Japanese conductor at home in Vietnam

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Japanese conductor Tetsuji Honna and the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra perform at a concert in
Hanoi last year

A dearth of good teachers and learning materials in the Vietnamese language are stumbling blocks in the development of classical music in the country, says Tetsuji Honna, the Japanese conductor of the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra, who has been honored by the governments of Japan and Vietnam for his contributions to cultural exchanges between the two countries. Honna has been working in Vietnam for the last 11 years.

Vietweek: What brought you to Vietnam?

Tetsuji Honna: I came to Vietnam under the Toyota classic concert program in the autumn of 2000. It is a big concert tour of eight Asian countries, including Thailand, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Vietnam. In Hanoi, I had a big concert with Vietnamese soloist Ngo Hoang Quan (now director of the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra), and he requested my help. Then we started to work together.

You have been here for 11 years now. What are the differences you see in Vietnam compared to Japan and other countries?

A long time ago, life in Vietnam and some other countries in the world were similar. Mornings are now very noisy, but very alive, very active. I like the feel of Vietnam, still a lot of nature, even in the capital. In the streets, there are many motorbikes, but I like this. Everything is changing slowly, but it's a better change. I hope Vietnam continues to keep this kind of feeling.

What has impressed you most in Vietnam?

During 11 years working in Vietnam, I have come to know more about Vietnamese people.

In Vietnam, the most important thing is family. All over the world, families are wonderful, but here it is very special. This is a way of thinking. Vietnamese people love their families. Holidays often remind me of life in Japan, and I go back to my home country to see my family. But, here, people do it every week. They go to their parents' every weekend, it's wonderful.

At the same time, there are also things I have not been able to understand. Some Vietnamese people do not want to take much responsibility. In an orchestra, for example, they either blame their mistakes on other people, or think it is not very important to do very well.

Are you satisfied with your work here?

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I am satisfied. The tour to America (the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City and at the Boston Symphony Hall for the first time in late 2011) has made the orchestra better. Concert tours, especially those abroad, are very good for the orchestra. Sometimes, when they go to other cities, players will have more energy, and it makes the orchestra better. Every year, we go to the south on big concert tours organized by Toyota.

Sometimes, not every time, I feel deep satisfaction when the quality of their performance is even better than some orchestras in Japan, and not just in terms of technique. I have a very special feeling then.

There are things that need to be improved, although it is not easy to change very quickly. In Vietnam, we really need good teachers, good information and musical documents in the Vietnamese language. There is still almost nothing now. It is a big problem really. Even on the Internet, they can find some materials, but almost always in English or other languages, not in Vietnamese.

The CDs that we get here sometimes are not good. Of late, you can find many recordings of performances on YouTube. This is very helpful to study, but YouTube sometimes is very limited for choice. In other countries, people can order which they want from catalogues. But, here, it has never happened, only copied CDs and DVDs from China are available. If musicians want to buy the CDs from catalogues, for example recordings in 1976, they can find CDs on sale in other countries, but not in Vietnam.

Vietnam has many musicians, many young students want to become musicians in the future, but it is hard to find books, or ways to order them. For a long time, even in the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra, almost all the music materials are copies. I have asked Mr. Quan many times how you can get music materials, and he says conductors bring copies from abroad for us. Only copies, no original ones at all.

We also really need good teachers who are experienced. I don't say there's nobody here, but it's just not enough.

Did you welcome this Tet (Lunar New Year) festival in Vietnam?

I have enjoyed Tet in my friends' houses four times in Vietnam. In Japan, it is very normal in Tet time, we still have many concerts. We make holidays by the western calendar. This Tet, I had concerts in Tokyo and Fukushima.

During Tet time, I used to go with friends to Japanese restaurants in Hanoi, visit my friends, enjoy special traditional food of Vietnam, and go to the pagodas.

What do you wish for the New Year?

This is a busy year for me"¦ I am a musician so we feel very happy when we make concerts successfully, and people become happy. I asked Mr. Quan why we don't make Tet concerts. However, he says it's impossible because the orchestra's musicians don't want to work. I think musicians must work when other people are in holidays. How wonderful if musicians held New Year concerts. I also have a happy and lucky dream for the new year.

Do you want to be here and contribute more to the development of classical music in Vietnam?

Of course, I am very happy to stay here. I will still be here as long as you need me.

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