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Report on the Performance of “or/and” - A Chamber Operatic Poem by Shih-hui Chen and Monique Truong

Concert "or/and"

Concert "or/and"

Chen Shih-Hui

Chen Shih-Hui
Image Credit: David Long

Monique Truong

Monique Truong
Image Credit: Haruka Sakaguchi

News from Nov 09, 2022

As part of the Taiwan Lecture series at the Heidelberg Institute for Chinese Studies, the Worldmaking Project “Epochal Life Worlds: Man, Nature and Technology in Narratives of Crisis and Change" was happy to host a performance of a 60-minute chamber operatic poem for soprano and chamber ensemble, by Shih-hui Chen, the composer-in-residence at the Heidelberg Center for Asian and Transcultural Studies.

The concert took place on the July 3, 2022, at the Neue Aula of the University and included a pre-concert talk between the composer as well as director Doug Fich and Barbara Mittler, project lead of “Epochal Life Worlds” and professor for Chinese Studies at Heidelberg University.

The chamber operatic poem is entitled or/and and engages with one of the most pressing questions of our time: that of identity. It follows the journey of a composer who is confronted with different aspects of her identity, as a mother, a daughter, a Taiwanese and an American. As Shih-hui Chen explained in the talk, the poem is her attempt at reconciling her experience as a Chinese from Taiwan in the United States, where she is a minority, and her life in Taiwan where she is a member of the Chinese majority vis-à-vis the indigenous population. It is a very personal piece that also touches upon the composer’s relationships with her mother and daughter which are both intertwined with her experiences in Taiwan and abroad. In the piece, the composer finds her voice only when she accepts the seeming contradictions of her immigrant identity. Eventually, she chooses the inclusive “and” over the divisive “or.” As the text states: “The purpose of ‘and’ is to join; … ‘and’ does not take sides!” The poem thus provides a powerful take on the way we perceive and narrate the world and the people around us and makes a plea for considering differences as enriching rather than dividing.  

About the Composer

Immigrating to the U.S. in her early twenties, Taiwanese-American composer Shih-Hui Chen is fascinated by the narratives at the intersection of identity, culture, and tradition. In her works, she seeks to cross boundaries between music and society, between the music of distinct cultures, and between music and other art forms. 

Shih-Hui Chen has worked with Philadelphia Orchestra, Cleveland Symphony Orchestra, Utah Symphony and National Taiwan Symphony Orchestra. Recognition of her work has come from institutions that include: American Academy in Rome, Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and American Academy of Arts and Letters. She is currently on faculty at the Shepherd School of Music, Rice University.

About the Librettist

Monique Truong is the Vietnamese American author of the award-winning novels The Book of Salt (2003), Bitter in the Mouth (2010), and The Sweetest Fruits (2019), with German translations published by C.H. Beck Verlag. Recipient of a John Dos Passos Prize, John Gardner Fiction Book Award, Guggenheim Fellowship, U.S.-Japan Creative Artists Fellowship, and NYPL Young Lions Fiction Prize, among others, Truong is a former refugee from S. Vietnam, essayist, intellectual

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