interviews Vietnamese violinist Hoang Tuan Cuong on why he chose to work and live in Germany, and why Viet Nam needs to fund more classical music.
Bui Hoang Anh
The Classic Toyota Concert at Ha Noi Opera House recently featured internationally recognised Vietnamese violinist Hoang Tuan Cuong performing with the Budapest Operetta and Musical Theatre.
At the age of 14, Cuong received a special award at the International Louis Spohr Competition for Young Violinists and a scholarship from the Pfluger Foundation in Freiburg, Germany. Two years later he won the first prize at the Max Reger International Chamber Music Competition.
As a student of the Freiburg Institute of Music, Cuong studied with Professor Rainer Kussmaul, Concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, and won the Young Artist Award of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia at the Leopold Mozart International Violin Competition.
Since 2004, Cuong has been a member of the First Violin in the Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra.
Inner Sanctum: How often do you return to perform in Viet Nam?
Actually, I have not had too many opportunities to perform in Viet Nam. I performed at the series Autumn Melodies concert held by HCM City Ballet and Symphony Orchestra for two years in 2005 and 2006. At that time it was a new programme and it had good sponsorship that enabled many overseas Vietnamese musicians including me to perform.
Unlike many other entertainment arts such as pop music which has lured many investors, the Autumn Melodies concert has been facing a lack of funding, so the concert organisers could not invite us. It is a pity because many sponsors are ready to pour millions of dollars into a pop music concert.
Also, I think I am not particularly popular in Ha Noi. This time I was invited to perform at the Classic Toyota Concert in Ha Noi, so it was good to remind music lovers in the city about me.
Inner Sanctum: Which piece did you perform at the Ha Noi Opera's stage and were you nervous performing at the capital Opera House after such a long time abroad?
This was the first time I had performed at the Toyota Concert. I knew about the concert which has been held annually many times in Ha Noi.
I performed Beethoven's piece Romance No 2 with the Budapest theatre at the Ha Noi concert. When I was a student I dreamt of playing this piece. I love Beethoven whose music is sad and romantic. The piece's performing skill is not too difficult but it requires a deep feeling to play. That is the most important thing. I had hardly heard about the Budapest theatre but it was an honour to perform with them.
The first time I performed at the Opera House was in the National Autumn Music Competition in 1990, when I won the first prize. I had one more chance to perform there. And this was my third time on stage there.
I did not remember the atmosphere while performing there earlier because I was too young, but this time I was very happy to play for Ha Noi audiences.
Inner Sanctum: How could we invite you to return and perform in Viet Nam?
Summer is suitable to perform in the homeland because I can arrange time and work in Germany.
This time, I had to ask my friend to replace me in the orchestra. If one musician falls ill, I will be called back immediately. Or I have to hire someone to supersede me. I can return to perform in Viet Nam in two weeks at the most but have to compensate for it.
Inner Sanctum: Talented Vietnamese musicians overseas have returned home to perform and teach at professional music schools. Is working at the Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra your dream?
I think each musician has his own career development in mind. Some others like performing as soloists or teaching. I prefer playing music with an orchestra. I am not patient enough to teach children. If I were a teacher I would be crazy.
My dream of performing in an orchestra came true when the Hamburg orchestra recruited me. It is fate because I am not a prodigy. I applied for a position in the orchestra and was selected from about 20 others. The Hamburg orchestra is among the big ones in Germany specialising in opera. Its repertoire includes diversity of music genres including symphony and ballet.
I like performing in such an orchestra. However, at the beginning I did not think on those lines. I thought it was boring performing in operas. But I recognised that it is quite different from what I had imagined. Listening to talented singers singing arias is very moving and I like it.
The orchestra's repertoire is very busy and it is great to work there.
Inner Sanctum: Are you enjoying life in Germany?
I am married now and we have a two-year daughter. My Vietnamese wife is a doctor and she is very busy. We live in a rented house. Hamburg City, where I live, is among the three most expensive cities in Germany. It will take a long time for us to buy a house. We should save money to buy a house. We need a lot of money!
Inner Sanctum: In your opinion, will performing classical music in Viet Nam attract Vietnamese musicians from abroad? And what about you?
It depends. I love my work and at present I have not had any ideas of returning. I am a musician playing with an orchestra and I will work until I am 67. It is quite different from a soloist.
In fact, classical music in Viet Nam has not developed as it has in neighbouring countries in Asia. It is very difficult to promote classical music in Viet Nam because the State has not invested much into it.
I know that Vietnamese musicians are still playing classical music because they love their work. If they do not play music they will regret the time they spent studying in music schools.
I think that a classical musician is not paid enough to make a stable life for his family.
Vietnamese youngsters prefer pop music to other music genres. Some others enjoy only Mozart or Beethoven. They will hesitate to listen to difficult pieces.
Inner Sanctum: You were born into a musical family with your father, Hoang Cuong, former director of HCM City Conservatory of Music. Did you take advantage that?
It was stressful. I feel sorry for myself because I had to study music from the age of five. My childhood was spent studying music. I was not allowed to go out to play with children my age.
I thank my parents who gave me a job. I had not had a profession if I would not have studied music. Anyway, I will not impose on my daughter. I do not want her to follow in my footsteps. At present, she likes dancing when she hears music.
It is a fact that I have not listened to all the compositions of my father. When I was a student I used to perform his works, but now I hardly do. — VNS