No Boundaries

I have recently returned to Vietnam to begin the fourth season of the Hanoi New Music Ensemble. My husband Jeff von der Schmidt and I are the first American Artistic Advisors to Vietnam, helping to shape the first professional new music ensemble in the country. The group is moving forward quickly, reflecting our former Ambassador Ted Osius’ observation that “one year in Vietnam is equal to ten years elsewhere.”

Jeff conducts the ensemble and I coach the strings as well as guide administrative development. This is our ninth trip to the country since 2006, and we feel that we have a second home here, with dear friends, familiar audiences, and endless stimulation provided by a different culture evidenced through food, music, architecture, and attitudes.

One step at a time

After the inaugural 2012 LA International New Music Festival in Los Angeles, composer-in-residence Vu Nhat Tan turned to Jeff and me, remarking that “Once is not enough!” He was wrapping up six weeks in Los Angeles, courtesy of the Asian Cultural Council in New York City, and we had spent much time dreaming of next steps for contemporary music in his hometown of Hanoi, Vietnam.

Southwest Chamber Music’s historic Ascending Dragon Music Festival in 2010, the largest cultural exchange between Vietnam and the U.S., had left us with many questions about the U.S. Department of State’s goal of identifying a new generation of cultural leaders. Had we accomplished this goal?

Ancient Vietnam in Hue

Madame Hoai hugged me following the performance by the Ancient Ensemble of Tonkin and said in Vietnamese — “America and Vietnam, we are friends.”

With the Ken Burns – Lynn Novick documentary “The Vietnam War” bringing a new perspective to our countries’ shared history, I am reflecting daily about my own personal journey over the past 12 years in this incredible country. My husband and I are honored to have been appointed in 2015 by Vietnam’s Ministry of Culture as Vietnam’s first American artistic advisors. This is a result of many years of work in the country with our ensemble as well as recognizing our assistance in founding the three-year old Hanoi New Music Ensemble.

The International Language

Music is truly the international language, able to be understood and experienced in any country around the world. I learned this on my first trip to Europe as a graduate student and member of the Boston University orchestra which had been chosen as one of ten orchestras worldwide to compete in the Herbert von Karajan competition in Berlin. Under the baton of the late Joseph Silverstein, we won second prize, and interacted with colleagues from all over the world for the two week festival. Before leaving for the tour, Mr. Silverstein admonished all of us to remember that we might be the first Americans the other musicians would meet, and that we were cultural ambassadors for our country. In other words, people would form their opinions of America from each of us.

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