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Violinists Phạm Trường Sơn and Vũ Thị Khánh Linh.

I may be house sitting for a friend in San Francisco this September, but unlike Tony Bennett I’ve left my heart in Hà Nội, Việt Nam!

The opening concert of the 2018-19 season of the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble will get underway on Saturday September 8 at the Manzi Art Space at 8 PM. The first of five programs this season, the most ambitious we’ve planned, begins with a Composer Portrait concert of works for strings by Vũ Nhật Tân, entitled Màu Âm in Vietnamese, Shades of Sound in English, Couleurs des son in French, juxtaposed with ancient Vietnamese music from our friends in the Ancient Ensemble of Tonkin.


With violinist Phạm Trường Sơn and composer Vũ Nhật Tân .

Four works by Vũ Nhật Tân create the focus on solo violin, solo cello, violin and cello duo and string quartet. The concert begins with two works for soloists: Trăng for Solo Cello and Nhi for Solo Violin. Then a wild duo for violin and cello, Méditation, will sum up the first installment of Tân’s works for strings.

And to emphasize the essential and important work of the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble, Nhi and Méditation receive their first performances by Vietnamese musicians violinist Phạm Trường Sơn and cellist Đào Tuyết Trinh on September 8. Things are changing in Việt Nam, one piece and one concert at a time!


Cellist Đào Tuyết Trinh in discussion with Jan Karlin.


Smiles between composer Vũ Nhật Tân and violinist Phạm Trường Sơn.

The concert Màu Âm at the Manzi Center will also continue our collaboration with The Ancient Ensemble of Tonkin, providing contrast and counterpoint between old and new Vietnamese music. One of the many reasons I continue my commitment to the new music scene in Hà Nội is the genuine rapport between these two historically different perspectives and their advocates, which are closer than we in the West experience.


Members of the Ancient Ensemble of Tonkin.

The summation of the concert will be a performance of a major statement piece for string quartet, Châm, which was written seventeen years ago in Cologne, first performed in Hà Nội last February. My players are anxious to put Tân’s music in their repertoire, so this portrait concert is an appreciated building block for a comprehensive repertoire.


After a seventeen year wait, Tân is triumphant with his Hà Nội New Music colleagues!


Hà Nội New Music Ensemble at rehearsal this week: a string quartet of Phạm Trường Sơn, Đào Tuyết Trinh,  Vũ Thị Khánh Linh and Khúc Văn Khoa,

As the calendar moves forward, November will bring a concert celebrating the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Poland and Việt Nam, which will include a work by Nguyễn Minh Nhật and Polish works under discussion.

And though I’m not in Việt Nam now, I’ve been busy connecting with Vietnamese friends all summer. In fact, Nhật has benefited from a summer in Los Angeles, with multiple discussions and long afternoons spent with American icon, William Kraft.

NOW I know why you go to Việt Nam!” was Kraft’s first response after reading a few of Nhật‘s impressive scores. Kraft is not only a great composer but brought his life experience as a performer to his discussions with Nhật and his long tenure in the Los Angeles Philharmonic included performances with all the major figures of the 20th century. Bill was favorite player of Igor Stravinsky, having recorded L’histoire du soldat with the composer conducting.


July 9 first meeting of Nguyễn Minh Nhật with William Kraft.


A transfer of tradition from William Kraft to Nguyễn Minh Nhật.

Following the November concert, we continue our collaboration with the Insitut-français with a program of new pieces for old instruments by Nguyễn Thiên Đạo, The Spritual Element of the Present and the Past, deepening our public and artistic relationship with friends in the Ancient Ensemble of Tonkin. Presented at L’espace on December 1, this program brings us closer to the important story of France and Việt Nam creating new bridges with each other in the 21st century.


The Temple of the Jade Mountain and the Welcoming Morning Sunlight Bridge on Hoàn Kiếm Lake in the Old Quarter of Hà Nội.


Jan Karlin and Đàm Quang Minh at the Bamboo House during the Tết Lunar New Year in February 2018.

Đàm Quang Minh, the leader of the Ancient Ensemble of Tonkin, is passionate about his country. He’s part of an intensifying renaissance of the true Việt Nam, a country finally not receiving history from the outside but generating its own identity. He is keenly interested in the spiritual links of his home country (he lives half the year in Paris and is a French citizen. Việt Nam reamins a complicated place with a complicated history). And so his ancient players will focus on Buddhist music from Việt Nam’s past, an ideal pairing with Nguyẽn Thiên Đạo, who studied under the spiritual guidance of Olivier Messiaen, whose music always comes across to me as mystical, a Vietnamese Messiaen.

Fortunately my correspondence with Madame Hélène Đạo in Paris has resulted in our tracking down all the music composed by the late Nguyễn Thiên Đạo for ancient Vietnamese instruments with his publisher Lemoine/Jobert. Now all this essential music is in Hà Nội. Many thanks to Dương Thị Thủy of the Institut-français who hand carried the music from Paris for us!


Dương Thị Thủy and Madame Thanh Hoài with Jan at L’espace in Hà Nội.


Ngô Trà My performing Khói Trương Chi by Đạo, dedicated to her by the late composer.

I am proud, as in a new music grandfather proud, that these three concerts will take place in Hà Nội while my wife Jan and I are recharging our batteries at home in California. We are all getting ready for exciting projects in the future and my return to Việt Nam in early 2019 will begin an important new phase of institutional development for the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble.

I’ve an earlier blog post about the formal collaboration under construction between our Hà Nội New Music Ensemble, the Ripieno Ensemble of Manila and the Hong Kong New Music Ensemble. The March program of the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble will begin realizing these drawing board ideas, as we will host guest members from the Hong Kong New Music Ensemble to join us. The concert will also include the Vietnamese premiere of JIJI  by Lương Huệ Trinh, who is returning home from studies abroad in Hamburg, Germany. She’s already making a great name and reputation for herself with performances in Europe and Thailand. Trinh and I are often in communication with each other (we already met in Hamburg a few years ago) as I commit her wonderful piece to memory before crossing the Pacific Ocean in early 2019 to return to Việt Nam.


Lương Huệ Trinh, seen here in Hamburg, returns to Hà Nội in October.

And I am honored to conduct the next two movements of Vũ Nhật Tân’s The Five Elements, as the movements for Fire and Water will join Metal bringing us three fifths of the way to completion of a full concert work. So not only am I recharging my batteries right now, but I’m studying up on various subjects before giving full energy to these incredible gear shifts in the new music landscape in Việt Nam. Where Trinh’s teacher Vũ Nhật Tân had to wait seventeen years for Vietnamese musicians to play what he wrote as a student in Cologne, she returns home to a hometown ensemble ready to play!


Vũ Nhật Tân, hard at work in The Five Elements in his home studio.


Full cast bows before a SRO audience for Kim/Metal in October 2017.


With Wilfried Eckstein of the Goethe Insitute in Hà Nội in April.

My 2019 residency in Hà Nội will also include an April performance sponsored by the Goethe Institute, where we had a very successful concert in 2018. There are some exciting ideas under construction with German artists and as these develop I’ll look forward to sharing the plans!

Jan and I are using our time away from Hà Nội studying the utterly complicated Vietnamese language as best we can, continuing in depth reading and research about the history of the entire area (that means you, France, China and Japan), studying scores, refreshing my French more and more, and in general, building up a reserve for the beginning of a big period of artistic growth and expansion together with our Vietnamese colleagues.

As some of you know, we’ve been in San Francisco for a short visit, house sitting for an old friend and checking up on various family members for the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble. So a few photos will help my narrative!


Jan at Caffe Trieste with Võ Văn Ánh, who recently premiered a piece by Vũ Nhật Tân in Houston with the Apollo Players.


In North Beach with Phạm Quỳnh Như, the daughter of violinist Phạm Trường Sơn, she lives and works in San Jose.

Because everything is family with the Vietnamese, either blood or extended. We are always honored to be called grandfather or grandmother, uncle or aunt, to get questions about life and career as well as pitch and rhythm. Pictures never lie, and you can see what I mean from this photo of violinist Vũ Thị Khánh Linh with my wife Jan.


Violinist Vũ Thị Khánh Linh with Jan at a post-concert reception for Metal.

The ties get deeper and the friendships grow from starting by simply developing relationships that now grow into mutually shared professional and cultural interests. So we are ALL sending best wishes across the Pacific Ocean from California to Hà Nội for the opening concert of the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble at the Manzi Art Space on Saturday September 8 at 8 PM!

See you soon! Hẹn gặp lại! Nous marchons ensemble!

Best, best, best,