt Lipman arrives at quarantine hotel | Credit: Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society

Wu Han and David Finckel are the artistic directors of CMS and [email protected], whose 2020 season has been postponed for a year, and is still hoping for permission to resume performances next summer, even as many organizations postpone again. Among the directors of CMS, the cellist Finckel remains in New York to maintain the fort there.

Leaving Thanksgiving behind, pianist Wu Han and the other CMS musicians rode through what has been described as a mind-boggling roller coaster ride to Taiwan marred by the hurdles of obtaining visas, complying with Taiwanese guidelines and international and respect always- change air transport regulations.

Center for the Arts in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, where the concerts on December 4 and 5 will take place

The musicians from New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle and Seoul navigated one-on-one obstacle courses in Taiwan during the resurgence of the coronavirus pandemic, supported by CMS staff, all working remotely from home. Once quarantined in individual hotel rooms for 14 days, the musicians report their temperature to their respective contact tracers four times a day. Behind closed doors, a musician said the situation reminded him of being in a conservatory dorm again, practicing in isolation. All at the service of the cause as described by Wu Han:

This is the second year of our Discovering Chamber Music series in Taiwan, and I’m delighted to see that, thanks to the great efforts of presenters and supporters, the series is getting deeper and broader this year. We will again have a very busy schedule, with concerts, masterclasses and awareness-raising activities, after finishing our 14-day quarantine at the hotel, of course.

The Weiwuying Kaohsiung National Arts Center, a major presenter on the tour, not only organizes two concerts, but also organizes an educational program for elementary school students and masterclasses for conservatory and music department students. It will be a wonderful opportunity to bring chamber music to many different parts of the community.

One of the two concert programs will be presented at the Taipei National Concert Hall by Bach Inspiration Music and Culture Association. We were also invited to visit three universities to give lectures, chamber music demonstrations and masterclasses. And at the end of the tour, we look forward to a special collaboration with musicians in Taiwan.

Poster advertising the CMS concert | Credit: Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society

The tour programs are generously rich and fascinating. For example, the December 11 concert in Taipei:

— Ravel: Introduction and allegro for harp, flute, clarinet and string quartet
— Ernst von Dohnányi: Quintet No. 1 in C minor for piano, two violins, viola and cello
— Purcell: “Nymphs and Shepherds” for four cellos by The Libertine (arr. Michael Finckel)
— Tomás Luis de Victoria: O magnum mysterium for four cellos (arr. Michael Finckel)
— Jacob Obrecht: “Tsaat een Meskin” for four cellos (arr. Michael Finckel)
— Mendelssohn Octet in E flat major for strings, op. 20


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