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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?”

In technical jargon this rehearsal moment could well be a major inflection point for the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble in its trajectory becoming a world class new music group based in Southeast Asia.

In plain English, their request to “keep working” was simply awesome!

So I dug into balancing the most difficult contrapuntal passage in Schoenberg’s masterpiece with this group requested overtime, slowly and with patience (bars 161 to 168 if you’re curious). And yes, the passage was flawlessly confident in performance a few days later, a great accomplishment contributing to an overall wonderful rendition.


Smiles need no translation after a superb Verklärte Nacht.

I’m finally at home in California recharging my batteries after an extensive time period in Việt Nam. Jan and I have just concluded a rewarding eleven week residency with Hà Nội New Music Ensemble. Our activities included two impressively played concerts with SRO attendance. The enthusiasm of the public for our group is fantastic and dependable. Behind the scenes we had numerous long range planning meetings. The future is bright and many plans are already underway for our next trip to Hà Nội!


Seeing is believing: SRO for the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble.

And in now what seems to me an essential experience, we participated in many events, outings and meals experiencing our first Tết Lunar New Year, filling in a critical missing link in our knowledge of Việt Nam. Expect a few posts devoted to this topic soon!


Congratulations from Xuân Hoạch, the Pete Seeger of Việt Nam, as Jan makes her first bánh chưng, a Tết Lunar New Year specialty.

And nothing is random. Perhaps it was a twist of fate, but Jan twisted her ankle and broke a one millimeter bone in her left foot on March 10, which grounded us in Hà Nội for a considerable time.


Jan finally takes a short Old Quarter walk the day before we depart Hà Nội!

And when life gives you lemons?

We made lemonade from her foot injury, giving us all the unexpected opportunity for more exciting Hà Nội New Music Ensemble long term strategy sessions that will soon bear fruit, so stay connected for important developments to come.

Another bonus is that our ability pronouncing, speaking, thinking and conversing in Vietnamese is now firmly at an intermediate level. Three grounded weeks of study, homework lessons and pronunciation tips from our friends pushed us forward!


Thanh Hoài and Minh Gái of the Ancient Ensemble of Tonkin help Jan’s Vietnamese pronunciation while her foot heals.

One significant development of our residency is a tangible strengthening of regional partnerships that occurred over the last eleven weeks. We were pleased that William Lane, the artistic director of the Hong Kong New Music Ensemble, came to hear our January concert, with a follow-on visit by Hong Kong’s executive director, Sharon Chan, who came to our March performance. In between those visits, the Hong Kong New Music Ensemble invited our young violinist in the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble, Vũ Thị Khánh Linh, to a significant set of round table series of meetings in Hong Kong, where she met other regional friends, in particular fellow violinist Patricia Poblador of the Manila based Ripieno Ensemble in the Philippines. Collaborative ideas are flowing back and forth. We’ve all purchased drawing boards together for the coming years!


At the delicious Quán Ăn Ngon in Hà Nội with William Lane of the HKNME.


HNME violinist Vũ Thị Khánh Linh in Hong Kong making round table friends.


Lifting Jan’s spirits with her broken foot in our Hà Nội apartment are Phạm Trường Sơn, Tràn Thư Thủy, Sharon Chan of the HKNME and Vũ Nhật Tân.

Where the West is linear, the East is circular. Where we have grammar and tense, they have vocabulary and patterns. Where all three Abrahamic religions in the West concern themselves with Heaven and Hell, in the East you’ll be back again. And so I’ve learned that the connection to family and culture is very deep water for my friends in Việt Nam.

“Music from the heart, the heart of history. It is our history, our story, our music,” said Hà Nội New Music Ensemble violinist and executive director Phạm Trường Sơn after a persuasive performance of Anti-lumiére by Nguyễn Thiên Đạo. His telling observation is for me a new attitude changing the  outlook of my players.

Đạo left an essential musical testament, with several pieces chronicling the Vietnamese experience of war with America. The vocabulary of his music is demanding, the technique daunting, the impact powerful. We’ve made a start tackling this Vietnamese legacy, which continued in March with an amazing performance of Dao’s Khói Trương Chi for đàn bầu by its amazing dedicatee, Ngô Trà My.

It is not lost on my Vietnamese colleagues that Đạo is laid to rest a few feet from Frédéric Chopin in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. We’re beginning to reconnect the war torn fabric of Vietnamese musical life, one concert at a time. I am honored to help them realize their potential, and the world will do well to pay attention in the coming years.


Hà Nội New Music Ensemble discussing the music of Nguyễn Thiên Đạo.


While we perform in Hà Nội, Đạo’s widow Hélène tends his grave in Paris.


Ngô Trà My in thought before Khói Trương Chi, which is dedicated to her.

And to get into the technical depths of Đạo’s repertoire demands we go step by step. That means acquiring the skills of seminal pieces over the next few seasons that remain new experiences for my Vietnamese colleagues. Our performance of Verklärte Nacht was the Vietnamese premiere of the original sextet version. If you’re wondering why the repertoire is new, consult your history books about the twentieth century and the Vietnam War. They’ve had their hands full since 1975.

Family defines Vietnamese life. So we chose Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht to begin the hard work of broadening the repertoire in Hà Nội for specific reasons. My wife Jan Karlin studied chamber music at Boston University and Tanglewood with Eugene Lehner of the Kolisch Quartet. We are both very good friends of Schoenberg’s family here in Los Angeles, his grandson Randy is on our Los Angeles board of directors. This point was not lost on our friends in Việt Nam.


The Kolisch String Quartet, Eugene Lehner is second from the left.

And to bring everything full circle, when we took our break at the rehearsal I described at the beginning of this post, I checked Facebook. Sure enough, a message I’d published about performing Verklärte Nacht in Hà Nội had caught the attention of the composer’s son, Larry. He had shared my post and wished everybody in Hà Nội well.

And for my Hà Nội New Music Ensemble friends Phạm Trường Sơn, Vũ Thị Khánh Linh, Khúc Văn Khoa, Trần Ngọc Thuý, Đào Tuyết Trinh and Nguyễn Hồng Ánh, how can I describe making contact with Arnold Schoenberg’s family?

Priceless. Inspiring. Life changing. Everybody went home and found that extra bit of practice time needed to create a superb performance.


Confidence taking on Schoenberg comes to Hà Nội!

I’ll be back soon with more posts reporting on our eleven week residency, and a few eye candy blogs are on the way about the amazing Tết Lunar New Year!

Best, best, best,