With a strong foundation in classical music, Vietnamese artists have mastered the repertoires of Bach, Mozart, Chopin and Beethoven.
But local composers aren't known outside Vietnam and few foreign music lovers pay any attention to classical music in the country.
Grammy-winning Southwest Chamber Music is hoping to change all that by energizing the fledgling contemporary classical music scene in Vietnam.
The first US ensemble since the Vietnam War to set up a musical residency with a series of concerts and master classes in Vietnam in 2006, Southwest is back in Vietnam with a highly competitive grant from the US State Department, this time for a six-week art exchange that includes classes and performances both here and in the US.
They call the exchange the Ascending Dragon Music Festival to mark the 1,000th anniversary of the founding of Thang Long, Vietnam's capital city now known as Hanoi. Nineteen Americans have traveled with the Southwest Chamber Music to Vietnam, and 19 Vietnamese will accompany the group back to the US for performances and training from April 12 to May 4.
Concerts in both countries will feature works from up-and-coming Vietnamese and American composers as well as pieces from the older generation of composers. Playing alongside Southwest are some of Vietnam's top classical musicians and music students.
"Their technique and quality are fantastic," said Southwest executive director Jan Karin after hearing students from the Vietnam National Academy of Music in Hanoi perform. "However, many artists and composers in Vietnam have still not had enough experience with contemporary music by living composers."
Contemporary classical music is new to Vietnamese audiences, said Southwest Artistic Director Jeff von der Schmidt.
Jan said the repertoire Southwest has brought to perform with the Vietnamese was unlike most of what they'd played before. "But, tomorrow, we'll play it in a concert together, and they'll play well."
Jan said the project aimed to bring Vietnamese music to wider audiences, not only in Vietnam and the US, but worldwide. "You have wonderful composers like Nguyen Thien Dao and Ton That Tiet. The world needs to see how strong Vietnamese composers are
As part of the Ascending Dragon program, Southwest Chamber Music is also hosting workshops on arts administration, leadership and creativity to inspire in the Vietnamese students a taste for both cultural exchange and the business of staging international art events.
THE DRAGON ASCENDS: WHEN AND WHERE?
Friday, March 19, 2010 at 8 p.m.
Hanoi Opera House, 1 Trang Tien Hanoi
Pham Minh Thanh Thang Long (World Premiere)
Kurt Rohde Stil Distant, Stil Here (World Premiere)
Elliott Carter On Conversing with Paradise (Asian Premiere)
Vu Nhat Tan Pho (World Premiere)
Alexandra du Bois Within Earth, Wood Grows (World Premiere)
Aaron Copland Appalachian Spring
Sunday, March 21, 2010 at 8 p.m.
Ho Chi Minh City Conservatory, 112 Nguyen Du District 1 Ho Chi Minh City
Alexandra du Bois An Eye for an Eye Makes the Whole World Blind
Vu Nhat Tan Trang - Moon / Meditation
Kurt Rohde Under the Influence
Nguyen Thien Dao A Mi K Giao Tranh
Ton That Tiet Mémoire de la Rivière
Friday, April 16, 2010 at 8 p.m.
Armory Center for the Arts, 145 N. Raymond Ave., Pasadena
Alexandra du Bois Chanson d'orage for 2 Violins
Pham Minh Thanh Sonata for Violin & Piano (U.S. Premiere)
Kurt Rohde Seeing Things for Violin & Piano
Ton That Tiet Trung dzuong (US Premiere)
Vu Nhat Tan Green Silk Improvisation (US Premiere)
Saturday, April 17, 2010 at 8 p.m.
The Colburn School, 200 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles
Claude Debussy Danse sacrée et danse profane
Vu Nhat Tan Pho (U.S. Premiere)
Alexandra du Bois Within Earth, Wood Grows (U.S. Premiere)
Nguyen Thien Dao Au dessus du vent (U.S. Premiere)
Toru Takemitsu Archipelago S. for 5 Ensembles