A luala diary

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Outdoor classical music concerts reach out to the man on the street


A Luala outdoor Concert on 61 Ly Thai To Street,
Hanoi on a Saturday morning is a rare sight in the city, and the artists have gathered a curious crowd that soon swells into more than a hundred people

Week 1:

3 p.m., November 12-13

It looks like an informal jamming session of musician friends gathered outdoors to enjoy the sunshine.

The atmosphere is friendly and relaxed as the violins, viola and cellos are tuned, but it is evident that the friends are serious about their music. They have score sheets, big speakers, music mixers and other accouterments including sound technicians. An outdoor concert on a Saturday morning is a rare sight in the city, and the artists have gathered a curious crowd that soon swells into more than a hundred people. There are senior citizens, pregnant women, children, motorcyclists and people on bicycles who have stopped to watch.

We are in front of the Music Publishing House on 61 Ly Thai To Street, Hanoi. And soon we are treated to music that is not rock, pop or jazz, but real classical music. The 21 musicians are members of the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra (VNSO) and other orchestras in the capital, and they have just kicked off a series of outdoor concerts, called LUALA, under a community music project to bring classical masterpieces to lay audiences in the city every Saturday and Sunday from November 12 to January 11.

The music is so arresting that even public buses stop en route to their destinations and listen for about one minute with no passenger raising any objection. Some among the audience stay back after the concert is over to talk to the artists and ask them about the music and the instruments they play. This is an interaction not possible when the same music is performed at the Opera House, which stands on the opposite side.

Mai Anh, whose four-year-old son was among the audience, said, "I brought my son to get used to the art; if he is interested, I will let him join a music class."

THE SHOW

The LUALA Concert, including 10 violinists, four violists, three cellists and two contrabassists, takes place from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. every Saturday and 10 a.m. to 12 a.m., and 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. every Sunday until January 11.

According to the organizer, in future, LUALA Concert will take place in the spring-summer and fall-winter seasons, featuring not only international masterpieces but also traditional, folk Vietnamese compositions. Each series will last two months.

Other parents expressed approval saying it was easier for their children to approach and appreciate classical music in such a setting rather than the restrictive atmosphere of indoor concerts or even listening to Mozart at home.

Being outdoors, the concert cannot escape other noises. There was some loud dance music coming from the Opera House as a rehearsal takes place for an event to celebrate the recognition of Ha Long Bay as one of the New Seven Natural Wonders of the World. The music was also punctuated by the street sounds of motorbikes and cars driving and honking. But the LUALA artists were not fazed. Instead, they presented improvised pieces that drew warm appreciation and applause from the crowd.

Lead violinist Xuan Huy said that at outdoor concerts, street sounds not only provide musical material and inspiration, but also serve to conduct the music.

Do Ngoc Minh, chairman of luxury-brand distributor, DX Group, who initiated the LUALA concerts after attending several street performances abroad, said, "In a Opera House, the audience have no choice but to sit quietly in their place to listen to the music even though they might not like it, but in such outdoor concerts, the artists must try their best to show off all their talent to attract the audience."

The concerts are organized by the DX Group, the Music Publishing House and the VNSO.

Week 2

An installation art dimension has developed to the LUALA Concert.

In addition to last week's audience, the second week welcomes some special guests who come not only to enjoy the music but also to take pictures and draw paintings.

Some newly wed or about to wed couples pose in their wedding finery with the orchestra behind as background to compile the mandatory photo album. In response, the artists play the Wedding March and wave greetings to the couples. The interaction is so high with the audience that even Happy Birthday tunes are played on request.

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The seniors in the audience are not pleased when a group of teenagers try to add their bit to the dhow with an active hip hop performance, but artists themselves are not put off. It's all part of street music.

This time, leading local singers and painters, including singer Hong Nhung, My Linh and contemporary artist Hoai Nam, and a few foreigners are among the audience.

Samuel, a French tourist, says he has attended several outdoor concerts before in other countries. However, "I have never thought that I would have a chance to experience one here. The Vietnamese artists have impressed me with their wonderful performance."

The three lines of chairs are not enough to contain the growing audience, especially a group of children brought by their teacher, painter Hoang Thi Bich Lien. Not to draw, but to listen to the music, Lien stresses.

"What are we going to draw?" ask a few of the students.

"Whatever, but we are here most importantly to listen to the music," the teacher replies.

Week 4

During break time on Saturday afternoon, violinists Tran Quang Duy and Nguyen Khac Thanh are approached by Carlos Cuestta, a famous Spanish conductor and art director of the Madrid Symphony Orchestra who is on a week-long visit to Vietnam.

"Such classical music events are rare even in Europe," says the conductor, who also is impressed by the Vietnamese artists' skillful performance, and says he would like to perform with LUALA the next day.

At a press conference about the event held early November, organizers had said that the artists have practiced dozens of masterpieces by famous composers over a period of two months.

However, on Sunday morning, under the baton of conductor Carlos Cuestta, the Vietnamese artists play Concerto Number 1 by Vivaldi, which they had not been practiced or performed before, either by the artists or by the conductor.

"Although we had never performed the piece over the previous three weeks, and never practiced it during our rehearsals, we wanted to play it, not with our hands but with our hearts," says Nguyen Khac Thanh.

"The baton of the conductor and his emotions will lead the group to perform it."

Weeks 1-5

Over the weeks, "See you next week," becomes a refrain among the audience and the artists.

A special give and take has developed between the two. The artists are presented with beautiful framed photographs of themselves taken by their audience. One musician gets a sketch of himself done by an artist fan.

It is evident that the music has reached the audience in different ways and that the artists themselves have been enriched by the experience.

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