Welcome to Sound Travels!
My blog posts and stories blend my love of classical and new music with my interests and curiosities about Planet Earth, in particular its places, people and foods.
I was born in Los Angeles in 1955 and grew up in our family restaurant, the Hi Ho Inn, which was located on West 6th Street, between the areas of MacArthur and Lafayette Parks. Janitor, dishwasher, inventory list keeper, kitchen prep for a hectic 120 people lunch hour, short order cook, plumber, electrician, waiter, you name it, we did it. My mom and her two sisters were also waitresses at 20th Century Fox, Chasen’s, Armstrong Schroeder and other legendary Hollywood haunts. A combination of their behind the scenes memories gives me a familiar knowledge of the major players and legends of Golden Era Hollywood, in particular my mom being a favorite of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. I attended Loyola High School, a Jesuit preparatory school, after my mom had a short 20th Century Fox lunch conversation with Dalton Trumbo, the screenwriter who was blacklisted and imprisoned during the HUAC period. Trumbo recommended she consider the school for my education, and my mom listened to his advice.
So when my young musical talent began to emerge, I was encouraged, but only after all the dishes were done!
Since most everyone accepts that musicians always know the best places to eat, I’ve combined this fact with my restaurant upbringing to shape blog posts that often blend together new music, food and travel, whether I’m at home in California or connecting to new music friends in Việt Nam, México, Malaysia, Japan, Colombia or Paris. Don’t be surprised to find a blog on California wineries juxtaposed with my recollections of centenarian composer Elliott Carter, or a tour of the street food hawker stalls of Jalan Penang Road in Georgetown, Malaysia (my most popular “money maker” blog), with a story describing dinner at Chez Janou in Paris, highlighting the Fun Fact about its dizzying eighty varieties of Pastis liqueur while weaving into my narrative discussions about future new music projects for Việt Nam with French composer and IRCAM sound designer Gilbert Nouno. I’ve been amazed that since I began writing my stories in September of 2013 they have reached over 150 countries on every continent. So because you keep reading, I keep writing!
I am now dividing my time between my role as Artistic Advisor to the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble in Việt Nam with recharging in California, specifically at home in Pasadena amidst the legendary Asian and Latin American influences of the San Gabriel Valley. After over thirty years of concert production in the United States, my wife Jan Karlin and I are on an extended sabbatical from our professional activities in Los Angeles, but the door is wide open for our return in the near future. Creating a new music wave out of Việt Nam in Southeast Asia, however, truly deserves our commitment. Snapping your fingers really doesn’t work out very well, so we need focused time to build a lasting new music bridge between the United States, France and Việt Nam.
Want to learn more? Just search my numerous blog categories of interest to you and have a good read, which you might start here by looking over my artist biography when you have a spare moment!
Best, best, best,
GRAMMY Award-winning conductor JEFF VON DER SCHMIDT is highly regarded for his innovative programming and insightful performances. He has received two Grammy Awards and eight nominations for thirty compact disc recordings, and led concerts around the world – from the Schoenberg Center in Vienna, Austria to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., to UNAM in México City and the Hà Nội Opera House in Việt Nam.
In August 2015 the Ministry of Culture in Việt Nam appointed Mr. von der Schmidt as the first American arts advisor to serve the cultural life of the country, guiding the founding and development of the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble. The mission is to create cultural continuity between the Vietnamese public, Vietnamese professional musicians and three generations of Vietnamese composers. The eldest generation, Nguyễn Thiện Đạo and Tốn Thất Tiết, emigrated to Paris in the 1950s, the middle generation of Vũ Nhật Tân and Tràn Kim Ngọc have created a vibrant new music and experimental scene in Hà Nội, and an enterprising young generation is studying abroad: for example Nguyễn Minh Nhật at Brandeis University in Boston, Nguyễn Minh Trang at the Royal College of Music in London and Ania Vu (née Vũ Đặng Minh Anh) at the University of Pennsylvania and a Fellow at the 2022 Tanglewood Music Center (delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic, her acceptance was in 2020).
U.S. Ambassador Ted Osius spoke at the inauguration of the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble in October 2015, which was part of the Daniel Pearl Foundation International Music Festival and the opening concert of the new Hà Nội Old Quarter Cultural Center. In this first season, the group capitalized on the city’s other impressive concert venues, performing capacity concerts at the Manzi Art Space and the new Grand Hall at the Việt Nam National Academy of Music. Sponsored by the Institut français in 2016, the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble began broadening its repertoire with Vietnamese premieres of Olivier Messiaen, Pierre Boulez and Didier Latroupe. In 2017 the group toured to the Guangxi Festival in Nanning, China and collaborated with Hà Nội’s Đom Đóm, Japanese guest conductor Honna Tetsuji of the Việt Nam National Symphony Orchestra and the directors of the Müncher Biennale to sold out Hà Nội performances, sponsored by the Goethe Institut. In 2019 the ensemble toured to Yogyakarta, Indonesia and collaborated with members of the Ensemble Modern and Arditti String Quartet.
The Hà Nội New Music Ensemble is also collaborating with the Đông Kinh Cổ Nhạc (The Ancient Ensemble of Tonkin), a group devoted to recovering the original performance practice of Vietnamese traditional music. Various commissioning projects are under consideration between these two sibling old and new music ensembles, beginning in October 2017 with KIM by Vũ Nhật Tân, the first part of an ambitious five movement full concert work. Numerous future projects are under construction between the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble and Japan, México, France and Germany, from commissions to capacity building projects and artistic collaborations.
In October 2017, Mr. von der Schmidt represented the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble in Hong Kong, where he moderated the first New Music Gathering Asia, a symposium hosted by the Hong Kong New Music Ensemble. These discussions in Hong Kong brought together numerous new music groups in Asia for long range planning ideas, including funding, touring, and co-commissioning opportunities. March 2019 took him as a guest observer to the 10th Manila Composers Lab at the University of the Phillipines in Quezon City, and a guest residency invitation from the Mahidol School of Music in Bangkok, Thailand was scheduled for March of 2020. Cancelled because of the global Covid-19 pandemic, this residency will be rescheduled in the near future.
As Founding Artistic Director and conductor of Southwest Chamber Music, the Summer Festival at The Huntington and the LA International New Music Festival, Mr. von der Schmidt remains highly regarded for creating signature programs that excite, inform and challenge both performers and audience members. Equally at home with classical masters to composers of our time, Mr. von der Schmidt led the groundbreaking 2010 Ascending Dragon Music Festival and Cultural Exchange, the largest arts project in history between the U.S. and Việt Nam, sponsored by the U.S. State Department. He has also conducted programs for the 2006 World Culture Expo at the Temples of Angkor, the Royal University of Fine Arts in Cambodia, UNAM in México City and the 2009 Guadalajara FIL Festival.
His history of commissioning composers of our time included a long association with soprano Phyllis Bryn-Julson, receiving a standing ovation at the Library of Congress for Richard Felciano’s An American Decameron. Mr. von der Schmidt also conducted the ensemble at Cooper Union in New York, followed by performances at the Arnold Schoenberg Center in Vienna, Austria, the first Americans appearing there in concert. He led a 2006 Asian tour to Cambodia and Việt Nam, commissioning for the occasion Grawemeyer Award-winner Chinary Ung’s Aura, and he conducted five programs in 2007 at UNAM in México City, in collaboration with the Tambuco Ensemble, inspired by the Grammy Award-winning five CD recordings of the complete chamber music of Carlos Chávez. In 2009 Southwest Chamber Music represented the City of Los Angeles at the Guadalajara FIL Festival, collaborating again with the Tambuco Ensemble, in a program of John Adams, William Kraft, Carlos Chávez and Aaron Copland.
With Jay Belloli, a renowned art curator in Los Angeles, Mr. von der Schmidt spearheaded two major collaborative festivals in Pasadena. Radical Past looked at the history of the groundbreaking Pasadena Art Museum in the 1960s, with its famed collection of Galka Scheyer’s Blue Four and hosting of the first retrospective of Marcel Duchamp as a few examples. Radical Past brought together Southwest Chamber Music, Armory Center for the Arts, One Colorado, Art Center College of Design, Pacific Asia Museum and the Norton Simon Museum. The success of Radical Past in 1999 led Belloli and von der Schmidt to conceptualize another festival, The Universe, celebrating the turning of the millennium in 2001 and expanded the above group of civic organizations to include NASA/JPL and The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens. Radical Past and Universe were prototypes for numerous follow on festivals in Los Angeles County that reverberate to this day in Southern California.
For the centennial of John Cage, Mr. von der Schmidt designed Cage 2012, a three year retrospective begun in 2010 featuring over thirty works of this iconic Los Angeles favorite son composer, in collaboration with artist Mineko Grimmer and the Japanese American Museum, the Armory Center for the Arts and a posthumous retrospective exhibition of Robert Rauschenberg, Pacific Asia Museum (a location of historic Cage performances in the 1960s), Art Center College of Design and a photography exhibition of NASA/JPL space photography, and Hamilton High School for side-by-side performances of Atlas Eclipticalis and Score (40 Drawings by Thoreau) and 23 Parts. A notable highlight of Cage 2012 was Civil Rights icon Terrence Roberts, a member of the Little Rock Nine, reading the preface for a performance of Lecture on the Weather.
The LA International New Music Festival (LAINMF) was a logical extension of the achievements of Southwest Chamber Music, and was presented at the REDCAT Theatre in Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Colburn School between 2012 and 2015. The LAINMF has commissioned Unsuk Chin, Hyo-shin Na, Anne Lebaron, Roger Reynolds, Wadada Leo Smith, Charles Wuorinen, and Vũ Nhật Tân. Important U.S. or West Coast premieres presented by the festival include works by Elliott Carter, Alexandra du Bois, Peter Lieberson, Kurt Rohde, Toshio Hosokawa, Tomoko Momiyama, Takumi Ikeda, Masamichi Kinoshita, Toshio Watanabe, Gabriela Ortiz (México), Leopoldo Novoa (Colombia), Gerardo Gandini (Argentina), Jorge Camiruaga (Uruguay), Adina Izarra (Venezuela), Alejandro Cardona (Costa Rica), Javier Álvarez (México), Roberto Vizcaino (Cuba), Hermeto Pascoal (Brazil) and Herbert Vásquez (México). A three concert evening world premiere of Ten Freedom Summers by Wadada Leo Smith, an epic eighteen movement progressive jazz composition inspired by the Civil Rights Movement, brought Southwest Chamber Music together with Smith’s Golden Quartet. The performances were greeted with unanimous critical acclaim and Ten Freedom Summers was a runner-up for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize. Other significant LAINMF projects include a survey of the string quartets of Gabriela Ortiz and a concert of the final song cycles of Elliott Carter, all composed between the ages of 100 and 103. The LAINMF has collaborated with the Nieuw Ensemble of Amsterdam and the Tambuco Ensemble of México City.
Mr. von der Schmidt has initiated over forty commissions in the past thirty years, and he has conducted over 100 world, west-coast and local premieres as part of his strong advocacy of American, Asian, Latino, African-American and, in particular, numerous women composers, commissioning or giving U.S. premieres of works by Thea Musgrave, Gabriela Ortiz, Unsuk Chin, Alexandra du Bois, Hyo-shin Na, Anne LeBaron, Joan Huang, Sofia Gubaidulina, Adina Izarra, among others.
Another career statistic, one that eludes easy categorization, is a strong reputation giving recent works their all important second or third sets of performances. One example would be a landmark series of performances and recordings, over three seasons, of the Encounters series by William Kraft, compositions spanning a considerable thirty year time frame. Various critical responses compared Kraft’s seminal percussion pieces, which had never before been collected together in concert, to the Berio Sequenzas or the string quartets of Beethoven or Shostakovich. The subsequent three CD Cambria Records release earned a 2010 Latin Grammy nomination for the composer as well as acknowledging the international collaboration of Southwest Chamber Music and the Tambuco Ensemble.
Mr. von der Schmidt received the Henri M. Kohn Award as the outstanding student at the Tanglewood Music Festival in 1980 from Gunther Schuller and Seiji Ozawa, and studied French horn with Roland Berger of the Vienna Philharmonic, holding a certificate in German from the University of Vienna. His undergraduate degree is from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, where he studied closely with Leonard Stein, a long time assistant to Arnold Schoenberg, and James Decker, principal horn for all the recordings on Columbia Records with Igor Stravinsky and Bruno Walter. At the invitation of Pierre Boulez, he attended a complete series of rehearsals for Wagner’s “Ring Cycle” at the 1978 Bayreuth Festival for the now iconic production directed by Patrice Chereau. Mr. von der Schmidt’s commission and recording of William Kraft’s horn concerto Veils and Variations, with the Berkeley Symphony conducted by Kent Nagano, led to performances at Symphony Space in New York and the Kennedy Center in Washington, winning the 1990 Friedheim Award for Best New Work of Contemporary American Orchestral Music. At the recommendations of Oliver Knussen and William Kraft, he retired the French horn in 1998 to devote his time solely to conducting, studying privately with composer/conductors William Kraft and Stephen “Lucky” Mosko. He has lectured on music at the Getty Center, Los Angeles Philharmonic Green Umbrella Series, Arizona State University, University of Colorado, Ohio State University, Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Việt Nam National Academy of Music in Hà Nội, Hồ Chí Minh Conservatory in Hồ Chí Minh City, Hochschule für Musik in Lübeck, Germany, Palacio de Bellas Artes and UNAM in México City. Mr. von der Schmidt is fluent in English, German, French and advanced level Vietnamese.