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World premiere marks University of Southampton's tour of Taiwan

Published: 
9 December 2013

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

Professor Michael Finnissy’s Chi Mei Ricercari, written especially for historic cellos from the world famous collection of stringed instruments, were heard in full for the first time at Taiwan’s National Cheng Kung University (NCKU) in Tainan. Two further concerts followed at National Chiao Tung University (NTCU) in Hsinchu and at National Taiwan University (NTU) in Taipei for the celebration of their 85th anniversary. The University also signed agreements with all three universities to foster closer working relationships and initiate student exchanges.

With Professor Finnissy on piano, the performances of the seven Ricercari featured Nicola Heinrich of Winchester College playing different cellos from the extensive Chi Mei collection for different movements. Amongst the featured instruments were a priceless Stradivarius and an Andrea Amati made for the King of France in 1566 – probably the world’s oldest surviving cello.

With Professor Finnissy on piano, the performances of the seven Ricercari featured Nicola Heinrich of Winchester College playing different cellos from the extensive Chi Mei collection for different movements. Amongst the featured instruments were a priceless Stradivarius and an Andrea Amati made for the King of France in 1566 – probably the world’s oldest surviving cello.

“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, world renowned as a contemporary music pianist and composer. “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 played 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 featured a mixture of Western and Chinese music performed by NTU staff and guests in addition to Finnissy’s Ricercari.

“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,” says Southampton Vice-Chancellor, Professor Don Nutbeam. “We’re particularly thrilled and privileged to have been allowed by the Foundation to use 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 was 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 following this very memorable tour.”

Ends

Music at Southampton

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