We arrived in Hanoi in September 2016 to begin the second season of the Hanoi New Music Ensemble. Jeff and I were hopeful that the enthusiasm and accomplishments of the inaugural season would keep the ensemble moving forward — all signs were good!
However, there are challenges forming any new group throughout the globe. Which players are a good match for the demands of new music? How will we prepare and rehearse within players’ busy teaching and orchestra schedules? Where will the concerts be held and how will we find an audience? Who will organize the rehearsals, percussion, and piano?
It is a big puzzle that needs big solutions. Not everyone is suited to organizing all the pieces of concert production. The artistic director, in this case Vu Nhat Tan, determines the program, composes new works, and assists where necessary in production and marketing. Executive director Pham Truong Son is the Superman who organizes the players, rehearsals, distribution of music, and every other part of the puzzle of producing a concert event. And, I would like to note, he is a member of the ensemble as violinist extraordinaire.
Son does it all, including teaching violin and chamber music, running a private music school and performing in other ensembles. I risk embarrassing him, but the entire ensemble greatly appreciates all of his hard work on behalf of new music. I would like to introduce you not only to Son but also to many of our colleagues and friends in Hanoi who make our visits here both productive and fun. It is my desire to provide a more personal look at the musicians who comprise the Hanoi New Music Ensemble (HNME).
Bao Coc has been a dear friend since our first meeting on Southwest Chamber Music’s 2006 tour to Cambodia and Vietnam. He also bonded immediately with Southwest’s clarinetist Jim Foschia, sharing beers and clarinet geek talk, continuing to this day on Facebook. Bao is the person who makes certain that the percussion instruments arrive, the music stands are in place, and that keys are procured for rehearsal rooms.
Everyone here in Hanoi is generous with us on a daily basis. We have fruit for our apartment, cookies and sweets to share, and most important, an introduction to some of the finest food in Hanoi. Bao is no exception. He and his wife have taken us to wonderful restaurants over the years that could easily take their place in Paris or New York.
We also have many home cooked meals. Tran Thu Thuy, Son’s beautiful wife and a well-known singer, is also an extraordinary cook. She never repeats herself and also takes the time to teach us how to make the perfect nem, choose the correct spices for pho, and introduce us to uniquely Vietnamese foods and beverages that help us avoid colds, induce sleep or encourage energy. She not only provides us with the best teas, laundry powder, local honey, dried fruit, delicious cookies and coffee, she even brings us a meal on busy days!
No contemporary music ensemble can survive without an excellent flutist. Nguyen Trong Bang is not only a wonderful musician, but he is also a great cook. Jeff and I enjoyed meeting his family in his stylish apartment over a Vietnamese dinner and he also introduced us to Vietnam’s wine from the beautiful hill town of Dalat. All of our friends’ children practice their English with us, and they are very helpful with our attempts at speaking Vietnamese.
Parties are very important after working so hard to prepare a concert. Our friends go the distance with great food and beautiful locations. Shortly after our arrival last year, the group and other friends had a welcoming party for us at a country home outside of Hanoi. Members of the Vietnam National Academy of Music, the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra, and their conductor Honna Tetsuji, joined the ensemble members for a lovely afternoon in a gorgeous setting. As you can see below, there was certainly enough food, wine and beer!
Cellist Tuyet Trinh Dao is hardworking and delightful. She practices thoroughly and always strives to be better than the day before. She performed an extremely difficult solo work for cello by Ton That Tiet that was written for the cellist of the Arditti Quartet, Rohan de Saram – quite an accomplishment! Trinh inspires everyone around her with her dedication and musical expression.
Because of the repertory demands, we expand the group so that we have other players to share the programs, or fill in if someone has prior commitments. Cellist Duong Giang, who studied in the U.S., also performs with HNME. On piano, Pham Quynh Trang and Tran Tam Ngoc share duties for these concerts. They perform often as a duo, and are very close friends. Other musicians who performed on the first two seasons of concerts include violists Van Khoa and Tran Thuy, cellist Quynh Lephan, and percussionists Fin Vu and Lu Cuong. We also meet many other interesting people in Hanoi, including Mr. Paolo Fazioli, founder of the famous Fazioli Pianoforti company, which has set up a showroom in Hanoi!
Finally, we have our talented young players who are the rising stars of the Hanoi musical community. One of them is Vu Khanh Linh who plays violin with the ensemble and also keeps us entertained with numerous Facebook photos modeling clothes at locations around town. This summer she was in Europe and continued to post gorgeous photos with iconic foreign backgrounds. She is a dedicated player and personifies the young Vietnamese generation that is on the move in the 21st century.
To inspire you to get on the plane to visit this country that we call a second home, I would like to share a photo of the final party of last season. Every member of the group, plus the featured composers, spent hours at a delicious restaurant sharing stories, food and drinks. Gifts were exchanged and promises made to see each other the following year.
I hope you will enjoy this introduction to our friends and colleagues. We know why we keep returning to this special country with its enthusiastic music community. These musicians and dear friends inspire us to continue making music together in Vietnam.