Canals & Rivers: How I Fell in Love with Bangkok, The City of Angels


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The Lat Mayom floating market near Bangkok.

The essence of Bangkok lies beneath the surface and its physical appearance.” Composer/pianist Pang Vongtaradon

The clichés surrounding big cities always have a kernel of truth. But to let stereotype define the home of millions of people, pick any major metropolis you like on the globe, and I think you’ll understand why, to me, hyperbole and sweeping generalizations are cynical or boring, or both. Jumping to conclusions is not great exercise.

I never thought I’d understand Bangkok. At first it is only big and only confusing. There is the cliché of constant tropical heat.  Then, and what is often a visual deal breaker for many first time visitors, there is the ever present brutalist transit system. Street level exhaust fumes are epic. Bangkok is a city where crossing the street resembles a pedestrian level version of ten lanes of a freeway in Los Angeles or an afternoon stroll in the Lincoln Tunnel.

And I just fell in love. How?

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The 25th Anniversary of the Tambuco Percussion Ensemble in México City


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Tambuco celebrates 25 years, with guest pianist Ana Gabriela Fernández.

The spirit of percussion opens everything, even what was, so to speak, completely closed.” – John Cage

Ricardo Gallardo and I have been partners in new music projects for a long time. We got started because of an introduction by American icon William Kraft, have received four Grammy nominations for our collaborative CD recordings, Southwest Chamber Music toured México multiple times, at UNAM and in Guadalajara, Tambuco has come to Los Angeles multiple times, to both Herbert Zipper Hall at the Colburn School and REDCAT in Walt Disney Concert Hall.

We’ve even tracked each other down in Japan!

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“The Ancient is New & The New is Ancient” at L’espace in Hà Nội


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A silhouette of my friend Hương Lan in Huế.

I have been trying not to view Japan as an absolute but as a duality, otherwise the tradition does not come alive but remains an unavoidable antique.

In 1989 Toru Takemitsu wrote for me an essential article, Sound of East, Sound of West. His perspective gives the serious reader a magnetic compass for navigating the shifting soundscapes of our musical world. And like any map locating an unknown destination, my dog eared copy of this East Meets West article, a transcription of a lecture Takemitsu delivered at Columbia University in New York City, has been read and re-read more times than I can count.

On Saturday night December 1st, 2018 at 20h00, the Institut-Français Hà Nội sponsors the ongoing collaboration of the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble and the Đông Kinh Cổ Nhạc/Ancient Ensemble of Tonkin at L’espace at 24-26 Tràng Tiền near the Hà Nội Opera House in the Hoàn Kiếm District. Thank you, France!

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Sazeracs and Green Grasshoppers: The Old Tastes of New Orleans


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A pyrotechnic tableside flambé of Bananas Foster at Brennan’s.

“America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.” Tennessee Williams

I have old school restaurants in my DNA. My family had deep roots in the Golden Era eateries of Hollywood, from the Hollywood legend that was Chasen’s at Beverly and Doheny to Armstrong Schroeder on Santa Monica Boulevard. You can add the House of Murphy on San Vicente to the endless lunches my mom and my two aunts served at the 20th Century Fox commissary. Mom’s best friend was busy in Culver City at MGM. And all of this poured into our family restaurant at 2601 W. Sixth St. in Los Angeles.

I’m no stranger to the type of place where jacket and tie are mandatory.

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Hwy. 128 & the Redwood Vineyards of the Russian River Valley


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Navarro Vineyards in the Anderson Valley on Hwy. 128.

The combination of late summer and early autumn make September a beautiful time of the year. Our ninth calendar month admits seasonal blur by stubbornly retaining its seventh month name (from the ancient Romans, whose year had ten months beginning in our March). A returning temporal and psychological equinox, often both the Rosh Hashanah New Year of the Jewish calendar and the Autumn Moon Festival in Asia occur in September. Mirroring a farmer’s almanac, we journey from one state of mind to another as fruit and leaves ripen and fall.

I’m also thankful to my parents for making September a now indelible part of my year. This month of change includes, within less than ten days of each other, the memorial day of the death of my father and the anniversary day of the birth of my mother.

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The Hà Nội New Music Ensemble 2018-19 Season Starts September 8


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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.

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A Canticle for Oliver Knussen, The Gentle Giant of New Music


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A perfect last photo of Oliver Knussen on July 6, 2018 at the Royal Academy of Music in London, receiving an Honorary Doctorate.

”Aren’t you the fantastic horn player I’ve been hearing?” came an introduction towards my direction, in that one of a one voice. We were in the Music Library at Tanglewood in the summer of 1980. As fate would have it on that humid Berkshire afternoon in July, I was studying the score of Voices by Hans Werner Henze and he was working on Where The Wild Things Are. I didn’t realize that just opening that particular Henze score would be all the personal introduction needed for Oliver Knussen to strike up a conversation with me.

A warm friendship began that would last for the next thirty eight years, until his untimely death a few weeks ago. We always remained in touch, either here in Los Angeles, where he conducted often in the 1980s, during our engaging phone calls, or on our return trips to Tanglewood to visit my wife Jan’s family. “I’ve certainly met you in past life!” would become Olly’s charming Leit-motif for saying hello to Jan.

Grief creates a strange energy, and I know that I am not alone coping with the shock that Olly is no longer with his daughter Sonya, with my wife Jan, with me, with any of his friends, with the entire new music community all over the world. A man of uncommon common sense, don’t let appearances fool you. Of all of Oliver Knussen’s gigantic appetites, the largest was for music.

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Gongs & Bamboo: New Music from Hong Kong, Manila and Hà Nội


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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.

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From Vienna to Việt Nam with the Influence of Leonard Bernstein


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St. Joseph’s Cathedral from a Cộng Cà Phê in the Old Quarter of Hà Nội.

“There are no coincidences.” – Leonard Bernstein

A day before concluding my eleven week residency this April with the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble, I did something routine before I leave Việt Nam. I went across the street from where I stay to my local Cộng Cà Phê, which has hands down the world’s best coffee.

“Cho anh cà phê nâu đá,” I ordered in Vietnamese, which frankly I don’t need to do anymore. The young and attentive staff greet me, often generously coach me in Vietnamese pronunciation each morning and usually just show up with my order. Being older in Việt Nam has its advantages. “Hello, grandfather!” is their normal salutation.

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Opposites Attract: The Music of Alexandra du Bois and Vũ Nhật Tân


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Vũ Nhật Tân and Alexandra du Bois in Los Angeles in 2010.

I am very happy, as in a proud new music grandfather happy, that the Apollo Chamber Players in Houston, Texas are inspired by our 2010 Ascending Dragon Festival and Cultural Exchange, a landmark project that Jan Karlin and I were proud to produce for the U.S. State Department under Secretary Hillary Clinton. And we did indeed accomplish the goals of the Obama Administration, to establish long term cultural relationships between Việt Nam and the United States, a new 21st century chapter, but this time together as friends and not enemies.

In 2010, Ascending Dragon was a six week festival in both countries. In May of 2012, I brought Vũ Nhật Tân and Alexandra du Bois together again for our first Los Angeles International New Music Festival. Since October 2015, Jan and I have made a long term and ongoing commitment as the first Americans appointed as artistic advisors by the Vietnamese Ministry of Culture. Our mission is to guide and facilitate the international development of the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble. And now in 2018, Apollo Chamber Players is reuniting composers Vũ Nhật Tân and Alexandra du Bois, two of the Ascending Dragon composers-in-residence, with a concert sharing their music, deep in the heart of Texas.

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