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The University of Southampton

World premiere marks University of Southampton’s tour of Taiwan

Published: 6 December 2013Origin: Music
Michael Finnissy & Nicola Heinrich

A special collaboration between the University of Southampton and the Chi Mei Culture Foundation in Taiwan has led to the December world premiere of a new musical composition to be played on some of the world’s oldest and most valuable string instruments.

Professor Michael Finnissy’s Chi Mei Ricercari – written especially for three historic cellos from the world famous collection of stringed instruments - will be heard in full for the first time on 10 December at Taiwan’s National Cheng Kung University in Tainan. Two further concerts will follow, at National Chiao Tung University in Hsinchu on 11 December and at National Taiwan University in Taipei for the celebration of their 85th anniversary on 12 December.

Professor Finnissy’s seven Ricercari will be played by cellist Nicola Heinrich, of Winchester College, on three cellos from the extensive Chi Mei collection. Finnissy, world renowned as contemporary music pianist as well as a composer, will accompany at the piano. The Ricercari–Professor Finnissy says the title can easily be translated as ‘research’ - are unusual because they are meant to played on more than one instrument. Throughout each concert, the cellist will be asked to switch between the three cellos.

Finnissy and Heinrich have been working on the pieces in the UK using Heinrich’s own cello. In early December they will travel together to Tainan, where the Chi Mei collection is kept, to choose three instruments to use in the concerts. The Foundation have agreed to make any of their cellos available, including their two priceless Stradivariuses and an Andrea Amati made for the King of France in 1566—probably the world’s oldest surviving cello. They have also expressed a wish that the Southampton artists will consider using one of Chi Mei’s early British instruments to underscore the special nature of this Anglo-Taiwanese collaboration.

“When I came to compose the Chi Mei Ricercari I imagined these ageing but wonderful instruments waking up for the first time after several centuries and what they might say to each other,” says Finnissy. “I can hear them remembering all of the music that they have ever played and having a conversation or telling us a story about their very first experiences.

“To substantiate this fantasy, I researched the earliest music written for solo cello by Italians Domenico Galli and Giovanni Gabrielli in the 17th century, imagining that they, along with other composers, might be what the cellos would recall from their early years,” he continues. “The resulting Ricercari itself lives in two time-zones – that of the cellos’ memory from the 17th and 18th centuries and that of the questioning piano from the 21st century. These time zones co-exist or, more literally, are superimposed as polyphony and what we are gifted is seven, dreamlike portraits.”

At NCKU and NTCU, in addition to the Ricercari, Finnissy will play a series of solo piano compositions by his junior colleagues and former and present students at the University of Southampton Department of Music. These include National Theatre of Great Britain Head of Music and Southampton Professorial Fellow Matthew Scott and Lecturers Matthew Shlomowitz and Ben Oliver.

At NTU the programme will feature a mixture of Western and Chinese music performed by NTU staff and guests in addition to Finnissy’s Ricercari. This last concert will celebrate the 85th anniversary of National Taiwan University.

“The University of Southampton is a popular destination for students from Taiwan, and we are developing important partnerships with Taiwan’s most prestigious universities. These events celebrate the special relationship between the University of Southampton and the Chi Mei Cultural Foundation,” said Southampton Vice-Chancellor, Professor Don Nutbeam. “We’re particularly thrilled and privileged to be allowed by the Foundation to use three of their extremely rare cellos for our concert series and to share the high quality performance and composition talents of our staff, students and alumni, and our colleague the cellist Nicola Heinrich from our neighbours Winchester College. We are also delighted that one of the performances will be hosted by National Taiwan University in Taipei as a part of their 85th birthday celebrations. We are very proud of our partnership with three of Taiwan’s leading universities and look forward to many more years working together. It promises to be a very memorable tour.”

Michael Finnissy & Nicola Heinrich rehearsing
Michael Finnissy & Nicola Heinrich

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