NY Phil in Vietnam Day 3

Symphony magazine’s exclusive coverage of the New York Philharmonic’s visit to Hanoi, Vietnam

Day Three

Symphony Managing Editor Jennifer Melick, reporting from Vietnam, covers the New York Philharmonic’s visit to Hanoi, part of the orchestra’s Asian Horizons tour led by Music Director Alan Gilbert. The October 14-18 residency includes two concerts at Hanoi Opera House—the first ever by the Philharmonic in Vietnam—with free outdoor simulcast on adjoining plaza open to the public and master classes for local students at the Vietnam National Academy of Music. Asian Horizons is the orchestra’s first international tour under Gilbert.

(all photos: Jennifer Melick)

October 15
At every turn, Hanoi is full of surprises, especially for a first-time American visitor.
Today, I ventured to what from the outside seems the most unlikely spot for the country’s foremost conservatory of music. The Vietnam National Academy of Music is located on Hao Nam Street in the Dongda section of the city, about a 20- to 30-minute taxi ride from the more central area of Hanoi where the Opera House is located. The conservatory’s concert hall was the site for this morning’s two-hour master class with New York Philharmonic Music Director Alan Gilbert and an orchestra of student musicians.  

Vietnam National Academy of Music: The conservatory is the near yellow building; the concert hall is the yellow building in the distance. The construction site between the two buildings is for the academy’s new, 800-seat concert hall.

It turns out that inside this blocklike building, with its simple and functional exterior, lies a tiny but exquisite concert hall with beautiful golden-blond inlaid wood at the back of the stage and an equally stunning but darker shade of wood on the ceiling over the stage. When I arrived, musicians were seated onstage, dressed as if for a concert: women wore black dresses or black pants/white shirt, with men also in the latter attire. Journalists and photographers streamed in, along with students. As Gilbert entered the room, the hubbub fell to a hush, and after some short introductions, the musicians got to work.

Side entrance
Side entrance to the Vietnam National Academy of Music

From that point on, it was two hours of working on Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony (one of the works the New York Philharmonic will perform on its two concerts here), with most of the effort concentrated on the first movement and a smaller chunk of time reserved for the fourth movement. Orchestra rehearsals are pretty much the same the world over, but if there was a theme that distinguished today’s master class, it was a focus on rhythm. The musicians took some time both to adjust to Gilbert’s tempos and also to change or correct the way they had learned certain parts of the music: “You learned this rhythm wrong, and it has to change,” explained Gilbert at one point. Beethoven Seventh’s sunny exuberance was matched by the exuberance of the students, and in direct contrast to the day’s grey and rainy weather. During a short break in the master class, I could see, from the building’s second-floor window, the construction site, now big hole in the ground, where the conservatory’s new 800-seat concert hall, complete with underground parking garage, is planned. On the far side of the construction site is the main body of the academy, with four floors of practice rooms and teaching spaces. Because of the construction, you can only enter the conservatory proper via a little back street, which is partly paved and partly dirt. As I walked around the conservatory building, students in rain ponchos came and went on motorbikes, to or from lessons or practice sessions in the conservatory. It is hard not to think of the contrast with a place like Juilliard, which sits like a crown jewel of music education at Lincoln Center.

Students at the Vietnam National Academy of Music on the day of Alan Gilbert’s master class

For a total switch from this morning’s Beethoven, tonight I’m going to check out some non-New York Philharmonic music activities in Hanoi, namely the Hanoi New Music Festival to see a program called “I Am Me.” Among the works planned for the evening are Nguyen Hong Giang’s Harsh Noise for analog pedal, contact microphone and toys; Pippa Murphy’s Caspian Retreat for laptop; SonX’s One Face Number Four for computer, electronic drums, and MIDI controller, with video art by Brian Ring; and Kim Ngoc’s Beautiful Girl for sound tape and vocals, with stage and light design. Ngoc, the event’s organizer, is hoping to start an annual festival of new music and establish an international network for Vietnam’s contemporary musicians and build long-term relationships with other international festivals and orchestras.

Music shop
Music shop down the street from the conservatory

At the Vietnam National Academy of Music, a scene familiar to music students everywhere: a long hallway flanked by practice rooms

Tomorrow, the musicians of the New York Philharmonic will have their first chance to test out the acoustics of the Hanoi Opera House when they hold a morning rehearsal there. As the musicians rehearse for their first Hanoi performance that evening, I expect there will also be some set-up underway outside the Opera House as video screens are readied for the evening’s broadcast of the concert to the street. Everyone is hoping the rain will quit by then.

Next up: Beethoven and more in Hanoi.