The 100th Day of Mourning: An Elegy for Vũ Nhật Tân


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The mountain top of Tản Viên.

On Tuesday July 21, 2020 during a hot Southeast Asian summer, I received the fateful text we’d all been preparing for since a cold February winter. Best friend and charismatic composer Vũ Nhật Tân, aged 49, had at 21h04 finally released his body and passed on to his next life after a long and difficult battle with cancer.

Today, Wednesday October 28, 2020 is the 100th Day since Tân’s death and an auspicious day for remembering the departed. Called “Tốt Khốc” or “The Last Cry” the 100th Day is part of a series of Vietnamese Buddhist rituals that have been strictly observed. Indeed, there are a group of Buddhist monks meditating on his spirit daily for the next decade preparing Vũ Nhật Tân for a more positive reincarnation.

For eight months Jan and I were truly on the other side of the world.

The Silence of Nôm Calligraphy: Memories of the Tết Lunar New Year


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Craftsman Era sunset glows on “Good Health” our Nôm calligraphy scroll.

As we say a “good riddance” to the chaotic Year of the Boar and as the more hopeful Year of the Mouse approaches on Saturday January 25, 2020, my thoughts and dreams return easily to 2018. That was the year I experienced my first Vietnamese Tết Lunar New Year in Hà Nội, the Year of the Dog.

“Anh Jeff, we want to show you and chị Jan the real Việt Nam!” said our good friends.

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When Crixus Was Our Neighbor: Growing Up in West Hollywood


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Hollywood Walk of Fame Star for our neighbor in West Hollywood.

Artists, writers and musicians always create good communities.

New York City has Greenwich Village. México City has Coyoacán. New Orleans and Hà Nội have their French Quarters, though with wildly different characteristics. Paris has the Left Bank, enough said. San Francisco has North Beach, a Beat Generation epicenter. Shanghai has the French Concession, home to Sun Yat Sen, Zhou Enlai and the first meeting of the Chinese Communist Party.

And Los Angeles has West Hollywood, when I grew up a heady juxtaposition of the Sunset Strip with Igor Stravinsky and Aldous Huxley, side by side with the glamor of movie stars and their all nighters at Chasen’s, where my mom worked as a waitress.

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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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