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Taiwanese music reinterpreted: Formosa Quartet and Wei Mei-Hui perform in Houston, Texas

  • Date:2023-11-10
Formosa Quartet

As part of the “Spotlight: Taiwan” project, a collaboration between the Taiwan Academy in Houston, the Asia Society Texas Center, and the University of Houston, a special musical event titled “The Music of Taiwan: Formosa Quartet and Wei Mei-Hui” took place on Oct. 26 and 28. This performance featured compositions by Taiwanese composer Chen Shih-hui (陳士惠), created exclusively for the Formosa Quartet, and incorporated the expertise of Taiwanese nanguan specialist Wei Mei-hui (魏美慧). The pieces drew inspiration from nanguan and indigenous Taiwanese music, resulting in a unique blend of traditional and contemporary Taiwanese music.

Among the three compositions performed, two were inspired by nanguan music and represented a distinctive attempt to convey traditional music using Western instruments. The third piece integrated elements of indigenous music with string quartet sound, creating a contemporary and distinctive musical style. The performance was both lively and diverse, with visual backgrounds complementing the music by introducing aspects of Taiwanese indigenous culture, nanguan music, and documentary film excerpts. Furthermore, Wei Mei-hui, a specialist in nanguan, provided live demonstrations of nanguan theatrical movements.

Chen Shih-hui, born in Taiwan, pursued further studies in the United States and earned a doctoral degree in composition from Boston University in 1982. Since 2000, she has served as a professor at Rice University's Shepherd School of Music. She is also the executive director of the "21C: Classical, Contemporary, and Cross-Cultural Asian Music" music festival and a performing arts committee member of the Asia Society. Chen's compositions have been showcased in the United States, Europe, and Asia. In 2022, she received a nomination for Best Arrangement at the 33rd Golden Melody Awards for Traditional Arts and Music, and in 2023, she was honored with the Walter Hinrichsen Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Wei Mei-hui is an actress and theater teacher, currently serving as the Deputy Artistic Director of the Gang-a-Tsui Theater (江之翠劇場). She graduated from Taipei National University of the Arts with a master's degree in Traditional Music, specializing in Liyuan Opera performance and nanguan music. She joined the Gang-a-Tsui Theater in 1993 and has since been involved in various theatrical arts, collaborating with modern theater directors and engaging in diverse forms of performance, including environmental theater, documentary interactive theater, image-based theater, and dance.

The Formosa Quartet was the recipient of the First Prize and the Amadeus Prize at the Wigmore Hall International String Quartet Competition. Renowned American cellist David Soyer has hailed them as “one of the very best quartets of their generation.” The Strad magazine from the UK praised their performances as “spellbinding,” while Gramophone magazine described them as “remarkably fine.”