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Romantic music by Mendelssohn and Schumann
Bradley Winterton
Wednesday,  Jul 26, 2017,23:06 (GMT+7)

Romantic music by Mendelssohn and Schumann

Bradley Winterton

Conductor Tran Nhat  Minh - PHOTO: HBSO

When the HBSO organizers announced “A Night of Romantic Music”, they were not referring to falling in love. “Romantic”, in this sense, refers to a long period in the history of the arts that spanned almost the whole of the 19th century. It is seen as being in contrast to the “Classical” period that went before it, and the “Modern” period that followed. It is marked by, among other things, an intensity of emotion and a general expansiveness. The two works to be performed on July 29 in the Opera House both belong to this Romantic Period.

They are also highly youthful works. Schumann’s First Symphony was written when he was 31, while Mendelssohn’s Concerto for 2 pianos in E Major was written, astonishingly, when he was 14. They’re also linked by the fact that the conductor of Schumann’s symphony at its premiere was none other than Mendelssohn (by then aged 32) himself.

At a rehearsal earlier this week, conductor Tran Nhat Minh said he was aiming to expand both the Ho Chi Minh City Orchestra’s and his own symphonic experience. Earlier in the year (April 19) they had undertaken Dvorak’s Symphony No: 8, but this Schumann symphony was much more difficult.

Schumann was essentially a pianist, and sometimes his writing for the string instruments looked as if it would be more suitable to a piano. It was pianism transferred to orchestral form, he said.

I asked him how long it took to prepare to conduct a work like this. “Six months, intensive,” he replied. Every mark in the score means something, and then when you have studied it in exhaustive detail you find new things about it again when you hear the orchestra playing it. He said every sound had a color, in the imagination anyway, and quoted the Georgian-British singer-songwriter Katie Melua, saying “The piano keys are black and white, but they sound like a million colors in your mind.”

I asked him why he had chosen Schumann’s first attempt to write a symphony, not one of the later ones. There were problems with the later ones, he said. The “Rhenish” Symphony, for instance, had five movements and parts that sounded like a chorale. But essentially he chose the First Symphony because of the brilliance of the music.

The reason Mendelssohn’s Concerto for 2 pianos in E Major was chosen, he said, was because the two soloists, Nguyen Thuy Yen and Pham Nguyen Anh Vu, had asked to play it. They are both young piano teachers at the Conservatory of Ho Chi Minh City.

Tran Nhat Minh added that he aimed to conduct a new symphony every year. His next project, however, is the operetta Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss II (1874). It is being performed as part of the Arts Festival Autumn Melodies (August 19-27), and he will conduct the second of its two performances. The first will be conducted by Askan Siegfried Geisler.

The Mendelssohn and Schumann concert is on Saturday July 29, at the Opera House. It begins at 8pm.

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