Oliva Tsui – an award-winning conductor and violinist who spent 27 years as a tenure member of both the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and the Los Angeles Opera – made a dramatic career switch this year. She pivoted from musician to multimedia producer.
“In the beginning (of the pandemic), we were all kind of lost – people lost jobs, businesses closed, isolation, depression all of that,” she said.
Tsui sees the arts in a transformational period.
“Every decade, there’s so much new that comes in,” she said. “But in the 21st century … technology is moving fast but as far as art and music (not so much).”
Tsui intends to remedy this with her forward-thinking startup, production company Arts Plenum.
“With the inspiration of reaching out to a younger and broader audience, I started a group, and we are creating an opera production utilizing high-tech augmented reality,” Tsui said. “This one-hour opera titled ‘Journey to the Center of the YOUniverse’ has already gained attention and support from various organizations, including our own L.A. Opera.”
Tsui is simultaneously developing a musical incorporating film and augmented reality titled “Dragonwings,” based on an award-winning novel by Laurence Ye. She pulled together a team of accomplished collaborators — screenwriters Keith Resnick and Gregg Daniels; artist Marcos Lutyens as stage director; and composer Kristopher Carter — to breathe life into this uplifting story depicting a family of Chinese immigrants’ life in San Francisco during the early 1900s. She is collaborating with two companies, Illusion Factory and Sizzle, on the project’s visual and audio effects.
Born in Shanghai, Tsui studied violin at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. She relocated to the U.S. in 1986 and has lived in the Glendale area since 1998.
Tsui began appearing as both conductor and soloist with the International Chamber Orchestra in 1997 and has guest-conducted the Sofia Philharmonic in Bulgaria; the Congress Orchestra of St. Petersburg Philharmonic Society of Russia; and the National Symphony Orchestra of Mexico.
From 2001 to 2010, she played with the Glendale Symphony Orchestra at the Alex Theatre. In 2006, she become conductor. Tsui became the only woman, the youngest person and the only Asian ever to lead the orchestra.
Living in the Glendale area has served Tsui well creatively, poising her in the center of the action with access to the Alex, Pasadena’s Ambassador Auditorium, L.A. Music Center and Walt Disney Concert Hall downtown, and the Hollywood Bowl.
There is entrepreneurial precedent for Tsui’s latest venture. She was founder and artistic director of Los Angeles Virtuosi Association, which she established in 2005. In 2015, she co-founded the Silicon Beach Philharmonic & Chorale and the Silicon Beach Music Academy.
Now, Tsui seeks to challenge the “traditional way of presenting shows and operas with high tech reality. … It fits with the pandemic – combining big opera and symphonies with online streaming with high-tech.”
Tsui admitted that she didn’t even realize that she was turning into a producer until one of her collaborators referred her as one.
“I never really thought of it as a title,” she said. “I let my creativity guide me wherever I go. I’m used to wearing different hats.”
According to Tsui, Los Angeles Opera Co. intends to co-produce the opera “Journey to the Center of the YOUniverse” with her production entity, ArtsPlenum. L.A. Opera will provide all performers and the company’s platform.
“We are still working on funding the high-tech part (to be created by) Illusion Factory and Sizzle,” Tsui said.
As for “Dragonwings,” Tsui is currently in the process of seeking funding.
She said that COVID has forced people to “readjust and reflect and reorganize and restructure” their lives and she thinks her “Dragonwings” product will seize the moment.
“This is a real story,” Tsui said. “I am very passionate about this project, because not only it paints a picture of immigrants achieving the American Dream, but also reflects (issues surrounding the current wave of) anti-Asian hate crimes. It’s about time to recognize and acknowledge the contributions of the often-quiet, hard-working Asian-American community.”
– Michael Aushenker