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Pianist & music professor goes zither-tither

Update: November, 23/2014 - 22:58

Gay abandon: Nguyen Huu Tri (left) and his band have become famous for playing traditional Vietnamese music in foreign countries. — VNS Photos http://vnca.cand.com.vn

by Hanh Chi

A Dan tranh (zither) musician is usually female and usually wears ao dai, a traditional long dress.

So it is strange for audiences to see a man in a suit playing zither. Another strange thing is that the man, a pianist and music professor in France, has played zither in renowned concerts in the United States and Europe alongside musicians of stringed Western string instruments such as the violin and cello.

Nguyen Huu Tri, who uses the stage name Tri Nguyen, has become famous for playing traditional Vietnamese music in foreign countries for quite some time, but few people in Viet Nam know him.

"Traditional Vietnamese music can conquer the world's largest stages," he said.

After graduating from Ho Chi Minh City's National Music and Drama School, Tri Nguyen went to France to study piano at the Paris Music Teacher's Training School or L'ecole Normale de Musique de Paris, which is considered the cradle of many famous French artists.

It was here that he learned from the world's most famous music professors, including Jacques Lagarde and Ramzi Yassa.

Today, Tri Nguyen is a pianist who also delivers lectures in a master class. But he has a special love for zither.

In 2007, a friend suggested that he play zither at a music festival in Paris. Audiences warmly applauded the successful attempt, which they found to be strange and new.

He has also played both piano and zither in a number of events in the US and Europe.

In France, Tri Nguyen likewise became one of the familiar artists on national radio. He was also previously invited to perform at the closing ceremony of the Aubervilliers World Music Festival and A Village for Artists Festival.

Tri Nguyen was born in a patrician family. He began studying the piano under the guidance of a French teacher when he was five years old.

His parents were also interested in maintaining traditional music, so they invited another tutor to teach him zither.

His simultaneous studies of modern and traditional music were accompanied by studies of chess, poetry and painting, which he regarded as accomplishments of an oriental scholar. At that time it was a big challenge for him, but it served as a good foundation for his future artistic path.

He returned to Viet Nam last September because he was homesick and took the occasion to introduce Consonnances, his first zither album.

At his fingertips: Nguyen takes great pride in the dan tranh (zither), a Vietnamese traditional musical instrument.

The album included 13 songs combining zither with Western stringe instruments. Tri Nguyen created some of the songs, where he inserted parts of famous classical works of Vivaldi, Beethoven and Mussorgsky in zither music.

The album is not only a zither concert performance but also a serious artistic work showcasing a skillful use of technology that overflows with emotion.

In performing traditional Vietnamese music, Tri Nguyen wanted to show his pride for the traditional musical instrument. It also serves as a gift that demonstrates an overseas Vietnamese's love for his homeland.

"I performed zither in many places to gain encouragement from audiences and returned to my country when the time was ripe," he revealed.

Sometimes, at the end of his performances, audiences give him a long standing ovation, cheering and clapping their hands in glee and making Tri Nguyen bow to them several times before leaving the stage.

"Such happiness and appreciation has helped me to complete the album. Music does not discriminate between borders and cultures," he said.

Before performing, Tri Nguyen would often explain and introduce zither to the audience.

In France, Tri Nguyen prefers to teach while performing, which is quite difficult. Upon returning home, he practices without resting for four to five hours a day.

When performing at a concert, he ignores all personal problems and weaknesses, including feelings of sadness and loneliness. Before his eyes there is only the audience and the musical instrument that he will play.

"Without an audience, the artist is nothing. We must love our jobs and love the connection between audiences and artists, but some artists often forget this," he noted.

Although Tri Nguyen has lived for nearly 20 years in France, he still retains his Vietnamese citizenship.

"I speak French all the time in France, but I love the Vietnamese language and country and feel proud of my origins," he admitted. — VNS

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