Vietnamese-British pianist Nguyen Bich Tra worked for the last seven years on a major recording project of the 19th century prominent composer Joachim Raff's piano compositions. The project included six solo discs and two orchestra collaborations.
Her recordings were chosen as the Album of the Week by The Independent in March 2010 and April 2012.
She returned to Viet Nam to participate in the Saigon Chamber Music festival held in HCM City from August 1 to 9.
She performed at the event opening and is now spending the week tutoring young Vietnamese musicians.
Culture Vulture spoke with her about the Saigon Chamber Music festival and her career.
What do you think about the Saigon Chamber Music event and why did you choose to participate?
It is wonderful that we could organise a second year for the Saigon Chamber Music festival. We had a very fruitful programme last year and the number and interest of applicants increased this year.
I think, as a musician, it is vital to pass on my knowledge and experience to younger musicians. In Viet Nam, chamber music is still building up a tradition, therefore we are happy to help students understand the importance of this genre in music education.
The essence of chamber music is to listen – listen to yourself and others so that musicians can create harmony together despite handling different parts of the music.
Do you think the festival's training courses also help Vietnamese young musicians improve their performance?
Definitely. Most of the students here don't get to play in front of people unless they have exams or rare school concerts. We want to help them realise that performing can be fun and it is necessary to do it more often.
The course helps them gain confidence and to be proactive. They can organise small concerts to try out new repertoires or be more involved in the practical side of the music business.
You have been working in the UK for a long time. Is it difficult for a foreign musician in general, and a Vietnamese in particular, to be accepted and get performance contracts?
It is very difficult for any classical musician to be seen and heard on the international music scene.
There are simply too many of us and the market is quite small. I didn't have a real strategy for how to break through. I just followed my own artistic instinct, which always pushes me to discover a new, rare repertoire.
I suppose diligence, some luck and, most importantly, the love for music kept me going.
Have you followed classical music development in Viet Nam?
This is a subject very close to my heart, and I'm glad to see that things have been improving.
My colleagues have been working very hard to maintain monthly performances and create new interesting projects.
However, this "industry" needs support and I hope we can reach new levels of proficiency with more attention from funding bodies, media and the public.
The importance of Arts and Humanities in our life is irreplaceable, it gives us a chance to dream beyond the given.
What do you want most from your career?
I find it very difficult to think of something I love as a career. It is a very big part of who I am. I breathe and live music, it is in my veins. So, I hope I can give all my creative energy to the audience and younger musicians. Fame has never interested me, life is too short for that. I only want to keep my love for music fresh and deep everyday.
Do you want to make your music more known in Viet Nam? What do you say to younger musicians who dream of becoming a renowned classical musician?
I would love to be able to bring my works to Vietnamese audiences but, unfortunately, NAXOS does not have a local distributor here. Listeners can find me on Amazon or iTunes!
I would say, do not make fame your goal; make music your ultimate company. It might get you further than you expect. — VNS