Where East Meets West
By Thanh Phuong in HCMC
The Saigon Times Concert offers a glimpse into how different musical genres in the world blend into each other but still retain their essence.
The breezy and pleasant weather which heralds the arrival of Christmas and the New Year also marks the
proliferation of cultural events. For the first time ever, a concert featuring the t’rung, the pipa and orchestra performances will be organized by Thoi bao Kinh te Sai Gon to celebrate its 19th anniversary. The event reminds many of Kim Van Kieu, an innovative opera performance which took place two years ago, received billions of dong of investment and blended classical music with traditional Vietnamese music.
Controversy has been simmering over how to conserve traditional music in the integration process. Some contend that the best approach is to strike a balance between East and West. Artistic endeavors do not always succeed, but musical integration is arguably an inevitable trend. Indeed, some artists have won critical acclaim with this approach. Recently, Coco Lee, a Chinese American singer, has received effusive praise thanks to her album titled East to West, which offers a delicate harmony of Western and Chinese music. Online music lovers comment that Coco Lee has reached out to fans in different countries while retaining the essence of Chinese music. It is precisely this innovative approach that has helped Coco Lee outperform both Kylie Minogue and Jennifer Lopez on the charts.
In fact, musical integration has been discussed for a long time. Symphonic music has been increasingly considered an “international media channel” through which each composer, Vietnamese or otherwise, provides a glimpse of his or her country’s music. Tran Vuong Thach, conductor for the HCM City Ballet and Symphony Orchestra, says that symphonic music has become an international asset and a common artistic language which every country tries to develop. Musical instruments unique to each country can thrive alongside a symphony orchestra and enthrall the global audience. Integrated operas such as Kim Van Kieu and Chiec Ao Thien Nga (The Swan Dress) attest to this statement, Thach says.
The blend of Western and Eastern musics is also evident in chamber music, which includes pieces written for the piano and the monochord, the violin and the bamboo flute, the guitar and the zither. Such creative combinations pose a challenge which only capable composers and performance artists can surmount to give the audience a truly gratifying musical experience.
The upcoming Saigon Times Concert is an event where East meets West, in both chamber and symphonic music. Foreign artists from Japan, Korea and China will perform together on the pipa, the piano and the cello. Pipa maestro Tu Shan Xiang will convey, through Silk Road by the Japanese composer Kitaro, the feelings of Asian traders who followed that legendary road and passed through the deserts of central Asia on their way to Rome. His rendition of Recuerdos de la Alhambra (Nostalgic about Alhambra), a uniquely Spanish piece which Tarrega wrote for the guitar, may bring fresh emotions.
The t’rung and the pipa will bring an Eastern touch to symphonic music. Rhapsody 2, which Nguyen Van Thuong wrote for the t’rung and the orchestra, successfully harmonizes melodies from the Central Highlands and those produced by Western instruments.
Tu Shan Xiang will perform, together with the orchestra, two of his pieces. Fantasy of Baidi’s upbeat melody is inspired by Li Bai’s poetry and Miyata Masayuki’s drawings, while Festival of Bayingguoleng depicts an Uighur festival in Xinjiang, China, where the sound of galloping horses left a deep impression on the audience at Tu Shan Xiang’s previous concerts.
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