By Gus Denhard
Formosa Baroque, Taiwan’s only baroque period ensemble, is made up of musicians from Taiwan, mainland China, Japan, Korea, and Europe. The ensemble was founded by Yifen Chen, a Taiwanese baroque flutist who has lived and performed professionally in France for the past 10 years. In 2010 she returned to Taiwan to perform a duo flute concert with her husband. The audience was captivated.
“[The audience response] has kept me going back to Taiwan for 10 years. In 2010 I played with my husband, we did 2 concerts. We tried to make it interesting. We used four different flutes in a progression from baroque up to classical music, playing both duets and solo works. I was very surprised by the Taiwanese audience. They had never heard this kind of music. They concentrated.”
In 2012 she returned with a quartet to perform a mixture of French baroque and Bach. They performed four concerts in Taiwan after a premiere in Europe. Again, the audience was welcoming. From then on she was inspired to bring annual offerings to various cities in Taiwan, expanding the ensemble over time to tackle increasingly ambitious repertoire. In 2016 they had grown to 13 musicians, but there was an impetus to expand even further. She discovered that Taiwanese audiences favored larger ensembles, and she also wanted to include larger concert opera performances of works like Rameau’s Pygmalion and Lully’s Passacaille de Armide (see videos).
By 2018, after years of careful planning and steady growth, they were ready for an international tour. Overcoming many logistical and financial obstacles, they performed two concerts in Beijing with support from both the Chinese and Taiwanese governments. The path to this success was smoothed by two Chinese orchestra members, but there were setbacks.
“We got into trouble because of our name, Formosa, which is forbidden in China. Formosa means “beautiful” and comes from the Baroque era, but I did not know it also symbolized “independence”.
They ended up performing with no name, a good solution to a sticky political problem. While the politics can be a challenge, Chen insists that people are people, and notes that the multi-national good spiritedness and excellent artistry of Formosa Baroque overcomes many obstacles.
Of course Covid-19 has put a stop to Formosa Baroque activities for now. Even before Covid, the high costs of travel and limited government support – problems experienced by nearly all early music ensembles – were presenting many challenges. Chen is taking this time to reevaluate with plans to resume concerts in 2022 when it is hoped that a vaccine is available. In the meantime she will continue her freelance work in Europe, starting with a recording project directed by Jordi Savall this July.
Chen feels that presenting the highest quality music is critical to the success of Formosa Baroque. She strives to bring excellent musicians who work well together, believing a high-quality performance is the best advocate for baroque music.
“The important thing to make sure they love it, so I must give them the best.
If they listen to the best they will love it. If I bring a lesser ensemble they will be bored.”