Orchestra composer's new work inspires young musicians

December 14, 2022 - 10:48
After nearly ten years, composer Trần Mạnh Hùng returned to write a petite suite entitled Thiên Thanh (Colours of Nature) for orchestra. The piece was premiered by Việt Nam Young Orchestra (VYO) last week at Hà Nội Opera House.
Composer Trần Mạnh Hùng. — Photo coutesy of the composer

Composer Trần Mạnh Hùng's symphony works have won Việt Nam Musicians' Association awards and are performed in the world, including Germany, Russia and Brazil.

After nearly ten years, he returned to write a petite suite entitled Thiên Thanh (Colours of Nature) for orchestra. The piece was premiered by Việt Nam Young Orchestra (VYO) last week at Hà Nội Opera House.

Việt Nam News reporter Nguyễn Bình interviewed the composer about the musical piece and his work currently.

Were you commissioned to write the new piece for VYO?

Maybe this is the first time Việt Nam has a young orchestra. It has great human value. Young people should play instruments than use smart technology.

In developed countries, after graduation from high school, students have basic music knowledge equivalent to junior-year students at Việt Nam Academy of Music.

Music and culture are also soft power essential for future generations. VYO commissioned me in early October to write the piece for their concert on December 6.

This is a special commission for me. I gave a favour for writing the piece because I feel responsible for the young generation. This is the first time I have written an article for young musicians, and they will play it exclusively in three years.

With assistance from Việt Nam National Opera and Ballet's musicians, VYO practised the piece at the weekends for two months. It is not a long time, but they perform emotionally. As a composer, I appreciate their feelings about the piece, not how they play.

What inspired you to compose it?

VYO leaders asked me to write the piece with melodies based on Vietnamese traditional music. It needs to play quickly, but the most important thing is to help people feel traditional music through orchestral music.

It was a problem that I needed to solve. I have three weeks to write the petite suite with three chapters. In the first chapter, called Mường Hoa Xuân (Spring Flowers), I used melodies from Mông, Thái and Red Dao ethnic groups in the northwestern area.

I wrote the second chapter Trăng Đại Ngàn (Moon in the Forest), based on the music of Bana and Gia Rai ethnic minorities in Central Highlands. And the third chapter Kinh Đô Mở Hội (Festive Palace), I used melodies of nhã nhạc (court music) and Chăm group.

I wrote for VYO, so I had to choose something suitable. I recalled my youth. I think that all young people love nature. So I decided the name Thiên Thanh to implicate that the sky is always ahead of us. The blue of the sea and the sky, the green of the mountains and the forests, nature and youth. I wrote this piece of work from those young and fresh emotions.

I want the young music players to preserve the aesthetic value of Vietnamese traditional music. In addition, it will help them connect deeply to their homeland culture and music.

You are a prolific composer with different music genres such as the symphony, symphonic poem, symphonic suite and song. Have you ever thought about writing an opera?

Yes, I think that writing an opera is more than a dream. I've been dreaming of writing opera for quite some time. Opera is the most prominent genre in the music of humanity. Opera writing is more than a challenge. If a musician completes opera writing, he will pass an examination.

Plus, it needs a lot of money to stage an opera. I wrote an opera eight years ago, but I haven't finished yet because it is not a commission, and I have a lot of other things to do. That's life. It takes me one year to focus on writing only, and then it is not staged. It is dreamy. So I had to stop to write.

I will complete the opera when I have time.

Did you dream of becoming a composer when you were a child?

I don't dream of becoming a composer because I have a passion for painting. But my father doesn't like painting. My mother likes music, and I study music. I think that I help my mother turn her dream into reality. I still remember the songs she sings all day.

It is difficult for me to enroll at Việt Nam Academy of Music. After entering the academy, I was put in a traditional music class. I liked music quickly, and I jumped consecutively from the first year to the third and third year to the fifth year, thanks to my study achievements.

When I study traditional music, I'm always praised by my teacher. He favoured me, and he advised me to study composition. But, at that time, I have no idea about composition studying.

Like fate, I studied music according to my parent's wishes, and then I studied composition according to my teacher's advice. However, studying design is not simple as learning traditional instruments. I need more time and study much harder.

Could you tell me about your co-operation currently with rapper Đen Vâu?

I consider when I was invited to work with Đen Vâu. Symphony and rap are pretty different. I have little knowledge about rap. But after listening to his songs, I see that he is special. His song lyrics are meaningful, and I feel his conveyance in the songs.

Rap is inner-city street culture, whilst orchestra music is academic performance. Some people will ask why the two music genres are combined.

I think that arrangement is a skill for using instruments. Pop musicians change the timbre of their instruments every decade. Pop music always has to change the tone like fashion to change the fabric, the colour and the design.

Symphony has existed for hundreds of years and hasn't changed at all. Orchestra is human quintessence to collect instruments. Each instrument has a beautiful sound making a symphony to express all human emotions. Symphony has conquered listeners over hundreds of years.

In the first album Đongvui Harmony by Đen Vâu, I use an orchestra to play rap music and no electronic instruments. However, I watch very few videos on combining orchestra and rap by international artists on Youtube and see that they use the orchestra as a part of electronic instruments.

I feel Đen Vâu's songs and the orchestra helps me express my feeling. — VNS