Tetsuji Honna, music director of the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra (VNSO) since 2001, was just given an award by the Japanese Foreign Minister for his ten-year devotion in sharing his conducting talents with the Vietnamese.
"I love the people, food, and scenery here," said the artist, whose brilliant history of awards includes the first prize in the 1985 Tokyo International Music Competition for conducting; second prize in the 1990 Toscanini International Conducting Competition; first prize in the 1992 Budapest International Conducting Competition; and the 1997 Osaka Stage Arts Encouragement Award.
"I feel at home when I am in Vietnam," said Honna, who has conducted numerous orchestras including the Hungarian State Philharmonic, the Zagreb Philharmonic, the Brno State Philharmonic Orchestra, the Romanian Radio Chamber Orchestra and the Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg.
According to Honna, his connection with Vietnam started in 2000 when he participated in the Toyota Classic Tour to eight Asian countries, landing him in Hanoi with the Nagoya Philharmonic.
"VNSO's director Ngo Hoang Quan met me in the changing room after the show, asking me to help the orchestra," Honna said.
The Japanese artist was invited to work as music adviser and conductor, giving lectures to the local artists to improve their musical skills.
"Their goal for the first five-year contract with me was to help VNSO become a leading orchestra in ASEAN, and by 2010, the orchestra would reach world tour level. It surprised me since it is impossible to achieve in a few years, however, I did accept it as the artists really wanted to improve," he said.
Since then, Honna has invited several good foreign musicians to Vietnam to perform and work with the orchestra. "I keep telling them about Vietnam and persuade them to come here. Many came to Vietnam as volunteers for a period of time and expressed that they will come back."
In addition, in 2004, the conductor led VNSO with great success on a Japan tour to Tokyo and Osaka, and opened every concert season since 2005.
During their first years, Honna and the Vietnamese artists performed popular works by Johann Strauss and Leroy Anderson, and then they continually worked on longer, difficult compositions by Gustav Mahler.
"Sooner or later Vietnamese will love Mahler," Honna said.
"It is normal to spend money on a concert ticket, however, after some years, many Vietnamese friends still ask for free tickets from me," he said.
Honna said that all tickets for the concert in Hanoi on September 15-16 were sold out.
The foreign artist also admitted that it is hard to tell the position of VNSO among other orchestras in the region and in the world.
However, he said, "Their skills have improved much more compared to before. There's been a big change in their expressive abilities."
"I appreciate their sensitivity in music, but it is not enough if they lack knowledge of music, especially the history of composers and different musical instruments."
In addition, Honna complained that his orchestra members are often late, which was a no-no when he worked in Korea, China or his home country.
"Vietnamese artists, however, still have the opportunity to become one of the best orchestras in Asia as long as they are willing to practice and study more," said Honna, who has performed with world famous artists, including Martha Argerich, Elisabeth Leonskaja, Antonio Meneses, and Cecile Licade.