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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.


Extensive forty-five minute interview with Thủy Hành of VTV1.

For me, the best way to preserve the old is to support something new. If you only stay on the same road you eventually just get lost. Insisting on only one way, you might one day realize you weren’t going anywhere important in the first place.

My three generations of Vietnamese composers for In the Path of the Ancestors in concert order are Lương Huệ Trinh, Nguyễn Thiện Đạo and Vũ Nhật Tân. The oldest composer, the late Nguyễn Thiện Đạo, is in the center of the concert, surrounded by the next generation, represented by Trinh, and the current leadership generation, represented by Tân. Here in Asia, you go no where without revering those who went before you. You must follow the path they have created, naturally finding your own personal characteristics along the way. It’s a healthy world view and binds the culture together in ways new to me from the West.


The new multimedia leader of Việt Nam, Lương Huệ Trinh.


With the great master Nguyễn Thiện Đạo in November 2013 in Hà Nội.


Working on the new Kim Thủy Hỏa score with Vũ Nhật Tân.

But what ties all these generations together?

There are some obliquely shared stylistic influences, but they are not major. What is certain is that all three studied composition in the West, Nguyễn Thiện Đạo with Olivier Messiaen in Paris in the 1950s, Vũ Nhật Tân with Johannes Fritsch in Cologne and Chinary Ung in San Diego in the 1990s (Fritsch was in Stockhausen’s Aus Dem Sieben Tagen circle) and Lương Huệ Trinh with Georg Hajdu in Hamburg, as in graduating in 2018.

Their inescapable reality is a yearning for Vietnamese music. Their music.

Young Trinh’s JiJi centers around a solo đàn tranh, Đạo’s ferocious Vietnam War piece of 1968, Tuyến Lửa includes a haunting ancient Vietnamese song in the middle of his piece responding to the Tết Offensive of 1968. The Vietnamese title translates to Frontlines, and perhaps you can reconsider the singular American fascination with George Crumb’s Black Angels. Đạo wrote several powerful pieces about the Vietnam War, still unplayed in the United States. I know this for a fact, as I’ve been his only advocate in the American new music community, confirmed by his widow Hélène and his publisher Salabert in Paris.


With Hélène Đạo in Paris 2017.

Vũ Nhật Tân’s Kim Thủy Hỏa is a major synthesis composition between East and West, using the inspiring poetry of Vietnamese national poet, Nguyễn Duy, as the text for what will be, by 2020, a full evening work about The Five Elements. Tân’s title translates to Metal Water Fire and brings together the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble, a cast of national treasures, the Ancient Ensemble of Tonkin/Đông Kinh Cổ Nhạc/Ancient Ensemble of Tonkin and guest percussionists from the Hong Kong New Music Ensemble. This first exchange between new music groups here is the beginning of regional cooperation bewteen Hà Nội, Hong Kong and Manila.

In fact, I’ll be in the Phillipines all next week for the next Manila Composers Lab!


Discussing Kim Thủy Hỏa in the Old Quarter of Hà Nội.


Vũ Nhật Tân and Đàm Quang Minh.


Ancient Ensemble of Tonkin/Đông Kinh Cổ Nhạc before a rehearsal.


Karina Yau and Chronicle Li of the Hong Kong New Music Ensemble.


Tân with dàn tranh virtuosa Phạm Trà My and đàn bầu angel Ngô Trà My.

Here in Việt Nam you have a vibrant new and ancient music community with nothing in between. There is no Vietnamese Bach, Beethoven or Brahms mucking up the gears of creativity, no inherited way of doing things musically.

Together with shared SRO audiences. Free admission is the norm so outreach isn’t a topic. And now we are recognized on national television. Then a broadcast feed for an international audience. That’s a big indication how Việt Nam’s creative community in new music is on the move. As an American, I’m honored to be a part of this new wave in Southeast Asia.


Working on the ferocious Tuyến Lửa of Nguyễn Thiện Đạo.

I’ve got a few more rehearsals, lots of detail work, and then the curtain goes up on Friday March 22 at 20h00 in the Grand Hall of the Việt Nam National Conservatory of Music for In the Path of the Ancestors.

Best, best, best,