Transfigured Schoenberg in Việt Nam

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Rehearsing Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night in Hà Nội.

”I’m satisfied with what we’ve accomplished tonight,” I said to my hard working friends in the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble after two and half hours rehearsing the complexities of texture and harmony in Schoenberg’s epochal Transfigured Night. “Would like to go home early?”

”No,” came a unison answer. “Can we just take a break and keep working?”

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Street Food Heaven: A Tour of Jalan Penang Road & New Lane Hawker Stalls

THANK YOU!!!!! I am celebrating over 25,000 visitors in 150 countries to my blog “Sound Travels” by reposting my delicious work horse post about Jalan Penang Road in Georgetown, Malaysia. At over 2,000 readers this post continues to draw an international audience everyday. You keep reading and I’ll keep writing! THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!

Sound Travels with Jeff von der Schmidt

image The 1885 Eastern & Oriental Hotel in Georgetown.

During the time I was in the UNESCO World Heritage City of Georgetown on Penang Island in Malaysia, I didn’t recognize the big impact it would exert on my life. But as my memory takes over from those experiences with the Straits of Malacca, I know that I’ll never be the same again.

Not only are the peoples and religions of China, India, Pakistan, Burma, Bangladesh, or Sri Lanka all mixed up with the remnant of former British Malaya in a dazzlingly vibrant textile of culture. What is now apparent, to the world’s intangible benefit, is a vibrant and alive composite cuisine that, for me, changed my taste forever. There is no going back. I’ve crossed a food Rubicon because of Malaysia.

Salt and pepper will never be the same again.

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Black Cardamom & Star Anise at the Đồng Xuân Market in Hà Nội

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The alley leading to the Đồng Xuân Market.

There are elements of Vietnamese culture that invest significantly in symbolism. Colors. Numbers. Days of the week. Seasons of the year. Phases of the lunar cycle. I-Ching astrological fortune tellers play important and still visible societal roles. Your given name has a deeply considered poetic meaning.

And the cuisine of Việt Nam?

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Thoughts on a Winter Moon with the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble

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A dreamy winter’s day in Hà Nội.

No matter how long the journey, the pattern of progress always returns to one step at a time. After spending the Christmas and New Year Holiday season at home in Pasadena, cooking up a lot of delicious storms and seeing scores of friends and neighbors, I’m excited to be back in Việt Nam for another extended residency with the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble, making each little step we take count towards achieving a world class ensemble in Southeast Asia.

And we all need a little help from our friends. In the case of my work with the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble, that means creating a collection of like minded people slowly chipping in from Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Paris, Kyoto, México City and Tokyo to offer help and guidance along the way.

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Forest Chants & Mountain Walks With New & Old Friends in Kyoto

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Meeting Maki Takafuji for the first time at Seiryu-den in Kyoto.

The city of Kyoto can be a paradox. The functional train station, workaday streets and boulevards, the normal comings and goings of its citizens, the overall grey quality of most of the recent architecture, all can elicit a potentially ambivalent response. Kyoto is a UNESCO World Heritage City with an extraordinary endowment of timeless shrines, temples, mind boggling handicrafts, legendary ceramics, world class tea and sake production, the legendary home of Noh and Kabuki, and maintains all the splendor of the once ancient capital of Japan. At first appearance, however, these wonders seem very hidden, as if the greatness of Kyoto is itself wrapped in a confusing furoshiki of the modern world.

But whereas the Vatican in Rome is housed in the magisterial architecture of the Renaissance, the sibling city for Buddhism in Kyoto is an ongoing interaction with nature. You will experience more open doors framing a view of nature in a Zen Temple in Kyoto than any Catholic Church in Rome.

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Finding Tambuco in Japan: “Are Those Bamboo Gamelans I Hear, Mr. Bond?”

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With Maki Takafuji at Sanzen-in Temple in Ohara.

”Jeff, it’s interesting, after all our projects together, that we are now talking here about music and culture in Onjuku, Japan,” said my friend Ricardo Gallardo of the Tambuco Percussion Ensemble during an early morning coffee looking out on the Pacific Ocean.

“You and Jan must meet my friend Maki Takafuji when you go to Kyoto. She lives there, teaches in Nagoya and is a great advocate for new music, and she commissioned Steve Reich for the famous Nagoya Marimbas.

But before we get to Kyoto, I should to tell you about why Ricardo and I were talking on the Pacific coast of Japan in Onjuku.

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The New Music Gathering Asia with the Hong Kong New Music Ensemble

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We’re always happy to be in Hong Kong!

My extended family nostalgia appears spontaneously as soon as I set foot in Hong Kong. When I was a little boy, a man named Harry Woo often watched me for my parents at our family restaurant at 2601 West Sixth Street in Los Angeles. Harry was their loyal dishwasher and short order cook. On what has, over time, become for me a fateful Saturday afternoon in the 1960s, he showed me a letter he was writing to his family in Hong Kong with his Cantonese calligraphy.

I’ve never recovered from that moment. Harry’s letter to his parents in Hong Kong written in Cantonese taught me the world was a bigger place than I’d ever imagined.

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A Third Season Opening Triumph for the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble

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Opening night curtain calls in Hà Nội.

”We are friends! Chúng ta là bạn!” said Thanh Hoài in a stage whisper as we reached out to hold each other’s hand, joining together the entire cast of Kim by Vũ Nhật Tân. Receiving the amazing response from a capacity audience for the collaboration of two of the new outstanding arts organizations in Việt Nam, the Đông Kinh Cở Nhạc/Ancient Ensemble of Tonkin and the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble, was a night to remember for us all.

How successful, you ask? Let me put it this way. My return flight is now booked. After recharging at home in California for the Christmas holiday season, I will return to Hà Nội for more hard work and important next steps in January 2018.

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The Bamboo House Rehearsal

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A happy Bamboo House moment with Thanh Hoài and Đàm Quang Minh.

“Mr. Jeff, you must come to rehearse with us in the Bamboo House!” said my friend Đàm Quang Minh in his charming mix of French and broken English. “There you will learn about the real Vietnamese ancient music avec moi et Monsieur Tân.”

I’d been hearing about the Bamboo House with its seemingly legendary status since I arrived in Hà Nội in September. Perhaps it was an inner sanctum for rehearsal and discovery? An urban oasis? On the outskirts of the city?

“Mr. Jeff, you and Jan must first go only to Chùa Láng, et d’accord, nous marchons avec Monsieur Tân à Bamboo House,” continued my friend Minh.

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The Eternal City of Huế

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Eternal Việt Nam and the Sông Hương, the River of Perfume, in Huế. Photo by Lan Hương.

It has been eleven years since I visited the city of Huế, considered the Vatican of Vietnamese Buddhism. Despite the horrific battles fought here in 1968 during the Tết Offensive, a calm spirituality infuses the area. You glimpse this on the long highway road from Đà Nẵng. Sandwiched between busy shops and food stands are more Buddhist temples that I could count.

The language is different. The cuisine is different. The atmosphere is different.

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