Taipei, Taiwan -- The Baltimore Symphony and music director David Zinman gave a concert here last night that would have made any orchestra proud.
The symphony's performances of Dvorak's "Carnival Overture," Barber's Violin Concerto and Brahms' Symphony No. 1 drove a near-capacity audience in this city's magnificent Chiang Kai-shek Concert Hall wild with enthusiasm.
The crowd demanded curtain call after curtain call, and received nTC three encores in exchange. It was only after the BSO players followed Zinman off the stage that the audience finally ceased cheering.
The cheers were well deserved. The Dvorak piece was as detailed and as precise as it was brilliant and exuberant. The Brahms symphony was compelling in its progress from the spacious opening, with its thundering timpani strokes, to its majestic close. The security with which the orchestra accompanied violin soloist Anne Akiko Meyers in the Barber concerto enabled her to play with even more than her usual brilliance and depth of feeling.
Two days earlier, in its second and last performance in Seoul, South Korea, the orchestra had played almost as well in a concert that included a riveting rendition of Beethoven's Symphony No. 7. It was so good that Kim Doo Ryong, South Korea's minister of culture, described the BSO's virtuosity as "unprecedented."
"I am not exaggerating," Mr. Kim said. "We have had many great concerts by visiting orchestras in Seoul. This one tops them all."
If the BSO sounded better in Taipei than in Seoul, that may be because members of the orchestra gave their best in a hall that made them sound their best. With the possible exception of Berlin's Schauspielhaus, Chiang Kai-shek may be the best-looking and best-sounding modern hall in the world.
Its colors are rich and tasteful -- magnificent mahogany sidewalls beautifully matched with faux- marble balconies, a richly textured ivory ceiling from which hang dazzling chandeliers, and a phenomenal-looking organ that pleases the eye with its slate-blue pipes.
It has acoustics to match. Listening to a concert here is a sensuous experience. The hall vibrates like a fine instrument and makes listeners almost feel the sound come up from the floor through their toes.
Chiang Kai-shek sounds like a great 19th century concert hall because it is designed like one.
It has the traditional shoe-box shape of Boston's Symphony Hall and Amsterdam's Concertbegouw. It has enough textured surface to make the sound warm without becoming muddy. And it has enormous space with the relatively small seating capacity -- 2,000 compared to Meyerhoff's 2,400 or the Kennedy Center's 2,800 -- that many acousticians believe is part of the secret in achieving great sound.
Clearly, no expense was spared in building the hall, and its setting further demonstrates the high esteem in which the Chinese hold Western classical music.
It is situated next to Taiwan's equally imposing memorial to Chiang Kai-shek (1887-1975), the former president of China who created the state of Taiwan when he was driven from mainland China by the Communists in 1949.
The hall and memorial are part of a performing arts center that suggests that the arts are one of the important ways in which this nation defines itself.