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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Chamber music in the Saigon Opera House

By Bradley Winterton

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HBSO has announced a concert of chamber music to be given in the Saigon Opera House on April 23.

With items by Bach, Prokofiev, Webster, Grieg, Wagner and Dvorak this will be a varied event with plenty to please everybody.

In chamber music, every instrumentalist is a soloist. So it is that 18 members of the HBSO Symphony Orchestra will appear, some only once, others more than once, in this rich program.

The evening begins with Bach, as indeed it should. He was the first truly major figure in classical music and he has dominated early 18th century music ever since.

This opening item is a chorale taken from a Bach cantata. Bach’s cantatas are musical arrangements for instruments, chorus and soloists written to be performed to mark every week of the year, and a chorale was a traditional, often stately hymn melody so arranged, “Ach Gott, erhor mein seufzen” (Oh hear, my God, my prayer) is one such work.

Several arrangements have been made of this popular work, several of them for brass instruments. In Saigon we shall hear it played by a horn, trombone, tuba and two trumpets. It will be a stirring opening to the evening.

Next will come Prokofiev’s Overture on Hebrew Themes. This will feature clarinet, two violins, a viola and a piano, plus the cello played by Meritorious Artist Nguyen Tan Anh.

A jazz saxophonist unexpectedly appears next, not in person but as the arranger of a suite based on Bizet’s popular opera Carmen. The instruments this time will be flute, clarinet and piano.

The concert’s first half concludes with Suite Number 1 taken from music for Peer Gynt by Edvard Grieg. It’s in four parts and features flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon and horn.

Peer Gynt was a play by Ibsen and Grieg wrote two suites of his incidental music. One famous item we will hear is “In the hall of the mountain king”. Peer, a young boy, is suffering from unrequited love and flees into the mountains of Norway in grief. There he is captured by trolls and taken to their king.

The evening’s second half features just two works.

The first is an all-brass rendition of a theme from Wagner’s opera Tannhauser (1845). The instruments are two trumpets, a horn, a trombone and a tuba. All five instrumentalists will have already appeared earlier in the concert.

The item from the opera is the famous Pilgrims’ Chorus. This is sung by a chorus but on this evening of chamber music will be rendered by brass instruments alone. This is particularly appropriate for this composer who wrote more resonantly for brass instruments than perhaps anybody else.

Even non-opera-goers are likely to be familiar with this music as it also features prominently in Wagner’s often-played Tannhauser overture.

Dvorak’s 40-minute-long Piano Quintet concludes the concert. It’s Dvorak’s most celebrated work in this format.

It’s in four movements. The second is entitled “Dumka”. This is a Ukrainian word signifying a movement in rondo form, with the first theme constantly returning.

The third movement is labelled “furiant”, a wild, fast Slavonic dance.

All in all, this concert should be a magnificent occasion, not only on account of the very varied program but also because it will display instrumentalists who are often hidden away in the depths of the orchestra.

It’s hard to pick out names, but pianist Pham Quynh Trang (in the Webster and the Dvorak), master cellist Nguyen Tan Anh (in the Prokofiev and the Dvorak) and viola-player Pham Vu Thien Bao (in the Prokofiev and the Dvorak) must suffice. Dvorak himself played the viola.

Tickets are from 400,000 VND to 750,000 VND, with a special concessionary rate of 80,000 VND for students, on production of a valid student card. The concert begins at 8pm.

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