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Lincoln Center Chamber Musicians Take Show to Taiwan Despite Pandemic

December 2, 2020
Artists with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center perform Tuesday in Taipei ahead of a 10-day tour of Taiwan Photo credit: Wei Zhou

Seven musicians completed quarantines, procured visas to participate in the four-year-old annual tradition

The Wall Street Journal
By Charles Passy

In its five-decade history, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center hasn’t only been a mainstay at its namesake New York venue, it also has proved itself a cultural road warrior, giving concerts in 17 countries and 42 states in the U.S.

And the organization hasn’t ceased its traveling, pandemic or no pandemic.

On Wednesday, the group launches a 10-day tour of Taiwan with seven of the 100-plus musicians on its roster performing works by such masters as Beethoven, Haydn and Ravel in various venues. It is a remarkable effort, given how few artists are touring these days in the U.S. or abroad because of all the closed concert halls and travel restrictions.

But as society co-artistic director Wu Han said, the current tour was scheduled more than a year ago and she likes to keep her commitments.

“I’m not going to cancel on anybody unless they cancel on me,” she said in a video call last week from Taiwan. Along with her fellow artists, Ms. Wu, a Taiwanese native who lives in New York, was completing a 14-day quarantine before the start of the tour, a requirement for foreign visitors.

But that is just one of many hurdles that Ms. Wu and the rest of the musicians have faced.

For starters, the trip to Taiwan was actually part of a larger Asian tour that included concerts in Japan and China as well. But when the pandemic made visiting those countries problematic—in the case of China, the events were canceled altogether—the organization had to deal with the challenge of making a Taiwan trip, with a limited number of engagements, a viable financial proposition.

Fortunately, the Taiwanese presenters, whose venues are indeed open, helped by securing more bookings and finding other ways to defray the costs, Ms. Wu said: “The Taiwanese said, ‘Let’s find a way.’”

It is a point reiterated by Serene Hu, one of the presenters. She said that the tour was significant in terms of continuing what has become an annual tradition, with this being the fourth consecutive year the society has visited Taiwan. But Ms. Hu also said the visit signaled something greater to music lovers and others in Taiwan, which has seen very low infection rates during the pandemic but has still maintained numerous precautions.

“It’s important to continue this cultural exchange but also to reinforce the notion that we are living normal lives,” Ms. Hu said by email.

Still, other challenges for the society emerged, including procuring visas and other necessary travel documents. Not helping matters, said Executive Director Suzanne Davidson, was when a delivery service lost a package sent to one musician and other arrangements had to be quickly made.

Like so many other New York cultural groups, the society has seen its regular schedule upended by the pandemic, with all its Lincoln Center dates canceled. The group has persevered with various online initiatives, including offering some live concerts performed in the city without an audience. It has also cut its approximately $9 million annual budget by about a third to help weather the crisis, according to Ms. Davidson.

The executive director said she wasn’t surprised the group wanted to make the trek to Taiwan, noting that society members have been known to drive through blinding snowstorms to make engagements. “Chamber musicians are a different breed,” she said of their perseverance.