Taipei Symphony makes Strathmore Debut with Pride and Passion

Marco Borggreve

Taiwan’s Taipei Symphony Orchestra offered up a vibrant and celebratory performance Friday evening at the Music Center at Strathmore, showcasing its talented musician corps with national pride in a program spanning three centuries and three continents.

Under the baton of guest conductor Jahja Ling, the 91-member orchestra played with a sonorous sound in its Washington Performing Arts debut, striking a warm balance between the radiant strings, majestic brass and glowing winds in Leonard Bernstein’s “Overture to Candide.”

In commemoration of its 50th anniversary, the Taipei Symphony programmed a work that it had commissioned in 2002: the Double Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Orchestra, composed by compatriot Gordon Shi-Wen Chin. The four-movement composition is a sonic adventure of rhythms, intricate sonorities and emotions. Conductor Ling, who premiered the concerto when he was San Diego Symphony’s music director, guided the orchestra through a colorful and intensely focused performance.

Featuring Taiwan-born, U.S.-based violinist Paul Huang and Taiwanese American cellist Felix Fan — for whom the concerto was written — the orchestra supported the interplay between the violin’s sweet musings and the cello’s frenetic machinations in the opening “Drifting Shadow.” The two musicians complemented each other well, with Fan’s butterscotch tone and Huang’s lyrical lines flowing with ease. Their meandering melodies in “A Flowering Sacrifice” were beautiful yet unsettling, thanks in part to the ghostly glissandos in the strings, the sounds of paper crumpling and slowly ripping, a bass drum beating like a heart and water pouring and swirling in bowls. Ling threaded these effects gently beneath the soloists, adding to the movement’s primordial quality. Spirited runs in the orchestra heralded “In Expectation,” which evolved into a whimsical waltz. The musicians dove into “Yearning: A Sweet Torture” with operatic verve. Their runs and riffs propelled the soloists to a peak where violin and cello traded emphatic statements before agreeing on a joyous ending.

Ling needed no score to conduct Brahms’s Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68, and the orchestra gave it an assured, in-the-moment performance. A rousing encore of a traditional Taiwanese folk song brought the concert to fine conclusion.

Grace JeanWashington Post