How Taipei Music Academy & Festival Found A Home at SFCM

Cho-Liang 'Jimmy' Lin headshot

The annual intensive—launched in 2019 by acclaimed violinist Cho-Liang Lin—quickly pivoted locations to San Francisco following changes to health regulations in Taiwan.

Taipei Music Academy and Festival (TMAF) founder Cho-Liang “Jimmy” Lin landed in a challenging predicament two months before the festival’s start. Taiwan—a bright spot of health and safety throughout 2020—changed its health regulations following a surge in COVID-19 infections. Obliging with the guidelines meant that concerts and educational activities could not move forward in Taipei in July. Lin weighed his options and grappled with the thought of cancelling the intensive altogether.

Luckily, a suggestion by guest conductor Leonard Slatkin, a last-minute phone call with SFCM President David Stull, enabled because of the conservatory’s new relationship with Opus 3 Artists, and a tour of The Bowes Center changed the course of this year’s festival.

Launched in 2019, TMAF is an immersive experience for talented young musicians ages 15 to 30 interested in a short intensive where they learn from and work side-by-side with world-class faculty. It’s a dream organization for acclaimed violinist Lin, who has championed emerging artists for decades.

“I've run several festivals in my career and I’ve learned that music is not only a performance art, but also serves a larger purpose of becoming an educational legacy passing endeavor,” says Lin, who serves as music director of La Jolla SummerFest and the Hong Kong International Chamber Music Festival.

Academy participants select to focus on chamber music or chamber ensemble, attend coaching sessions with top musicians and then rehearse and play with the pros as part of the festival orchestra. Master classes are available for those interested in solo repertoire as well as opportunities to build professional skills with mock orchestra auditions and orchestral excerpt tutorials.

Since the festival is all about immersion and performing side-by-side with top faculty, it’s paramount that it happen in person. When Lin was faced with Taiwan’s reinstated lockdown in May, Slatkin came to the rescue with a clever suggestion.

“[Leonard] and I are both represented by Opus 3 Artists and he said, ‘Why don't you call San Francisco Conservatory because now they have acquired Opus 3 Artists and maybe they can help,’” recalls Lin. “I was actually passing through [San Francisco International Airport] on a transfer, so I picked up the phone and called David Stull and within five minutes we had a basic agreement to potentially host TMAF at the Conservatory this summer. Suddenly, there was a ray of hope.”

Stull appreciated the desire to continue the festival as well as the struggle to find a safe space to keep the music going.

“The Taiwan Festival unites a spectacular array of the foremost artists in the world with a wonderful group of students,” said Stull. “Providing a home for this important gathering is an honor for all of us, and in particular at this critical point for the arts. This is one of many ways that we have realized the tremendous potential of our partnership with Opus 3.” Last year, SFCM sent members of the Telegraph Quartet to Taiwan to work with students studying remotely as well as to launch a chamber music festival called ChamberFEAST (which ran in November 2020).

Following his initial conversation, Lin met with Stull and Associate Dean Hank Mou and toured the premises of the forthcoming Bowes Center and 50 Oak Street. He decided immediately that with the Conservatory’s infrastructure and plentiful resources the festival show would indeed go on. A partnership was born.

Lin and his wife, Deborah, then became jacks of all trades handling the herculean effort of transferring the fully planned festival from Taipei to San Francisco. This included (among many other duties) finding sponsorship opportunities in the U.S., licensing pieces of orchestral music that would best serve the players in SFCM’s recital halls, inviting additional SFCM students and faculty into the intensive after others were unable to attend due to travel restrictions, and even working with the Violin Channel to stream two of the concerts.

For the concerts in Hume Concert Hall on July 31st and August 4th, audience members should be prepared to show proof of full vaccination against Covid-19. All members of the TMAF and SFCM community are fully vaccinated and the health and safety of all staff, performers, and guests is the highest priority.

“This year’s festival has become a real synergy between the Conservatory and the TMAF,” says Lin. “It’s really great, because I was able to tap into SFCM’s resources and now we have five Conservatory students training with us and several alumni will join as extra players.”

One of the SFCM faculty added to TMAF’s roster is Stephen Paulson, principal bassoonist for the San Francisco Symphony. “I just called Steve Paulson out of nowhere and said, ‘Can I invite you to lunch?’ says Lin. “During lunch in Hayes Valley, I told him all about my vision and TMAF curriculum and by the end of lunch he said, ‘Yes, I'm on board.’”

Some of the other TMAF faculty include David Chan, concertmaster of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, SFCM faculty member, Opus 3 Artist, and celebrated pianist Garrick Ohlsson, as well as Jeffrey Khaner, principal flutist, and Richard Woodhams, former principal oboist of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

TMAF kicked off on July 25 and runs through August 8, with orchestra concerts planned on July 30 at Stanford's Frost Amphitheatre, July 31 and August 4 at SFCM’s Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall, and August 7 at SFCM’s Barbro Osher Recital Hall. The July 31 and August 4 concerts will be live streamed on The Violin Channel.

In addition to planned concerts as part of the partnership with TMAF, the festival invited members of the SFCM community to attend two seminars given by Leonard Slatkin on July 27 and July 28. The first is called “Getting out in the world: A reality check on auditions, stage fright and the economy” and the second is called “Sight and sound: Translating the notational messages.”

Watch the TMAF@SFCM concerts on The Violin Channel.