As part of the U-M Fall 2023 Festival of Asian Music, the National Chinese Orchestra of Taiwan came to Ann Arbor and hosted a variety of events from October 1st to 4th. On their last day, soloists of the ensemble performed at Hill Auditorium and showcased various traditional Eastern instruments including but not limited to the Yangqin (dulcimer) performed by Ming-Hui Lin; Dizi (flute) performed by Chen-Ling Liu; Sheng (reed organ) performed by Chi-Mi Chen; Erhu (two-string fiddle) performed by Yi-Fang Wu; and Gehu (four-string bass fiddle) performed by Ya-Tsing Hsu.
It’s difficult for me to describe each of the instruments, since it was my first time hearing them live. While the strings sounded muted, they were incredibly resonant and easily filled the large hall. The Dizi was sharp and piercing, whereas the Sheng blended beautifully in the background. My favorite was the Yangqin, which could produce a variety of clear and subtle textures. Though there was only one person playing each instrument, the music never felt lacking in dynamics and balance.
Their large selection of music shared a common theme of nature or dance. Each piece had a title that gave further insight into the intended imagery, sentiment, and context of the music. Furthermore, details of the historical background and origins of each piece were written in the concert programs. Reading the descriptions beforehand really added to my experience, because it gave me a visual aid to interpret as I listened.
For example, in the opening piece, Queen of Courtesans, each tempo change painted the different steps of a dance; the tremelo of The Butterfly Loves Flowers resembled a butterfly’s beating wings; and the grace notes decorating many of the other pieces acted as falling leaves and flowers.
The most impressive part of the program was the Skylark; the Skylark was a solo piece featuring an instrument called a koudi (similar to a picollo), which is so incredibly small I couldn’t even see it in the soloists hands. As implied by the title, it featured the melody of a skylark. The resemblance was simply uncanny to an actual bird.
Overall, it was a wonderful and unique experience to attend this concert. If given the opportunity, I highly recommend listening to music from other cultures.