Taiwan Was a Covid Haven for Performers. Then Cases Flared.
At many venues, attendees were required to provide their names and phone numbers to be used for tracing in case of an outbreak. Masks and temperature checks were required. Some concert halls barred the selling of food and drinks. Seats at some spaces were staggered to resemble flowers, in an arrangement that came to be known in Taiwan as “plum blossom seating.”
Despite the vigilance, there were occasional scares. More than a hundred people were forced to quarantine in March of last year after coming into contact with the Australian composer Brett Dean, who tested positive for the virus after performing in Taiwan. The incident was front-page news in Taiwan, with some people fuming that Dean — whose “Hamlet” is scheduled at the Metropolitan Opera in New York next season — had been allowed to perform even though he had a cough.
Lydia Kuo, the executive director of the National Symphony Orchestra, which collaborated with Dean, said the scare taught the orchestra the importance of maintaining strict health measures even when infections were near zero.
“We were facing an unknown enemy,” she said. “We were lucky to face this reality very early.”
Taiwan’s still-active cultural scene attracted talent from around the world over the past year when many artists were without stable work and confined at home. There were visits by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the German organist Felix Hell, and Ma, the renowned cellist, who chartered a flight to the island for a tour in November.
Many musicians with roots in Taiwan have also returned, some for an extended visit. Ray Chen, a violinist, came back in August at the urging of his family and has taken part in about 20 live concerts, master classes and music education outreach events since then. He said he was struck by the care people showed toward one another and the widespread adherence to public health rules, even when Taiwan went months without any reported infections.
“Everyone is willing to play a part,” Chen said. “Everyone values life.”
Taiwan’s strict approach has not been popular in all corners of the artistic world. After the outbreak this month, some artists questioned the government’s decision to close performance venues, concerned that it would hurt performers’ income.