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2015 Media Coverage

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Taiwan’s Little Giant Chinese Chamber Orchestra enjoys exchange – Georgia Straight, June 24, 2015

by Alexander Varty

Taiwan’s Little Giant Chinese Chamber Orchestra will display diversity in four shows in Vancouver, a city its conductor calls a hub for intercultural music.

Vancouver just might have the edge on Amsterdam, but we’re not talking about herbally enhanced smokes, brownies, or gummy bears here. Instead, we’re looking at music, another area in which the two great ports share some common ground. More specifically, we’re looking at intercultural music, in which performers from different ethnic groups and regions come together to exchange knowledge and sound.

“Amsterdam and Vancouver are the best two cities for intercultural music, for me,” says Chih- Sheng Chen, and he should know. As artistic director and conductor of Taiwan’s Little Giant Chinese Chamber Orchestra, he travels the world, bringing both traditional and contemporary Chinese music to enthusiastic audiences everywhere, but also seeking out composers to write for his band, instrumentalists to collaborate with, and new techniques to develop.

He’s found all of those right here in B.C., and Vancouver is well on its way to becoming his second home.

“In Taiwan, most of the players are Taiwanese,” he says in a Skype interview from Taipei, alluding to the fact that his native country is one of the more ethnically homogenous places on Earth. “But in Vancouver, there are so many different ethnicities. You have maybe Korean, maybe Indian, maybe Iranian musicians to play with. There are a lot more opportunities for exchange, and more variety—it’s more diversified.”

Some of that diversity will be on display during Little Giant’s four upcoming performances here: one focusing on new music for Chinese instruments; one exploring jazz-influenced improvisation; one a collaboration with the B.C. Chinese Orchestra; and one designed to introduce local musicians to their Taiwanese counterparts.

First up is a must-see concert at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, one of our city’s loveliest performance venues. Two premieres are on the bill: the local debut of Vancouver Inter- Cultural Orchestra mainstay John Oliver’s Scenes From an Intercultural Marriage, which Little Giant commissioned last year, and the first performance of an as-yet-untitled work from B.C. composer Jin Zhang, inspired by the fast and fiery percussion music of China’s Tu minority.

A day later, on Sunday (June 28), several Little Giant members will join erhu virtuoso Lan Tung at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre for a TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival–sponsored workshop that compares and contrasts Chinese and western approaches to improvisation; audience members are invited to bring their own instruments and take part. After that, the musicians will run out to Burnaby and switch gears, working with the B.C. Chinese Orchestra in a Taiwan Impression concert of Chinese classics.

Things end with another jazz-fest-sponsored event, a free Canada Day concert in which the Taiwanese players will be joined by Tung’s Proliferasian band, a cross-cultural improvising group that includes trumpet star J.P. Carter.

“Having improvisers from Vancouver playing with them, it’s kind of like giving them permission to do crazy things, like play more noise,” says Tung, who’s been helping translate. “They don’t usually get to do this, and it’s amazing to see everyone smiling and having a great time.” Chen concurs; bringing Taiwan to Vancouver is fun, he says, but bringing some Vancouver freedom back to Taipei is even better.

The Little Giant Chinese Chamber Orchestra plays the Dr. Sun Yat­Sen Classical Chinese Garden on Saturday (June 27). The B.C. Chinese Orchestra joins the LGCCO at Burnaby’s Garden Village Church on Sunday (June 28). Proliferasian and the LGCCO play Performance Works at noon on Wednesday (July 1).

Follow Alexander Varty on Twitter @alexandervarty.