, , , , , , , , , , , ,


Asian Ensemble Workshop in Hong Kong brings together Manila and Hà Nội.

The Asian Ensemble Workshop in Hong Kong is an inflection point, at least in foundation speak. In plain English this June 2018 workshop is the start of something big!

From June 22 to 24 and sponsored by the Hong Kong New Music Ensemble, these workshop meetings are discussing side-by-side projects deepening artistic connections between the Hong Kong New Music Ensemble, the Ripieno Ensemble in Manila, and the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble. The goal is to get started with collaborative projects during the 2018 and 2019 seasons, building on the strengths of each city, formally establishing an international network between Hong Kong, the Philippines and Việt Nam.

In case you were wondering, this regional Southeast Asian network didn’t just fall from the sky fully formed in the last few days. And though Hong Kong is not officially in ASEAN, the city does function as a geographical fulcrum. A flight from Hà Nội is only about an hour, the same from Manila. I’m happy to provide some necessary background.


In Hong Kong last October, moderating the first New Music Asia Gathering.

The idée fixe of my colleagues in Hà Nội is a desire for international recognition, a shared national ambition to have their country validated culturally. That’s all fine and well as a dream, but how to you do that? What are the steps needed? Snapping your fingers or just dreaming about engagements doesn’t work out very well. There’s an excellent chance you don’t start at where you’ll finish. Step one is to embark on a serious long range plan.

So when Jan and I received our appointments in August 2015 as the first American artistic advisors to Việt Nam with the mission to guide the development of the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble, we set about slowly laying regional groundwork.

We booked a flight from Hà Nội to Hong Kong. And then to Japan. And then later to Paris and Hamburg and Berlin. In other words, we started early on to get the message across that change for new music was in the air in Hà Nội.


November 8, 2015 meeting with Sharon Chan and William Lane in Hong Kong.

Experience was also on my side. I now know from over thirty years of successful projects that that “let’s meet over coffee” first contact is the best way to get started. I prefer a hug to a like on Facebook, a phone call to a text. Project development takes time to incubate, you have to begin with having a relationship before you advance to your interest.

And one thing does indeed lead to another. By November 2016 I began expanding the repertoire in Hà Nội, with a Vietnamese premiere of Dérive 1 by Pierre Boulez. The concert was sponsored by the Insitut-français in Hà Nội, which requested a representation of French repertoire. My technical gamble paid off. Sharon Chan became curious as to a performance in Hà Nội of a piece, even a short one, by Boulez, which got the ball rolling. William Lane, the artistic director of the Hong Kong New Music Ensemble had, I’m rather certain, a formidable experience in Lucerne with Boulez. And William and Jan play the viola, not a coincidence either. Relationships began to form, and easily.


Vũ Nhật Tân, Sharon Chan and Jan at a Cộng Cà Phê in Hà Nội on November 3, 2016.

When Jan and I received an invitation from Sharon and William in Hong Kong to moderate the first New Music Asia Gathering in October of 2017, we were thrilled and happy to accept (and you can search my posts for more information in another blog). We were bowled over by the performance of the Hong Kong New Music Ensemble, which owned every piece on their milestone tenth anniversary program conducted by Lio Kuokman. Lio went to the Curtis Insitute and has been an assistant conductor to the Philadelphia Orchestra. Todd Tarantino of the MATA Festival in New York City was also there, and Jan and I met Patricia Erika Poblador and Joseph Hernandez from the Ripieno Ensemble in Manila.

How do projects come together? Step by step by step.

Relationships first. Interests second.


October 28, 2017 and the first New Music Asia Gathering in Hong Kong.

Never the less, Jan and I were surprised that upon our return to Hà Nội in January 2018, William Lane would come to hear our next Hà Nội New Music Ensemble concert, and of course this gave us the opportunity to talk up more planning storms. And we had one key conversation that I’ll share in this post.

The major issue facing Hong Kong, Hà Nội and Manila is similar, but of course with different expressions and characteristics. That major issue is to create a genuine identity for new music in countries that were former colonies of European powers. And since nothing in Asia is an accident, William and I have a shared perspective about the topic at hand.

We both easily agree that there is no reason for these ensembles to mimic Western new music groups. The two of us are in a good place to understand this, he’s from Australia and I’m from California. So we have the advantage of being close to the displaced Europe of our home countries, but we are also decidedly not European.


With William Lane at a Cộng Cà Phê in Hà Nội, February 2018.

During this visit to Hà Nội, William noticed our young violinist, Vũ Thị Khánh Linh, playing quite well in a piece by Nguyễn Thiên Đạo. William then invited her to come to Hong Kong for a set of exploratory meetings where she represented our group. What a nice surprise!

Step by step by step one thing leads to another.


Vũ Thị Khánh Linh of Hà Nội and Patricia Poblador of Manila in Hong Kong.


Hà Nội and Hong Kong in our apartment as Jan heals from a small broken foot!


Vũ Nhật Tân and Sharon Chan at Cộng Cà Phê in Hà Nội.

And so when Sharon Chan came to Hà Nội to hear our March 2018 concert (I’ve an earlier blog post about the Schoenberg peformance of Verklärte Nacht) she brought with her the invitation to Phạm Trường Sơn and Vũ Nhật Tân to come to Hong Kong for the Asian Ensemble Workship going on now. This visit was a visit between friends, where relationships were developed and interests arose easily.

And there is something important about having a coffee together.

In an uncertain world, at least one thing is for sure. Hà Nội provides the greatest coffee in the world at Cộng Cà Phê. In fact, I’ve often suspected that this new Asian network is because William and Sharon need to replenish there cupboards with this delicious Vietnamese coffee, at least they’ve pleaded with me to bring a few pounds to Hong Kong with me in the past!

Trust me, jet lag tastes great in Hà Nội!


The coffee that built the Asian Ensemble Workshop.

And so this exposition of our Asian ensemble network symphony comes to a close.

Moving on to why these groups exist is a big next step, as well as what they will do, which begins at the Asian Ensemble Workshop in Hong Kong June 22-24. Here’s a brief synopsis of the concept that I hope will determine the programmatic content.

“Shame is not a concern of European civilization.” Pramoedya Ananta Toer

The title of my post, Gongs and Bamboo, is a homage to a compact disc I enjoy of the grandfather of new music in the Philippines, José Maceda. Maceda went to college here in Los Angeles at UCLA (where the archive Balinese devotee Colin McPhee is also found).  I’ve written often of the Vietnamese cultural relationship with Paris, with their grandfather figures Nguyễn Thiên Đạo and Tôn Thất Tiết. In fact, Nguyễn Thiên Đạo, who passed away in November of 2015, has received a historical marker on his Paris home just this last week. I’ve talked at length with Hong Kong composer Charles Kwong about the British residue in his hometown and how the mainland dragon appears from Beijing.


Composer Charles Kwong of Hong Kong.

The Philippines were a Spanish outpost that Madrid administered through México City, a subject Jan and I know well because of our long relationship with the Tambuco Percussion Ensemble. The original 16th century Spanish goal proposed to Philip II was to use the Philippines as a spring board to conquer China, the country that was a constant theme of European avarice and extraction. The Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, though under the employ of the Spanish, would lose his life trying to sail around the world in Cebu, the Philippines. These are very deep and very treacherous ocean currents.


The coast of Cebu where Ferdinand Magellan was killed.

The international network under discussion this weekend in Hong Kong represents new beginnings out of an extractive colonial past with the British for Hong Kong, the French for Việt Nam, and the Spanish for the Philippines. The Dutch colonial past in Indonesia, the land of the spiritual gamelans that would turn the head of Claude Debussy, was referenced by my quotation from Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s Buru Quartet. Colleagues from Jakarta could eventually join our network of ensembles, forming a regional quartet. The need to understand and move forward from these colonial ghosts is inspiring and long overdue. Seen through this Asian perspective, my friends in Hong Kong, Hà Nội and Manila are truly new voices on the international cultural scene. I’m inspired to assist them turning the tables of perception about the complicated history of their truly mesmerizing part of the world.


With the cast of Kim by Vu Nhat Tan in October, 2017.

I’m well aware of the Hà Nội collaborative project being part of the Hong Kong discussions. The Five Elements is a projected full concert experience combining the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble with the Ancient Ensemble of Tonkin, with music by Vũ Nhật Tân inspired by a contemporary poem about climate change by Nguyễn Duy, an icon of Vietnamese literature, and Duy lends his full support to this project. The performance in October 2017 of the first movement, pictured above, was to a wildly enthusiastic and capacity Vietnamese audience. Our shared goal is to rebrand Việt Nam with a project that is, finally, not about a war. The next steps for The Five Elements are underway as I write this blog, with two more movements planned for my next residency in Hà Nội.

There are other truly compelling new personalities coming forward in the next few years. Culture is accumulation, which means that each new generation is in a position to reinterpret the past. I am deeply committed to these young composers from Việt Nam and the Philippines, and am of course open to meeting more regional personalities (for example Jonas Baes, the Ripieno director). This group is now studying abroad, which is important to do if it is at all possible, in any field. And when they return home, a new energy will come home with them I’m sure.

I love new characters. Here are thumbnails of Lương Huệ Trinh and Nguyễn Minh Nhật of Việt Nam and Feliz Anne Reyes Macahis of the Philippines.


Lương Huệ Trinh is studying in Germany.

Once I finish this blog, I’ll move on to learning the score of JIJI by the immensely talented Lương Huệ Trinh, who is studying in Hamburg, Germany and plans to return this autumn to Hà Nội. The Vietnamese premiere of JIJI is planned for early 2019, and I’m looking forward to conducting her music with the Hà Nội Music Ensemble. By contrast her teacher, Vũ Nhật Tân, had to wait seventeen years for pieces he wrote in Cologne as a young composer to be played by Vietnamese musicians. So progress is already measurable for Trinh’s generation. In plain English, Trinh is the real deal.


Nguyễn Minh Nhật and Gilbert Nouno meet in New York City.

Another bright Vietnamese light of this new generation, Nguyễn Minh Nhật, will finish his study this year at the Manhattan School of Music in New York City. I’ve conducted a few of his works already in Hà Nội. You can easily search my blog for more information on this talented young composer.

Nguyễn Minh Nhật is pictured here with French composer Gilbert Nouno, at a performance in New York City of Boulez’s Répons. Gilbert teaches at the Royal College of Music in London and is on the staff of IRCAM in Paris, as he was the sound designer for Pierre Boulez for the last decade of Boulez’s career.

Gilbert and I are working on various ways for him to become involved with the work of the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble. We met in Hamburg where he was part of the sound team for Boulez’s Répons conducted by my best friend, Kent Nagano, so it is fortuitous that Lương Huệ Trinh is also in the Hanseatic capital. Gilbert has expressed interest in being the group’s technical advisor, we’ve met a few times in Paris for discussions, and we’re working out logistics. Paris is never far away when you deal with Việt Nam.


The gifted Feliz Anne Reyes Macahis is studying in Graz, Austria.

The scores I have already studied by Feliz Anne Reyes Macahis are compelling, and I’m looking for many more in my inbox this summer. Feliz will be in residence at Royaumont in France this summer, has developed a presence in Cairo, Vienna and Graz. She studies in the home town of Franz Schubert, so we share an Austrian musical education and we both speak fluent German. Feliz is now working on an opera and, based on the reviews I’ve read, she’s making quite an impression on some very hard to win over critics in Europe.

And, no surprise here, Feliz and Lương Huệ Trinh already know each other. Must be something about the cold freezing European winters making friends for fellow ASEAN composers studying abroad!

The story of the Asian Ensemble Network has a long way to go, with many more posts to come. Indeed it’s a story just beginning. But each journey starts with a single step, and I’m happy to write about the Asian Ensemble Workshop in Hong Kong taking place the weekend of June 22-24.

I’ll close this first chapter with two contrasting yin and yang photos of two violinists, Vũ Thị Khánh Linh of Việt Nam and Patrica Poblador of the Philippines, who as you know from this post met earlier in Hong Kong in advance of the current workshop.


Hà Nội New Music violinist Vũ Thị Khánh Linh.

The first photo of Vũ Thị Khánh Linh captures the potential of the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble. In nine trips over fourteen years, I’ve never known the Vietnamese to give up. That was a lesson learned the hard way by foreign invaders from China, France, Japan, France again, the United States, Cambodia and China again. Dressed in a traditional áo dài of white, indicating she’s a student, Linh is asleep floating on water in a lotus pond, embracing her ancient past with a lotus flower by her right side and her contemporary future with her violin on the left. She appears to be dreaming, subconsciously aware of the Buddhist prayer beads on her right wrist. I’ve been in Việt Nam enough to know that the country is a definition of style, of complications and mystery, secrets and dreams, all floating in a lotus pond.

And my other photo is of violinist Patricia Poblador from the Philippines. Can you say joie de vivre in Tagalog?!


Patricia Poblador demonstrates the energy of the Philippines.

Perhaps someday she’ll come out of her shell, but this photo is a start! Isn’t Patricia a perfect contrast to her Vietnamese colleague? And vice versa? Yin and yang.

I hope these two photos demonstrate that we all have something to learn from each other. Each person comes through crystal clear in these intentionally contrasting photos. Choosing is, for me, the wrong path. Proud of everybody working together!

I’ve often talked about a new music wave building out of Southeast Asia.

Well, here it comes. You don’t have to read between the lines.  I’m happy to tell you that the Hong Kong New Music Ensemble, Hà Nội New Music Ensemble and the Ripieno Ensemble of Manila are getting started at the Asian Ensemble Workshop planning collaborative projects for an exciting future beginning in 2018-19. More details to come!

Calm. Sustained. Jumping. Energy.

That’s a combination I can work with. No wonder I’m recharging my battery at home in California. I’ve already got a good idea about what the future holds.

After all, now that I’ve finished writing this post, I’ve need to get back to studying JIJI by Lương Huệ Trinh.

Best, best, best,