INTERVIEW/Amid pandemic, musicians endure quarantines to perform in Taiwan
By Kay Liu, CNA staff writer
Swedish conductor, composer and trombone soloist Christian Lindberg is an energetic performer on stage who has refused to slow down despite the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Unwilling to be sidelined by the outbreak, Lindberg is one of a handful of foreign artists who have come to Taiwan for scheduled performances in September, and he conducted the Taipei Symphony Orchestra on Sept. 11 in the first of two planned concerts.
That first concert, in which Lindberg also played trombone, was the Swede's first performance on stage since appearing in Malmo, Sweden, in February, and he found it invigorating.
"To come here, to meet the orchestra, to actually stand there, and hear the sound and feel the vibrations, it was like heaven," said the 62-year-old musician in an interview with CNA on Sept. 14.
Coming to Taiwan
Crossing continents to perform during a pandemic may have deterred many performers, but Lindberg said the time was right.
"I think we have already postponed this visit twice because of other things," said Lindberg. "I was looking very much forward to come to this orchestra again."
As he and the orchestra wrestled with whether the concerts should go ahead, his biggest concern was Taiwan's 14-day quarantine for all overseas arrivals, imposed to keep COVID-19 at bay, and whether he could practice his trombone in the hotel.
After he was assured he could, he agreed to come and convinced trumpeter Pacho Flores, a winner of the prestigious Maurice André International Competition, to join him for his second concert, to be held at Taipei's Zhongshan Hall on Sept. 19.
What he did not bargain for was how maddening he found it to be quarantined in a hotel room, where the only human contact he had was with people he described as "space persons" -- hotel staff in hazmat suits.
"I did not know that I was not gonna see one person, that I couldn't open the window, that when I open the door, there was no one there." Lindberg said. "It was a shock for me."
Lindberg said it was comfortable at first, but then he felt depressed because he is a "sociable person" and "likes to be around people."
The assurances that he could practice the trombone also fell through, Lindberg said, because of complaints by "sensitive" neighbors about the noise, forcing him to change rooms twice during his 14-day stay.
To stay active, Lindberg began exercising in the room, starting by walking, then running.
He found some uplifting classical pieces to accompany his runs, and put together an album called "Quarantine Music: Classical Upbeat Music for 10, 30 & 50 Minutes Runners," which was released by his one-year-old record label European Gramophone online.
He eventually built up to run an in-room marathon in four hours and 28 minutes on Sept. 4 just before his quarantine ended as a celebration of the record label's one-year anniversary.
Meanwhile, Flores, who flew in from Spain and was just about to finish his quarantine at the time of the interview with Lindberg, told CNA in an email that it was a new experience for him.
"I love [to] play on stage. So if I had to do [the quarantine], I could do it again," wrote Flores, who will join Lindberg and the orchestra to perform the Swede's "Akbank Bunka" and Joseph Haydn's "Trumpet Concerto in E-flat Major" on Sept. 19.
This was Flores' first experience with a quarantine prior to a performance, and he said he spent time doing "homework" such as recording, composing a new piece, and doing online master classes.
As active as Lindberg is, he did not regret the six-month break from performing because of COVID-19.
"In a way, it was very good for many things," he said. Life without concerts allowed him to eat, work out and sleep regularly, and to become "very clear in my head."
He also got to work on his new venture, European Gramophone, a recording company that has released around 27 albums in the past year.
As to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic's impact on his upcoming concert plans, the musician said he has plans into 2023, because many orchestras have moved previously planned events to later dates.
But apart from a few concerts waiting for him after he returns to Sweden, "all the other engagements are up in the air," he said.
Meanwhile, Flores said he was "waiting for the next concerts, some of them are still canceling," and that planning for future performances has become more difficult.
The reality in Taiwan
Though Lindberg and a few others have agreed to perform in Taiwan, COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the local performance schedule as overseas performers balk over scheduling issues and the 14-day quarantine requirement.
Most performances in Taiwan between March and May were postponed or canceled because of COVID-19 concerns, but concerts with live audiences have generally been allowed since June after the Ministry of Culture eased COVID-19 prevention guidelines.
Despite the opening, groups and concert organizers have had to scramble to reconfigure their schedules because of the lack of foreign artists, and that situation will likely remain the same until more foreign performers like Lindberg and Flores agree to put up with travel and quarantine restrictions.
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