State musicians expand horizons on Taiwan residency

For the best teachers, the process of teaching also is a process of learning. This was emphatically the case last month for cellist Cordelia Wikarski-Miedel and pianist Craig Sheppard, whose residency at the Taiwan National College of the Arts taught them what can be accomplished these days by top students in Taiwan's new, elite conservatory.

Out went all the old stereotypes about Asian classical musicians — that they're technically excellent but artistically somewhat repressed. These students, aged 16-23, played at what Wikarski-Miedel calls "a very high, pre-professional level," and their ranks include some young players who just might go on to high-level musical careers.

Sheppard adds: "These Taiwanese players show a lot of temperament. They aren't merely technicians. They express themselves."

Wikarski-Miedel, who teaches cello and chamber music at the University of Puget Sound, was invited to give master classes and concerts at the Taiwan National College of the Arts with Sheppard, a University of Washington faculty artist. Both are well-known soloists here.

After launching her international career as winner (with her pianist sister Eleonore Wikarski) of the Munich International Duo Competition, the German-born Wikarski-Miedel later came to Seattle as the wife of the late Rainer Miedel, Gerard Schwarz's predecessor as music director of the Seattle Symphony. Sheppard, who placed second to Murray Perahia in the Leeds International Piano Competition, has played with many of the world's great orchestras and concertized around the world; he was based in the United Kingdom for several years before coming to Seattle.

Sheppard and Wikarski-Miedel arrived in Taiwan to discover a new, modern College of the Arts located in the woods, well outside of the city of Tainan. The conservatory, established in 1995, takes students for a seven-year span (16-23), and is the first of its kind in the country. Its concert hall, which seats 500-600, is acoustically excellent; the practice rooms all have Steinways, and the main concert instrument is a highly regarded Hamburg Steinway.

"The program encompasses the last three years of high school and four years of college," explains Sheppard, who previously gave master classes and concerts at a national school for the arts in Taipei, and regularly tours in Japan.

"It's more of a conservatory atmosphere. They have other classes, too, but the emphasis is on music. Teachers come from all over — from Russia, from Germany. They also have many international artists coming in for master classes and performances."

The results? Sheppard says it's "a wonderful cross-pollination of musical cultures and ideas. The world has to come together this way. We all can learn from each other. At the UW, I bring maps into the classroom every week, and I'm always struck by how little geography most people really know. That must change."

The concert programs in Taiwan, which were well attended and enthusiastically received, went well despite the rigors of jet lag and (in Sheppard's case) a particularly nasty cold virus. So did the master classes, where the cellist's emphasis was on the production of a strong, steady and flexible tone, and on subtleties of bowing and phrasing.

Sheppard, always a demonstrative pianist, threw himself into the master classes with his usual zest. One young Taiwanese pianist was playing a demanding Liszt piece depicting St. Francis walking on the waves, with an eye-opening digital dexterity but not quite the right sound of the rumbling waves in the left hand.

"I suddenly became Sir Georg Solti," laughs Sheppard, who "conducted" the young player as she began to produce the stormy, wavelike sounds he was indicating with his hands.

Next month, Sheppard will be concentrating on his own piano, brought to Meany Theater for the first in a series of recitals in which he will traverse all the piano sonatas of Beethoven in chronological order. The first program in the cycle will be Jan. 7, with more to come on March 17 and May 21 (the last program takes Sheppard as far as the "Moonlight" Sonata). The last four concerts in that series will take place at dates still to be announced in the 2003-04 season.

"Beethoven provides such a journey, such a metamorphosis and a natural progression from the earliest sonatas to the later ones," Sheppard says.

"I've done 40 different recital programs in my career, and all of Brahms and a lot of Rachmaninoff, but I've never done all the Beethoven sonatas before. I'm glad to do them in Meany, my favorite hall in Seattle — I love the wood and the sound I'm able to make in it."

Sheppard also is featured in the Jan. 15 concert of the highly regarded Emerson String Quartet, where he will join the four players for Schumann's Piano Quintet in E-Flat Major.

The next chance to hear Wikarski-Miedel in action will be Feb. 7, when she appears on the UPS Jacobsen Recital Series — playing the Barber Cello Sonata with pianist Keith Ward. She also will be heard in the local premiere of the String Trio, "Cuadrivio para tres Stradivarius," of contemporary Spanish composer Xavier Montsalvatge (1912-2002).

Melinda Bargreen: