NY Phil in Vietnam Day 4

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

Day Four

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 a 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 16
So as of tonight, for the Vietnam leg of the New York Philharmonic’s Asia tour, it’s now one down, one to go.

Hanoi Opera House at 5
Hanoi Opera House at 5:00 p.m. on October 16
This warm and sticky but clear night featured the first of the Philharmonic’s two concerts here in Hanoi. The program: all-Beethoven (not counting encores), accompanied by appropriately sunny weather that made it easy to set up outdoor screens for people to watch the concert on, free of cost. In the Fourth Piano Concerto (with Emanuel Ax) and the Seventh Symphony, Alan Gilbert emphasized clarity of texture and phrasing above all. The acoustic is fairly dry in the Hanoi Opera House, and the orchestra had added some panels at the back and side of the stage to help thrust sound from the back half of the orchestra out into the hall. Inner voices were easily heard, and it was an evening that might be best summed up with the word “pristine.”

Setting up speakers
Setting up speakers and equipment for the live plazacast of the New York Philharmonic’s concert

For the most part there was none of the overemoting, outsized romanticizing that can come with the excitement of a special occasion such as performing for the first time in a country—and one with which the U.S. has such a complicated history. But the crowd, while not screaming and yelling, clearly wanted more, and encores ensued. From Emanuel Ax, there was a Chopin Nocturne, and after the Seventh Symphony there was the scherzo from the Mendelssohn Octet arranged for orchestra. There were several minutes of rhythmic clapping after the Mendelssohn encore, so Gilbert came out once again, smiled, and plunged into the Egmont Overture, whose epic sweep and wide contrasts of emotion provided what seemed to be the evening’s most heartfelt playing from the musicians. From where I sat, it felt that with the Egmont, the audience’s need for something slightly more grandiose had been sated. And finally everyone made their way out of the hall. 

Final bows
The New York Philharmonic and Music Director Alan Gilbert taking final bows, October 16

Hanoi Opera House scene
The scene outside the Hanoi Opera House following the New York Philharmonic’s concert on Friday night

It is a somewhat surreal experience transitioning from the very dressed-up crowd at the concert and out into the street, with barely any buffer zone between the two. Especially on a Friday night, things are a little crazier than they are already in Hanoi (amazing, but true), with a sort of street-party atmosphere as the weekend gets off to a start. Upon leaving the Opera House, I soon came face to face with the tail end of the evening street market, which takes place in the old quarter on Fridays and Saturdays from 6 to 10. Everyone was hanging out, sitting on the sidewalk, heading to nightclubs, enjoying what I am told is the nicest season here, and which most closely resembles ... summer ... on the East Coast.
By the way, it appeared that the city did not close off traffic to the plaza adjacent to the Opera House during the concert, and I did not see any seats set up, either, for the free simulcast. I was inside the Opera House tonight, but I’ll plan to head down there tomorrow evening for the second concert see what exactly the set-up is.