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Young pianist wants to prove his ‘worth’

Update: April, 22/2018 - 09:00
Lưu Đức Anh performs at the Hanoi Opera House with conductor Jonas Alber and the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra in March 2018. — Photo courtesy of Lưu Đức Anh
Viet Nam News

Pianist Lưu Đức Anh took a break from his studying in Sweden to return to Việt Nam to perform by the end of March. The winner of numerous top prizes at piano concerts including first prize at the 6th International Music Competition, was recently honoured as one of 10 outstanding young citizens of Việt Nam in 2017. The 25-year-old spoke to Bảo Hoa about his music practice and MAESTOSO – a classical music group he co-founded.

Anh started his piano practice at the age of 4 and trained for 11 years at the Việt Nam National Academy of Music. Having earned a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree at the Royal Conservatory of Liège (Belgium) in 2013 and 2015, respectively, he is currently enrolled as a graduate student at the Malmö Academy of Music (Sweden).

What’s your secret to winning top prizes all the time?

I don’t always win top prizes! Sometimes I won no prizes at all but did not tell anyone about it, so no one knew.

It’s actually very difficult to know if you are to win in a music competition, because each contestant has their own style and each member of the jury has their own taste. So to me winning is good, and not winning is fine.

How many competitions do you take part each year?

It depends. In 2017, four. Prior to that, I tried to compete once a year so that I had “an excuse” to practise.

How regularly do you practise, now that you’re studying abroad?

I’ve found it much easier to practise while studying abroad than in Việt Nam. There are certain things in life in Việt Nam that do not let me concentrate on practice, and I often got tired after 3 hours. But when I am in foreign countries all I have to do is practice, and I feel fine going 6-8 hours per day.

A lot of people in Việt Nam say one has to understand classical music in order to like it. What do you think about that?

Right, and wrong. I have been studying classical music for 20 years and I can’t say that I understand it all. But I think if something is of real beauty, one does not need to understand it to find it beautiful. 

I had performed many pieces – short, long, very basic, extremely advanced – and I realised that even though the audiences did not understand what I played, they always felt something special, and were impressed by it.

When I listen to an excellent artist, my brain doesn’t tell me ‘Oh he’s good’, but there is something about his performance that just sticks in my head. That’s what I would like to bring to Vietnamese audiences.

I don’t need my audiences to know where Mozart came from, when he was born or how many pieces he wrote. But I want them to carry a different attitude, a certain level of respect to the artists when they come to classical concerts. Because classical music is not meant to be entertaining like rock or pop. It is an art to be contemplated.

Classical music contains more emotions than other types of music, and in order to “hear” them, one needs to give them space so that they can speak. I’ve been to several concerts in Việt Nam where the audiences were so noisy that it killed the music stone-dead. Silence is of utmost important to fully appreciate the values that this type of music brings.

What are your favourite compositions/composers?

Can’t decide. I’ve performed compositions by Liszt and Beethoven more than any others. German music suits me. I appreciate all composers the same and would love to study them all, but I’ll be selective when it comes to performing.

I know you have just formed your own classical music group named MAESTOSO. How many members do you have?

Co-founded, actually. We have four, all of us have some time studied abroad. Me and another one on piano. Another studies conducting. The last one does not study music but loves classical music, and has known us for a long time and understands us well.

What inspired you to start MAESTOSO?

The three artists in the group had performed a lot in Việt Nam but it felt like there was no result from our individual effort and that we were not making any impact. So we thought that coming together would help us better achieve our intentions, which are to help classical music get to a worthy position in Việt Nam, increase the number of classical concerts, and give Vietnamese musicians more opportunities to perform.

“Maestoso” is a term in music, which means majestic. I hope it expresses our seriousness and ideals towards the common good.

Pianist Lưu Đức Anh. — Photo courtesy of Lưu Đức Anh

Does your group perform regularly?

At the moment we try to do four concerts per year, because three of us are still studying abroad. We aim to perform once a month in the future.

I recall the group’s first concert was in a church in Hà Nội?

Yes. It was on December 23 last year at the St Joseph’s Cathedral. That was the first time a music concert ever took place inside a church in Việt Nam. We aim to do more of it, because playing in church is actually the right way to popularise classical music. In the old days in Europe, classical music was often played in church, mostly for kings. Then there came other formats like “salon” and “recital”, and now “concert” as we know it.

At our first concert, I saw people getting more serious just by walking into the church. It put them in a different state of mind. Church is a perfect place to play classical music.

Musicians in foreign countries also perform on the streets. Do you plan to do the same with MAESTOSO?

Probably, but it’s a long way down the road, because street music in Việt Nam currently has too many elements mixed together. Adding classical music now will only complicate it further. I want to give people the original classical music before “styling” it, taking it out on the street or incorporating rock and pop elements into my performances.

Now you’re doing a post-graduate course. Haven’t you got tired of studying?

Studying theoretical stuff – yes, I’m fed up with it, but not with piano. I still learn by myself and feel my technique improving every day, alongside my listening skill. I remember pianist Đặng Thái Sơn once said that the musician’s ears will gradually be able to hear more things, not just sounds, but other things. I am very proud that I am now able to hear a lot of things with my ears. I don’t want to brag, but I can tell what kind of person someone is just by listening to their voice or the way they play music.

Do you set any objectives for yourself?

I want to achieve a certain social status by the time I turn 30, becoming someone people respect. There are a lot of sponsors who want to support classical music nowadays, and I hope I will gain enough credibility to show them that I am worth supporting. — VNS

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