The Viet Nam National Symphony Orchestra (VNSO) yesterday completed an 11-day of Japan yesterday that encompassed seven major cities under the baton of Japanese conductor Honna Tetsuji. Tetsuji has devoted over 12 years to the VNSO. He talked to Lao Dong (Labour) newspaper.
Why you have stayed in Viet Nam for so long, despite those experiences?
It is simpler if you look at them as cultural differences that took me time to get familiar with. It is these very differences that mean I am felt bored of living and working in Viet Nam. After more than a decade, I have started to understand the things that I found so strange during my first days here. Life in Viet Nam is never boring.
I have many wonderful Vietnamese friends who always make my life more interesting with invitations like: "Honna, come for a coffee or tea!" If they run into me in the street, they always stop and offer me a ride to wherever I want to go to. Such warm hospitality is not easily found in a developed country with a breathless industrial rhythm like Japan.
You revealed "three wishes" when you first arrived in 2001. Have you achieved them now?
I realised my first and foremost wish to conduct the orchestra for a performance at the 1000th anniversary of capital Ha Noi [in 2010].
My second wish to conduct an orchestra of amateur, young instrumentalists from schools around Viet Nam is still a work in progress. I want to bring classical music closer to Vietnamese children, and encourage them to experiment with music from a very young age. However, it's not easy because Vietnamese children have to spend so much time on their studies which leaves too little time for music.
I've had to give up my last wish of buying a house in Ha Noi for financial reasons.
It's hard to believe you can't afford a house in Ha Noi, isn't it?
I attached myself to the VNSO due to my love for music and for the friends that I have the chance to work with, not for the money. A conductor's salary is low due to the VNSO's small budget.
Viet Nam is different from the rest of the world. Generally, national symphony orchestras are highly respected, but in Viet Nam, it's hard to find a real music lover who is willing to pay for a concert ticket. Many want free invites, but we have to work pretty hard to put on a performance. This sounds unfair.
Is that because symphonic music is not particularly popular among the general public, and only a select few enjoy it?
My biggest wish is for the VNSO to gain a unique position in the hearts of music lovers both in Viet Nam and the world over. I do not aim to be number one because it's hard to fulfil and there are some world class orchestras out there, but I'm convinced that Vietnamese instrumentalists are capable of reaching out to audiences because they are always looking for a creative and unique angle in their performances.
What was the highlight of the tour in Japan?
Major newspapers in Japan including Asahi, Nikkei, Mainichi and Sankei printed stories promoting the VNSO's performances in Japan, which were also publicised on 160 billboards and posters in Tokyo's most crowded metro stations.
Our key event was to perform at the ancient Todaiji Temple in Nara Prefecture. In 736, Phat Triet – a Vietnamese monk from the Champa area (south central Viet Nam today) – arrived and led a religious life there for two decades. He introduced the Cham people's music and dances to Japan. During [former] President Nguyen Minh Triet's visit to Japan in 2007, Japanese Emperor Akihito mentioned the story and said he thought of it as the start of cultural exchanges between Viet Nam and Japan. Our performance there was to commemorate the cultural connection between our two countries for the past 1,000 years. — VNS