"Friendship Through Music" was the slogan spread across a wall in the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall in Taipei, Taiwan, as a backdrop for the National Symphony Orchestra's historic performance there yesterday. The motif was echoed in two ethnic-flavored pieces added to the originally planned program. The first movement of a Concerto for Pangti (Chinese bamboo flute) opened the program with Chen Chung-Shen as soloist, and Gershwin's splendidly jazzy "Promenade" was played as an encore with Loren Kitt, as always, the impeccable clarinetist.
Otherwise, the program was dedicated to material for which the orchestra and conductor Mstislav Rostropovich have already shown a special flair in Washington performances: Barber's Adagio for Strings, to display the new glow of the violins this season; the Mussorgsky-Ravel "Pictures at an Exhibition" as a virtuoso exercise for all sections of the orchestra, and Beethoven's "Eroica" Symphony, this year's most spectacular demonstration of Rostropovich's growing mastery of that composer.
The concert, seen on WHMM-TV (Channel 32) and simulcast on WGMS-FM, was a historic one: the first television program to be sent to the United States from Taiwan via satellite and the first time anywhere that an American orchestra on tour overseas has had a concert telecast back to the United States. It was not, however, a live telecast as originally planned, because the time would have been inconveniently early for a Washington audience already disoriented by the return to daylight-saving time. The videotaped delayed broadcast had a few technical problems audible in parts of "Pictures at an Exhibition": irregular tape speeds that once or twice made the whole brass section sound like trombones sliding between notes, and an overload that distorted the sound in the "Hut on Fowl's Legs" section when Fred Begun began his all-out assault on the tympani. Besides Begun, a perennial favorite for closeups when the NSO is telecast, the camera focused on many sights that fans of the orchestra have been missing this month and some that cannot usually be seen from many seats in the Kennedy Center: percussionist Albert Merz coaxing a subtle whisper from his bass drum; Hugh Wolff's face, barely visible behind a celeste tucked away in the corner; bassoonist Kenneth Pasmanick in a duet with saxophonist William Wright; trumpeter Adel Sanchez taking a solo; Rostropovich kissing concertmaster William Steck on both cheeks after the "Pictures" and beckoning the horn section to take a collective bow after the "Eroica."
The intermission was filled with clips of orchestra members sightseeing in Taipei and a press conference at which NSO executive director Henry Fogel observed that this was the first visit to Taiwan by an American orchestra since 1966 and "that has been too long a time." Rostropovich talked about the importance of having "human contact with the orchestra . . . you are not conducting instruments, you are conducting human beings."
After a final performance today in Korea, the NSO will return to Washington tomorrow and take a week's vacation before resuming concerts next week.