The Story of Gaspar Yanga: Gabriela Ortiz, Tambuco, & Gustavo Dudamel at Disney Hall on Sunday October 27


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Jan Karlin & Gabriela Ortiz discussing Gaspar Yanga in Coyoacán April 2015.

There is only one good way to respond to a great idea coming your way.

Just say “Yes.” And this next step is essential, say that “yes” with immediate enthusiasm. The devilish details will come, one way or the other, as the project develops, but avoid resolving all those difficulties. Focus on saying “yes.”

The challenge? You need to have the experience to be able to distinguish between just a good idea and a truly great idea. Or in the more colorful words of Frank Zappa, “Most people wouldn’t know a great idea if it walked up and bit ‘em on the ass.”

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HANOISE! The Fifth Season of the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble Begins


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Members of the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble.

It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop. Confucius

Days are long but years are short. The last short five years bear witness to many long days of hard work, resulting now in the inspiring progress of my friends and colleagues in the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble. I’m proud to announce our impressive fifth anniversary season, HANOISE!

International collaborations define our fifth season, as we build new friendships and strengthen old partnerships with each concert. We’ll be working with two Vietnamese ancient music groups, the Phú Xuân Ensemble of Huế and the Đông Kinh Cổ Nhạc/Ancient Ensemble of Tonkin of Hà Nội as well as members of the Hong Kong New Music Ensemble in March of 2020. In October 2019, members of the Ensemble Modern in Germany and Arditti String Quartet will join my friends in concerts both in Hà Nội and Hồ Chí Minh City, sponsored by the Goethe Institut. The season opens Friday September 6th at 20h00 at the Vietnam National Academy of Music as we present The New Yogyakarta Contemporary Ensemble and concludes in April 2020 with a final concert I’m looking forward to conducting.

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Liquid Tiramisù: An Introduction to Luscious Egg Coffee Spots in Hà Nội


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The luscious egg coffee of Hà Nội at Loading T Coffee.

“You and Jan are Hanoians now, no longer outsiders anymore,” said our friend Vũ Nhật Tân, a few days before our recent Hà Nội residency concluded in April. He was quickly seconded in French by Đàm Quang Minh. “Monsieur Jeff et Madame Jan, nous marchons toujours ensemble!”

I continue to slowly absorb our most recent residency with the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble. Always SRO concerts, important media interviews, long range planning meetings for an ever brighter future, new friends met and old friends brought closer, even progress with the labyrinth of first pronouncing and now speaking Vietnamese.

And always memories upon memories of the amazing cuisine of Việt Nam!

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1,000 Dragons Rising: In the Path of the Ancestors Triumph for the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble


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The world premiere of Kim Thủy Hỏa by Vũ Nhật Tân.

”Bác Jeff!” breathlessly whispered one of my Vietnamese colleagues, hurriedly finding me back stage as we were all getting ready to perform. “We must wait to start the concert. We have over 1,000 people trying to find seats, more than the auditorium can handle. Uncle Jeff this never ever happen before!”

In the Path of the Ancestors indeed proved to be the right title at the right time for the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble. Post concert noise and chatter continues to flood the city’s cultural discussions while both Vietnamese national and international television networks can’t seem to get enough of me, resulting in very good media exposure for a new music group in its fourth season.

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The 10th Anniversary of the Manila Composers Lab in The Phillipines


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The triumphant members of the 10th Manila Composers Lab.

“I feel like I’ve just visited the Bayreuth of the Phillipines,” I said to my gracious host, composer and ethnomusicologist Ramón Pagayon Santos. He’d invited us over for an expansive morning and afternoon conversation, including lunch, the day after the final concert of the 10th anniversary of the Manila Composers Lab.

One critical aspect of my 2019 residency with the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble are my visits to the new music neighbors of Việt Nam. Before arriving in my second home here in Hà Nội, I’ve made fresh contacts with new friends in Singapore and met composers in Chiang Mai and Bangkok, Thailand. Before heading home to California I will go to Kyoto in late April after the conclusion of Hà Nội’s fourth season, to follow-up with many friends in the new music world based in Japan’s ancient capital.

I am already convinced, however, that visiting the 10th anniversary of the Manila Composers Lab will undoubtedly be the biggest highlight. I was utterly blown away visiting the unique world of the Phillipines, a place like no other on earth.

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In the Path of the Ancestors with the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble


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National treasures of Việt Nam, Thanh Hoài and Xuân Hoạch.

In the Path of the Ancestors is my next concert with the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble. My friends here always find wonderful and poetic titles for our programs, they can’t do otherwise. In a long career devoted to new music, conducting over forty world premieres, numerous recording sessions, securing commissions, animating second performances, planning tours and collaborations, this concert at 20h00 in the Grand Hall of the Việt Nam National Conservatory of Music on Friday March 22, 2019 still looms as a milestone.

Three generations of composers are coming together. My Hà Nội New Music Ensemble will be joined by a cast of national treasures, whiz-bang technology, guests from the Hong Kong New Music Ensemble, and the light bearing Ancient Ensemble of Tonkin/Đông Kinh Cổ Nhạc led by Đàm Quang Minh. Cue national and international television broadcast by the major network of Việt Nam, VTV1!

For a new music concert? For a new music group four years old? Yes. After thirty years of new music work in the United States, this Vietnamese recognition is, trust me, a genuine milestone.

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A New Generation: From Hamburg to Hà Nội with Lương Huệ Trinh


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Our first meeting at Public Coffee in the Neustadt District of Hamburg.

Nothing is random. In June of 2017, on our way to take in the conclusion of the opening season of the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg with Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder conducted by our friend of over forty years, Kent Nagano, I noticed a Facebook post of a young Vietnamese student who was part of a team contributing a technology component to a Hamburg Staatsoper production of Henry Purcell’s Dido and Æneas.

That got my attention for all types of reasons! 

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Canals & Rivers: How I Fell in Love with Bangkok, The City of Angels


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The Lat Mayom floating market near Bangkok.

The essence of Bangkok lies beneath the surface and its physical appearance.” Composer/pianist Pang Vongtaradon

The clichés surrounding big cities always have a kernel of truth. But to let stereotype define the home of millions of people, pick any major metropolis you like on the globe, and I think you’ll understand why, to me, hyperbole and sweeping generalizations are cynical or boring, or both. Jumping to conclusions is not great exercise.

I never thought I’d understand Bangkok. At first it is only big and only confusing. There is the cliché of constant tropical heat.  Then, and what is often a visual deal breaker for many first time visitors, there is the ever present brutalist transit system. Street level exhaust fumes are epic. Bangkok is a city where crossing the street resembles a pedestrian level version of ten lanes of a freeway in Los Angeles or an afternoon stroll in the Lincoln Tunnel.

And I just fell in love. How?

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The 25th Anniversary of the Tambuco Percussion Ensemble in México City


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Tambuco celebrates 25 years, with guest pianist Ana Gabriela Fernández.

The spirit of percussion opens everything, even what was, so to speak, completely closed.” – John Cage

Ricardo Gallardo and I have been partners in new music projects for a long time. We got started because of an introduction by American icon William Kraft, have received four Grammy nominations for our collaborative CD recordings, Southwest Chamber Music toured México multiple times, at UNAM and in Guadalajara, Tambuco has come to Los Angeles multiple times, to both Herbert Zipper Hall at the Colburn School and REDCAT in Walt Disney Concert Hall.

We’ve even tracked each other down in Japan!

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“The Ancient is New & The New is Ancient” at L’espace in Hà Nội


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A silhouette of my friend Hương Lan in Huế.

I have been trying not to view Japan as an absolute but as a duality, otherwise the tradition does not come alive but remains an unavoidable antique.

In 1989 Toru Takemitsu wrote for me an essential article, Sound of East, Sound of West. His perspective gives the serious reader a magnetic compass for navigating the shifting soundscapes of our musical world. And like any map locating an unknown destination, my dog eared copy of this East Meets West article, a transcription of a lecture Takemitsu delivered at Columbia University in New York City, has been read and re-read more times than I can count.

On Saturday night December 1st, 2018 at 20h00, the Institut-Français Hà Nội sponsors the ongoing collaboration of the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble and the Đông Kinh Cổ Nhạc/Ancient Ensemble of Tonkin at L’espace at 24-26 Tràng Tiền near the Hà Nội Opera House in the Hoàn Kiếm District. Thank you, France!

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