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2015-10-29 20.13.35

The Hà Nội New Music Ensemble will be at the Manzi Art Center on Friday, May 5.

2017 is the Year of the Fire Rooster. Which means that, if you appreciate the worldview of Asian lunar astrology, it’s a time used best for ambitious planning and strategy. Political events will demonstrate obnoxious “Cock-a-Doodle-Doo’s!”, from missile tests launched by Pyongyang, protest marches in the United States, Brexit negotiations between London and the EU, or another divisive election, this time in France. Add the element of FIRE to your alarm clock and you’ll at least understand the shared global anxiety about coming events.

However focusing, perhaps nervously, on these incendiary realities misses the best opportunity provided by the Year of the Fire Rooster. There is no need to panic.

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At the Los Angeles Women’s March with composer Joan Huang, who was born in the Year of the Rooster.

The best strategy for the Fire Rooster Year?

Actively plan for the fire to burn out, because we are heading toward the Year of the Earth Dog on February 16, 2018. Around the corner, if we prepare now, will be a welcome recapitulation of being grounded and trusted with generous, loyal and devotional action between people. Think of the inspiration of a seeing-eye dog, the protective instinct of sheep dogs guarding against predators, or just a wagging tail of happiness when you get home and you’ll get the point.

And that’s why I won’t be in Hà Nội this week for the next concert of my Hà Nội New Music Ensemble. I’ll be in Paris following the best response to the Fire Year of the Rooster. One of the Vietnamese composers will be in New York City, and a trusted friend from Los Angeles will bring my best wishes to the Manzi Art Center on Friday night, May 5 at 8 PM.

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Jan with our friend Stephen Lesser, a former U.S. Foreign Service diplomat who will be in Hà Nội at the Manzi Art Center on May 5.

I’ve never had interesting projects fall fully formed from the sky. And to connect Paris, Los Angeles, and Hà Nội one needs a long range plan. So schedules being schedules, the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble will pick up speed by playing in Hà Nội and touring to Nanning in Southern China without me, while Jan and I are in Paris, Berlin and Hamburg creating long term plans, while our friend Stephen represents us in Việt Nam, while young composer Nguyễn Minh Nhật remains in New York City studying hard.

So allow me to introduce Nine Chapters of the Rain, the next concert of the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble on Friday May 5 at the Manzi Art Center in Hà Nội.

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Nguyen Thien Dao’s Khơi Trương-Chi will be performed at the Manzi Art Center on May 5.

In the superb acoustics of this restored 1920s French Era villa, Nine Chapters of the Rain at Manzi includes music by Vũ Nhật Tân, Nguyễn Thiên Đạo, Tốn Thầt Tiết and Nguyễn Minh Nhật. And the group will perform its first pieces by Béla Bartók, a set of the bracing Duos for Two Violins.

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With the brilliant dedicatee of Đạo’s Khởi Trương-Chi for dàn bầu, Ngô Trà My, October 2016.

While my friends in Hà Nội will be performing two works of the late Nguyễn Thiên Đạo, my wife Jan and I will be in Paris with a full schedule of meetings building bridges and next steps for the future. In particular, Madame Hélène Đạo will be hosting a dinner with various introductions for us as we discuss questions of legacy between Paris and Hà Nội for her late husband.

Nguyễn Thiên Đạo created a cycle of works for traditional Vietnamese instruments, of which Khởi Trương-Chi is a part. I programmed this piece for the Ascending Dragon Festival in 2010 in Los Angeles, and it was taught to Lệ Chi Bùi by its dedicatee, Ngô Trà My, who I finally met this past October, and I’ll be bringing her best wishes to Hélène Đạo in Paris.  I’m anticipating a complete performance of his cycle of works for traditional Vietnamese instruments in the coming season, as well as a large ensemble piece for the specific instruments of Huế in Central Việt Nam.

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Lệ Chi Bùi, seen here in performance of Đạo’s work in 2010, was taught by Ngô Trà My.

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My wife Jan with flutist Nguyễn Trọng Bằng in his Hà Nội home for dinner, October 2016.

The second work of Đạo’s on the Nine Chapters of the Rain program (my word, don’t my Vietnamese friends create the best titles for our concerts?) is a movement from Tuyến Lửa or Front Lines for solo flute and 6 gongs. Đạo’s œuvre contains many works concerning the Việt Nam War, and we’ve ignored this output in the United States to our great embarrassment. America, there is a lot more to our musical legacy about that experience than George Crumb.

Stay tuned, around the globe!

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Jan and Trinh Đào in Hanoi.

We are lucky indeed to have a powerful and gutsy cellist in Hà Nội, Tuyet Trinh Đào, who takes on a challenge and won’t let go. Having an innate sense of pulse helps a lot! She’ll be performing Trăng by Vũ Nhật Tân and Voyage by Tốn Thất Tiết, which was written for the inspiring Indian cellist Rohan de Salam.

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Nguyễn Minh Nhật with Jan at Walt Disney Concert Hall, December 2016.

Two works by the young generation will also be on the program at Manzi, a solo flute piece and a reprisal of a string quartet by Nguyễn Minh Nhật, who will also not be in Hà Nội for the concert. He’ll be in New York City finishing the school year at the Manhattan School of Music, and then prepare to be in Paris where he will study this summer with Tốn Thất Tiết. Establishing this continuity is critical and Jan and I will be preparing Tiết with many insights about where things are and where they can go when we meet with him in Paris soon.

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Rehearsing Nhật’s quartet in October 2016.

Truth be known I conducted Nhật’s string quartet at its world premiere in Hà Nội this past autumn. But I left my friends with a wish, that once I’d helped them gain confidence, they would discover the piece without my guidance, and that’s precisely the next step taking place this week!

And these wonderful players are taking care of unfinished business, as they hope to give the world premiere of Vũ Nhật Tân’s string quartet Chăm, written in Cologne in 2001 but not played in Việt Nam. Chăm translates to Slow in English and revels in bending glissandi, snapping pizzicati and intricate textures, a tour-de-force premiere is in the way. Though I’m not there, I’ve been helping from my own music room in Pasadena!


Working on Vũ Nhật Tân’s dense textured Chăm in my Pasadena home before sending off an encouraging email to Hà Nội.

How to understand what to do, when, how, why, all these questions are quite easy to write or type into a blog post but require a strategy, a plan to become reality. And studying the external factors of reality, knowing what to do with the Year of the Fire Rooster, means we know that planning and strategy are best right now.

So Jan and I will be in Europe planning and building bridges of cooperation to Việt Nam while my group in Hà Nội proceeds with its concert and a first time tour, to Nanning in China. Numerous blog posts on the way from Paris soon, and we’ll also be headed toward meetings in Berlin and Hamburg, ending with a performance of Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder at the Elbphilharmonie with our old friend Kent Nagano. Come the autumn and we’ll march ahead together again in Hà Nội.

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Hello (next week) from Paris! The Calvados “Château du Breuil” is the preferred drink of the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble planning meetings, and I’ll keep that in my mind.

A friend of mine, James Nash, is a retired director and producer for CBS News, having commandeered the evening news in Los Angeles for 30 years. James and I have a lot in common and bouncing ideas of each other is always a great treat. His lense is focused, and as he described our work to me in Viêt Nam, he articulated something important. Jan and I are acting, according to James, in anticipation of Asia returning soon to the concept of looking and trusting the United States again. We can achieve that goal one step at a time with resolute direction, coupled with the planning instincts dictated by the Year of the Fire Rooster.

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Talking ideas with James Nash, formerly of CBS News, at Peets Coffeeshop in Pasadena.

Being Stronger Together is absolutely true, but given the past two Fire Years, of Monkey and now Rooster, the political idea will perhaps take hold during the Year of the Earth Dog. The motto has certainly not gone away. Sometimes good ideas are just not in the right place at the right time and lessons need to be learned.

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Vũ Nhật Tân anticipating good performances of his music from the Hà Nộii New Music Ensemble Friday May 5 at the Manzi Art Center.

Asia has taught me that change is the only constant. And how Asian thought stands still and moves forward simultaneously is more straightforward for me to grasp as my Vietnamese language skills improve. With no conjugation of past and future, the idea of an ever present NOW is more fluid for me than when I started with the deep water work of learning to speak Vietnamese.

The Year of the Fire Rooster is a good time to wake up. Because we need to be ready to be stronger together when the Year of the Earth Dog arrives on February 16, 2018.

And so douse the Fire Rooster flames with Nine Chapters of the Rain. Maybe finding those poetic titles isn’t so hard to understand after all.

Best, best, best,