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Classics are music to youth orchestra's ears

Update: November, 08/2015 - 05:29
Instrumental: Maius Philharmonic Orchestra performs at the opening of the Monsoon Music Festival. The orchestra was established five years ago by a group of students at the Viet Nam National Academy of Music. — Photo courtersy of Maius Philharmony Orchestra
The young stars of the Maius Philharmonic Orchestra, the first ensemble of its kind, play symphonies, jazz and pop hits with equal passion. Nguyen Thuy Binh reports.

The Maius Philharmonic Orchestra will release its first album of classical crossover music to mark its sixth anniversary next year. This will be the first album released by a professional symphony orchestra, in a bid to lure young audiences to chamber music. This has been considered a difficult music genre to promote among the general public.

The orchestra will record musical pieces it performed at the Monsoon Music Festival in October, including eight compositions by conductor Luu Quang Minh and musician Nguyen Phong.

"Two pieces by musician Nguyen Phong, a talented jazz pianist, are among rare musical works combining jazz and orchestra," said Minh, who is a founder of the orchestra.

Phong arranged the popular folksong piece Hoa Thom Buom Luon (Scented Flowers Surrounded by Butterflies) and wrote Song Thu (Autumn River).

Across genres: Young musicians go into trances performing music pieces that aren't just symphonies, but also jazz, rock and pop music. — Photo

"Song Thu has been updated by music trends played by well-known international bands in the US, such as Snarky Puppy. Song Thu is similar to blended jazz, with the sophisticated rhythms of solo playing," Minh said.

One selection, Non Song Mot Dai, will be a theme heard throughout the album. It is Minh's latest work.

"I wrote Non Song Mot Dai (Unified Motherland) and Hoi Non Song (Motherland's festival), based on traditional melodies of northern, central and southern Viet Nam," he said. "I used Vietnamese musical scales when writing the pieces. The pieces will be performed on the Vietnamese bamboo flute and tranh (16-chord zither) and the orchestra."

Non Song Mot Dai was first performed to open the Monsoon Music Festival, the largest music event in Ha Noi in the past two years.

The 30-minute performance by the orchestra attracted younger audiences, thanks to its unique blend of pop, symphony and traditional music. At the festival's opening night, the musicians played with a background screen featuring beautiful landscapes.

Strings attached: Violist Quynh Anh performs at a concert.

The Maius Philharmonic is Viet Nam's only private symphony orchestra.

There are only a few professional symphony orchestras in the country. Almost all of them are owned by the Government, and affiliated to music colleges and national theatres.

"This is the first time a professional symphony orchestra like Maius Philharmonic has been established," said composer and producer Quoc Trung. "But I think the most important concern is how long it will exist and the quality of its performances.

"I can see the passion for music and pureness among the members in the orchestra. It is valuable. They need to take advantage of their youthful energy."

However, Trung also stressed that it should not place a burden on the young orchestra. He expressed his hope that the orchestra would be a successful model that attracted sponsors for classical music.

Time to shine: Young musicians feel respected when they play with the orchestra. — Photos

The Maius Philharmonic is not unknown to music lovers in music circles. It was originally called the Rhapsody Philharmonic.

Five years ago, Minh and his friend Nguyen Hung Cuong, students at the Viet Nam National Academy of Music, were allowed to conduct a concert at the academy to welcome new students.

But it was not just a welcome concert. All classical music students from every instrumental department took part in the performance.

"I couldn't imagine that about 40 students were playing music and encouraged by enthusiastic audiences in a 60-sq.m room," oboist Nguyen Xuan Son said. "It was an unforgettable moment for all the musicians, and our shirts were sweaty after the performance."

After Son graduated he took a job in a military band, though he continues performing with the orchestra.

"I want to maintain my freshness and enthusiasm for playing music. The orchestra is a place where I can play diverse genres of music," he said.

In addition to veterans like Minh and Son, the orchestra welcomes younger, less experienced musicians.

Centre stage: Conductor Luu Quang Minh at a concert held at the Cong Nhan (Worker) Theatre to mark the orchestra's third birthday. — Photo courtersy of Maius Philharmony Orchestra

"Maius provides us young musicians opportunities to perform like real artists on stage," said flutist Nguyen Quynh Oanh. "We feel respected."

While promoting We L.I.V.E Music, members of the orchestra share a passion for music and expressing themselves.

"You may imagine that an orchestra should have to perform in luxurious theatres where audiences listen seriously in silence and clap their hands elegantly when the show ends, but that's something we are not," Minh said. "Maius Philharmonic musicians can play anywhere and we're encouraged when the audience stands up and dances to our music."

When the orchestra organises up its own shows - as opposed to performing at a set event - each member is responsible for a different task, like designing advertising posters, seeking sponsorships, arranging the show and inviting guests.

At the Long Bien Bridge Festival 2010 in Ha Noi, the orchestra performed for an audience of more than 4,000 with the bamboo flute, dan bau (Vietnamese monochord), dan tranh and violin. They were accompanied by DJs.

Grand old time: The orchestra' has about 35 permanent members. — Photo

The concert was among a series that the orchestra performed during its first five years.

In addition, the young musicians have played at public locations, including flower gardens, squares and shopping malls.

The orchestra held its first press conference following its ninth concert to mark the third year since its establishment.

In the past, there was a lack of financing to operate the orchestra and professionalise its organisation, to assure its continued existence and maturity. In Viet Nam, many bands disintegrate because they lack professional management, according to composer Quoc Trung.

"Passion is not enough to drive an orchestra, or even a band," Trung said. "Conductors and art directors are responsible for programmes. The orchestra needs to be popularised, as well as receive invitations to perform.

"It is necessary to ensure the proper number of members in the orchestra and keep their passion alive. This is difficult because it requires a good manager."

It is also a concern for conductor Minh, who established the orchestra when he was a student. The orchestra is made up of about 35 music students from 17 to 25 at the Ha Noi Music Academy. Sometimes the number rises to as high as 70.

"However, I don't worry much about personnel," Minh said. "After five years, organisation and management are still problems."

Minh now is preparing for the group's big concert at the Viet Nam National Academy of Music's Grand Hall in December. The concert is being held at the invitation of the academy's Wind Instrument Department. The show's content is secret.

The Monsoon Music Festival was not only just a chance for the Maius Philharmonic to officially debut.

The festival organisers also decided to sponsor a project that would help young musicians. As part of the project, the Maius Philharmonic will be given support selecting, practising, and performing its music. — VNS

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