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From ‘naughty child' to classical sensation

Update: April, 14/2013 - 15:40

Top Vietnamese cellist Ngo Hoang Quan talks with Luong Thu Huong about his love for music and his career, which has taken him from Japan to Macedonia.

Cellist Ngo Hoang Quan made history last November when he performed Cello Concerto in A minor, the only work of German musical genius Robert Schumann written for the cello and also one of the most difficult pieces of classical music, for the first time in Viet Nam. Having performed in many countries including China, Japan, Thailand and Macedonia, Quan has left a deep impression on many audiences.

Inner Sanctum: You performed two nights concerts as soloist, works by German composer Johannes Brahms: Double concerto and Symphony No3 with the Vietnam National symphony orchestra, which was included in the concert series "Brahms cycles" last March. How do you feel the performance went?

On March 15 and 16, I was invited to perform a Double Concerto by Bramhs with Japanese violinist Takagi Kazuhiro, accompanied by the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Tetsuji Honna in the concert series "Brahms cycles" held in Ha Noi Opera House. It gives any artist such great happiness to perform on stage and I was fortunate enough to perform Bramhs' works with such a talented artist like Takagi Kazuhiro. The performance went well; I hope I was able to give the audience of the capital a great night at the concert.

Inner Sanctum: You were born into a family of artists and taught cello by your father, composer Hoang Duong, when you were only five. How do you recall the experience of learning to play the cello?

I was lucky to be born into a family with a long tradition of arts. My grandfather is the writer Truc Khe Ngo Van Trien and my father is composer Hoang Duong. Since I was young, I used to listen to my father playing music and gradually got used to the moving and impressive melodies of Western music. However, as a mischievous child, I did not learn to play the cello voluntarily.

One day, my father brought home a small cello and started to give me my very first music lessons. He had to be very patient and resilient as I was quite a naughty child. At first, I followed my father's directions due to my youthful curiosity and liveliness, but that didn't last long, as soon after I suffered many punishments because of my mischief.

After I finished the seven years of primary musical education, I think he realised that it was hard to teach me so he asked teacher Bui Gia Tuong, who had just earned a master's degree in Russia, to teach me. From then, I took my studies seriously, and before I knew it, my love for the cello started to bloom.

After finishing the intermediate level of musical education, I was assigned to study at the Moscow State Conservatory named for P.I.Tchaikovsky in Russia for six years. On my return to home soil, I had the opportunity to work for the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra. That was when I told myself to fulfil what my father had not been able to (due to difficulties and shortages caused by the war) in pursuing the cello. I have always felt grateful to my father for giving me two lives: one as a human; and one as an artist.

Inner Sanctum: What do you try to express through your cello?

Normally, before performing any work, the artist has to love and study it, and then they can perform it. However, each artist has their own style of performance. I tend to visualise the work as a novel about a person's life, in which there is both love and hatred, with tones of feelings, soul, beauty and full of romance. The melodies are the artists' ultimate fruit of their labour devoted to the audience. Of course traits like aptitude or talent are also needed.

Inner Sanctum: How much time in the day do you devote to practising playing?

I'm now working as a manager, so it is really hard to arrange time for practising. However, when there is a program of concert, I will practise from four to five hours per day.

Inner Sanctum: Do you draw inspiration from any particular artist?

My idol is M. Rostropovich (Russian cellist and conductor). I was lucky to be taught by Professor S. Kalianov, who was his teaching assistant in the Tchaikovsky Conservatory.

Inner Sanctum: In your point of view, what qualities should a cellist possess?

I don't think that there are any certain necessary qualities to be a cellist. Like other artists, they have to love their job, train hard, and have a sensitive heart and special gift. They better should also be strong enough to hold a cello, but there are nevertheless many renowned cellists who are small in stature.

Inner Sanctum: What do you think you would be doing if you were not a cellist?

To be honest, I have on more than one occasion asked myself this, and in these times I think about how incompetent I am, only knowing how to play cello. However in reality, I find myself quite capable of taking good care of children (especially my own), or cooking (as my friends have never despised the food I cooked).

Inner Sanctum: Have you ever received negative feedback about your performances? How did they affect you?

Of course I have. Often after my performances, I receive both praise and criticism from my friends and when members of the audience speak to me they mostly give me enthusiastic comments. They all really give me such happiness, because they show concern for me, and expect me to get better. I have always respected and felt grateful to those comments.

Inner Sanctum: The symphony is notorious for its picky audiences, and not many Vietnamese people, especially of the younger generation, attend symphony performances. Have you ever felt bewildered about the path you have taken and tried turning to another direction?

When you talk about a symphony, you're also talking about intelligence, which can only be acquired by learning. Not many people enjoy entertainment that needs to be learned. However, if a symphony is understood as a mixture of sounds created by various musical instruments at an artistic level performed by artists, then I believe that a listener will find a symphony attractive if they try listening to the symphony just once.

In my eyes, music in general is a true treasure of this world, having existed for hundreds of years, and can be considered as an integral part of the human life. Vietnamese people should enjoy the music of the symphony as part of human existence.

Fortunately, symphony music, and the art of performing symphony has become more accessible to larger audiences in Viet Nam in recent years. More and more young listeners are starting to pay attention to the symphony. I strongly believe that one day, it will be rewarded with its true value in Viet Nam's society. What we artists are doing now is preparing for that day.

Inner Sanctum: What are the advantages of Viet Nam Symphony Orchestra?

There is a saying that goes something like: When speech is helpless, music will work.

The symphony orchestra is the most perfect and sufficient means of expressing music. Its expressive capacity is boundless in demonstrating artistic thoughts or intentions.

The strength of the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra is that all the artists are Vietnamese. The performing ability of the Vietnamese is very precise, affectionate and rich in nuances. If there is a proper strategy of investing in artists, we can firmly believe that we are second to none.

Inner Sanctum: What was your best award in your career as a cellist?

I do not have any awards, but I was given the title of Eminent Artist in 1999.

Inner Sanctum: Currently, music can be downloaded and displayed on Internet channels like iTunes or Youtube. Do you think these new modern channels will offer new perspectives or cause trouble to classical music?

We are living in a world where information is booming, in which the internet has become a useful means for all fields of living. Following music channels is very useful for the audience, but believe me, no modern technology can transfer the soul and, what I want to say here is that the spirit of music can only be experienced in live concerts. Let's attend a live performance and experience this. — VNS

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