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Friday, July 19, 2024

Stephane Tran Ngoc to play Paganini in Saigon

By Bradley Winterton

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HCMC – The Ho Chi Minh City Ballet, Symphony Orchestra and Opera (HBSO) will welcome celebrity violinist Stephane Tran Ngoc to perform as the soloist in Paganini’s First Violin Concerto in the Saigon Opera House on July 9.
Nicollo Paganini (1782 to 1840) was an extraordinary figure. He was widely believed to be inspired by the devil, and even to be playing the devil’s own music. He was a virtuoso violinist whose compositions are frequently designed to display his own extraordinary technique. He wasn’t above using tricks to enhance his reputation, such as cutting notches in his violin’s strings so they would break during a performance, enabling Paganini to continue on fewer strings to just as phenomenal an effect.

He founded a casino (which failed) and lived with his lover for many years without getting married to her. On his death, the Roman Catholic Church refused him burial for being in league with daemonic forces.

His compositions are nowadays seen as tests of violin technique, and lacking in soul (some think). But his reputation as a composer has risen considerably in recent decades. His 24th Caprice , for instance, is a star in the classical music crown.

He also, in common with his near-contemporary the opera composer Rossini, played the guitar, though never in public. He owned several famous instruments. He died in 1840, too early for any photograph of him to have survived.

He wrote six violin concertos. His Violin Concerto Number 1 was premiered in 1819, and Paganini employed various devices to enhance the effect made by the solo violin, such as having it play in a different key from the orchestra. He also added some military instruments to the score in later years – whether we shall hear these is Saigon is uncertain.

Be that as it may, Saigon is exceptionally fortunate to have as its violin soloist Stephane Tran Ngoc. At the age of 15 he was awarded 1st prize in violin and chamber music at the Paris National Superior Conservatory. He currently divides his time between France and Denmark (where he is concertmaster of the Danish Chamber Players, a key ensemble in Danish musical life).

Born in Paris of Vietnamese ancestry, Stephane Tran Ngoc is one of the most distinguished performers on any instrument to visit Vietnam. His presence here in Saigon on July 9 is sure to attract a large audience. In 2017 he astonished the patrons in the same opera house with an extraordinary encore performance of Paganini’s 24th Caprice.

The 30th anniversary of the death of Astor Piazzolla (1921 to 1992) falls in the week of the concert. Piazzolla was an Argentine composer of tango-related music, adapting the traditional dance into classical and jazz forms. In his memory the HBSO orchestra and Stephane Tran Ngoc will perform Autumn from his Four Seasons of Buenos Aires.

This important concert, however, will begin with Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence. This is a string sextet (two violins, two violas, two cellos) composed by Tchaikovsky at the end of his life. One of its melodies reminded the composer of Florence, Italy, which he had recently visited – hence the title.

The concert will be conducted by Meritorious Artist Tran Vuong Thach, the music director of HBSO. He was himself trained as a violinist, and his conducting this event is a sure sign of its importance in HBSO’s eyes.

Tickets cost VND400,000 to VND750,000 each, with a special concession for students of VND80,000. The concert begins at 8 p.m.

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