Connect with us

Emerging Markets

Taiwan’s stunning new arts centre springs back to life

Published

on


There is a sense of déjà vu. When the world was reeling from the onset of the pandemic in the first half of last year, the first country to pick itself up and resume live concerts was Taiwan. Now the concert halls in the west are shuttered again and the spotlight has turned back to east Asia, where Taiwan is enjoying a full programme of music and the arts.

The handsome National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts, opened in 2018, has just announced a wide-ranging spring season. Chien Wen-Pin, conductor and general and artistic director, has a full diary, with a concert of Brahms and Beethoven coming up shortly, and much more at the arts centre at Kaohsiung, known as Weiwuying, to follow.

“This is the biggest theatre complex under one roof in the world,” says Chien proudly. “It is the newest cultural building in Taiwan and the only one built after the political change in 2000 — a symbol of freedom and democracy. People are eager to have everything that was denied to them previously and in that spirit the centre was designed to be totally open for everyone.”

Chien Wen-Pin at the ‘Weiwuying’

The photos are stunning. Designed by the Dutch firm Mecanoo, the building looks like a vast, elegant space ship that has settled gracefully among a subtropical park in the city’s suburbs. Inspired by the local banyan trees, the open structure welcomes visitors under an undulating roof, inviting open-air performances or street art along its walkways. 

In the 1980s, when the National Theater and Concert Hall was opened in Taipei, all the cultural activities were in the north of Taiwan. By pushing forward with the new arts centre at Kaohsiung, the government has shown that it wants to level up cultural development between the north and south of the island. The new mayor of Kaohsiung has nominated the area around the arts centre for future cultural development; property prices there have been soaring.

Under the arts centre’s wave-like roof lie multiple venues, including Taiwan’s first dedicated opera house, a theatre, concert hall and recital hall. That must be both a challenge and an opportunity to Chien as its director.

“The architects left so many possibilities for creating new work,” Chien says. “In the opera house, we have not only standard opera, but experimental theatre with the audience and performers together on the stage. Similarly, we decided to do something new in the concert hall and that housed a circus, like a traditional circus but without animals. Next year we will hold an organ festival, as we have the biggest organ in Asia. Then there will be an international music festival with visiting orchestras.”

© LHC

As a conductor, Chien says his personal enthusiasm lies firstly with opera. From the mid-1990s he was based at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Dūsseldorf/Duisburg and has been a guest conductor at the international companies in Amsterdam, Hamburg and Berlin. He also scheduled two operas per season during his time as music director of the National Symphony Orchestra in Taipei.

Chien’s proudest achievement, and one for the history books, was the first Taiwan production of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen. In general, Wagner’s epic music dramas, with their political symbolism, have been less popular in Asia than the human passion of Italian opera, and the casts have depended heavily on artists from the west — but not this time.

“I was so proud that we only needed seven foreign singers,” says Chien. “We had always been under the impression that Taiwanese singers were not for Wagner, but after two years’ training we proved they can do it. It is the physical strength as well as everything else. We had a Taiwanese singer as Mime who doubted if he would be up to it, but the German coach told him, ‘Run 3,000 metres every day, and sing while you run.’ It was a big success, helped by the fact that many in the audience were well-prepared, as we ran pre-performance education events and co-operated with a local radio station on talks by musicologists.”

For all that, Chien believes a grounding from Europe will hold its value. The new focus on Asia, he says, is more about the size of its market, especially the huge opportunities afforded in China, whereas Europe will always benefit from the historical depth of its culture. 

“Everything we know about classical music comes from Europe,” he says. “We need to experience the music there, to feel it in our heart, and get to know the people. After leaving Germany, I went back to guest conduct and it was fascinating to see how the air is different there, and how that affects our performances as artists. Europe is not a museum. It will always be alive.”

© Please contact Iwan Baan before usage

At times it seems that the flood of young musicians from east Asia, especially China, will take over, as there has been no stopping the flow of teenage pianists and violinists. Chien, though, who has the experience of conducting widely in China, Malaysia, Singapore, Japan and Korea, has his doubts.

“It used to be like that in Taiwan when I was young,” he says, “but the birth rate is quite low here and there is less interest in becoming a musician these days. People used to play Bach or Beethoven to show they were educated, but now young people have so many more possibilities.” Maybe in that respect as well Taiwan is one step ahead. The future will tell.

www.npac-weiwuying.org/index?lang=en

Follow @FTLifeArts on Twitter to find out about our latest stories first

Listen to our podcast, Culture Call, where FT editors and special guests discuss life and art in the time of coronavirus. Subscribe on AppleSpotify, or wherever you listen





Source link

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Emerging Markets

Petrobras/Bolsonaro: bossa boots | Financial Times

Published

on

By


“Brazil is not for beginners.” Composer Tom Jobim’s remark about his homeland stands as a warning to gung-ho foreign investors. Shares in Petrobras have fallen almost a fifth since President Jair Bolsonaro said he would replace the widely respected chief executive of the oil giant.

Firebrand Bolsonaro campaigned on a free-market platform. Now he is reverting to the interventionism of leftist predecessors. It is the latest reminder that a country with huge potential has big political and social problems.

Bolsonaro reacted to fuel protests by pushing for a retired army general to supplant chief executive Roberto Castello Branco, who had refused to lower prices. This is politically advantageous but economically short-sighted.

Fourth-quarter ebitda beat expectations at R$60bn (US$11bn), announced late on Wednesday, a 47 per cent increase on the previous quarter. This partly reflected the reversal of a R$13bn charge for healthcare costs. Investors now have to factor the cost of possible fuel subsidies into forecasts. The last time Petrobras was leaned on, it set the company back about R$60bn (US$24bn at the time). That equates to 40 per cent of forecast ebitda for 2021.

At just over 8 times forward earnings, shares trade at a sharp discount to global peers. Forcing Petrobras to cut fuel prices will make sales of underperforming assets harder to pull off and debt reduction less certain. Bidders may fear the obligation to cap prices will apply to them too.

A booming local stock market, rock bottom interest rates and low levels of foreign debt are giving Bolsonaro scope to spend his way out of the Covid-19 crisis. But the economy remains precarious. Public debt stands at 90 per cent of gross domestic product. The real — at R$5.40 per US dollar — remains near record lows. Brazil’s credit is rated junk by big agencies.

Rising developed market yields will make financings costlier for developing nations such as Brazil. So will high-handed treatment of minority investors. It sends a dire signal when a government with an economic stake of just over a third uses its voting majority to deliver a boardroom coup.

If you are a subscriber and would like to receive alerts when Lex articles are published, just click the button “Add to myFT”, which appears at the top of this page above the headline.



Source link

Continue Reading

Emerging Markets

South Africa’s economy is ‘dangerously overstretched’, officials warn

Published

on

By


South Africa is pushing ahead with plans to shore up its precarious public finances as officials warn the economy is “dangerously overstretched” despite the recent boom in commodity prices.

Finance minister Tito Mboweni hailed “significant improvement” as he delivered the annual budget on Wednesday and said that state debts that will hit 80 per cent of GDP this year will peak below 90 per cent by 2025, lower than initially feared.

But Mboweni warned that President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government was not “swimming in cash” despite a major recent tax windfall. The Treasury now expects to collect almost 100bn rand ($6.8bn) more tax than expected this year after a surge in earnings for miners. This compares with a projected overall tax shortfall of more than 200bn rand. Still, the finance minister made clear that spending cutbacks would be necessary.

“Continuing on the path of fiscal consolidation during the economic fallout was a difficult decision. However, on this, we are resolute,” Mboweni said. “We remain adamant that fiscal prudence is the best way forward. We cannot allow our economy to have feet of clay.”

The pandemic has hit South Africa hardest on the continent, with 1.5m cases recorded despite a tough lockdown. An intense second wave is receding and the first vaccinations of health workers started this month. More than 10bn rand will be allocated to vaccines over the next two years, Mboweni said.

‘We remain adamant that fiscal prudence is the best way forward’ – South African finance minister Tito Mboweni © Sumaya Hisham/Reuters

Even before the pandemic’s economic hit, a decade of stagnant growth, corruption and bailouts for indebted state companies such as the Eskom electricity monopoly rotted away what was once a prudent fiscus compared with its emerging market peers. 

Government spending has grown four per cent a year since 2008, versus 1.5 per cent annual growth in real GDP. The country’s credit rating was cut to junk status last year. Despite this year’s cash boost, the state expects to borrow well over 500bn rand per year over the next few years. The cost to service state debts is set to rise from 232bn rand this year to 338bn rand by 2023, or about 20 cents of every rand in tax.

The fiscal belt-tightening will have implications for South Africa’s spending on health and social services. On Wednesday Mboweni announced below-inflation increases in the social grants that form a safety net for millions of South Africans. “We are actually seeing, for the first time that I can recall, cuts in the social welfare budget,” said Geordin Hill-Lewis, Mboweni’s shadow in the opposition Democratic Alliance.

The finance minister is also facing a battle with union allies of the ruling African National Congress over a plan to cap growth in public sector wages. South Africa lost 1.4m jobs over the past year, according to statistics released this week. The jobless rate — including those discouraged from looking for work — was nearly 43 per cent in the closing months of 2020.

The South African treasury expects the economy to rebound 3.3 per cent this year, after a 7.2 per cent drop last year, and to expand 2.2 per cent and 1.6 per cent next year and in 2023 — growth rates that are widely seen as too low in the long run to sustain healthy public finances.

“The key challenges for South Africa do however persist, clever funding decisions aside,” Razia Khan, chief Middle East and Africa economist for Standard Chartered, said. “Weak structural growth and the Eskom debt overhang must still be addressed.” 



Source link

Continue Reading

Emerging Markets

Turkey’s Uighurs fear betrayal over Chinese vaccines and trade

Published

on

By


For five days this month, Jevlan Shirmemmet and other Uighur activists protested outside the Chinese embassy in Ankara, where they demanded to know the whereabouts of missing family members in China’s Xinjiang province. But on the sixth day, Turkish police stepped in.

They prevented the activists from gathering outside the diplomatic mission, positioned themselves outside their hotel and accompanied them wherever they went.

The stand-off reflects the difficult balancing act that Turkey, which is home to tens of thousands of exiled Uighurs, must perform with Beijing, not least because it wants closer ties and investment and is reliant on China for supplies of coronavirus vaccines.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who casts himself as a champion of oppressed Muslims around the world, has in the past been a vocal critic of China’s actions in Xinjiang, the north-western region where the Chinese Communist party has interned more than 1m Uighurs, Kazakhs and other Muslims.

“On the one hand, Turkey wants to stand up for us, we know that, we feel it,” said Shirmemmet, 29, whose mother has been detained in Xinjiang since early 2018. “But they aren’t able to. We feel like their hands are tied.”

Jevlan Shirmemmet’s mother has been detained in the Chinese province of Xinjiang since early 2018
Jevlan Shirmemmet protesting in Ankara. His mother has been detained in the Chinese province of Xinjiang since early 2018 © Jevlan Shirmemmet

Analysts say that the plight of China’s Uighurs poses a problem for Erdogan, who is seeking alternative global partners at a time when relations with the west are deeply strained. “They are Muslims, they are Turks, and Turkish voters are sensitive about the issue,” said A Merthan Dundar, director of the Asia-Pacific Research Centre at Ankara University. “The government cannot establish very close relations with China. But it doesn’t want to cut all ties.”

In years past, Erdogan was one of the most outspoken global Muslim leaders concerning the plight of Uighurs, who are seen in Turkey as part of a broader global family of Turkic peoples whose rights Ankara has a responsibility to defend.

But opposition parties have accused Erdogan’s government of toning down its criticism to avoid upsetting Beijing. “Europe and America have spoken out against the oppression of our Uighur brothers in China . . . But there is still not a sound from Ankara,” Meral Aksener, leader of the opposition IYI party, said last month. Turkish officials insist that they continue to raise their concerns with Beijing behind closed doors.

Some figures in Erdogan’s government have advocated for stronger ties with Beijing in order to lure Chinese capital at a time when foreign direct investment from western countries has dwindled.

Investment so far has been limited, with the value of Chinese investment in Turkey standing at $1.2bn in 2019 in terms of equity capital, according to central bank data, compared with more than $100bn from Europe.

A woman in eastern Turkey receives the CoronaVac vaccine. Turkey has ordered 100m doses of the Chinese-made jab
A woman in eastern Turkey receives the CoronaVac vaccine. Turkey has ordered 100m doses of the Chinese-made jab © Chris McGrath/Getty

Ankara is eager for more. The country’s sovereign wealth fund has been courting Chinese investment, and plans to open an office in China in the first half of this year. Ankara also has a swap agreement with China’s central bank that helped to boost the appearance of Turkey’s depleted foreign currency reserves by an estimated $2bn. 

The pandemic has added an extra complexity to the relationship. While Turkey has struggled to procure European-made vaccines, it has a deal in place for 100m doses of the CoronaVac jab made by Chinese drugmaker Sinovac Biotech. Delays to the shipments in December coincided with a decision by China’s parliament to ratify an extradition treaty between the two countries. Turkey has yet to ratify it.

Yildirim Kaya, a member of parliament from the opposition Republican People’s party, said that the ratification of the treaty by Beijing had created “a great deal of panic among Uighur Turks who have escaped from China to Turkey”. In a set of questions posed to the Turkish health minister, he demanded to know if Ankara had faced pressure to ratify the deal to speed up the delivery of the vaccines. Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu reacted angrily to such suggestions. “We don’t use Uighurs for political purposes,” he said. “We defend their human rights.”

Analysts are also sceptical that China would use the vaccine, of which Turkey has already administered 6.2m doses, as such crude leverage. Ceren Ergenc, an associate professor of China studies at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University in Suzhou, believes it is more likely that Ankara was doing Beijing a favour by signing a deal for a vaccine that had yet to be approved in China — and that still has question marks over its efficacy.

“It happened at a moment when China needed not necessarily the money but the prestige in the international system about the credibility of its vaccines,” she said. “There’s a kind of indebtedness or reciprocity — Turkey still needs financial support from China so it did this act of buying the Chinese vaccine that had at the time not yet undergone all phases of testing.”

In response to questions from the Financial Times, the Chinese embassy in Ankara said the recent protests had sought to “smear” China and that their actions had threatened the safety of the diplomatic mission. It strongly rejected the notion that it had used Turkey’s need for vaccine doses as political leverage as “absolutely unfounded conjecture and malicious misinterpretation”.

Still, the episode has left many members of the Uighur diaspora feeling deeply nervous about their place in Turkey. “China sees us as criminals,” said Mirzehmet Ilyasoglu, who joined this month’s Ankara protests to demand information about his missing brother, brother-in-law and four friends. “We hope that this [extradition] agreement won’t come before parliament, but if it is signed then our concern will grow.”



Source link

Continue Reading

Trending