Classical music is undergoing a renaissance
The HCMC Conservatory of Music is situated in a grand building on Nguyen Du, constantly filled with young students bustling about with instruments bigger than themselves and a contagious energy to learn. This vibrant building is home to the Saigon Philharmonic Orchestra (SPO), one of two professional orchestras in Ho Chi Minh City.
The Saigon Philharmonic Orchestra has only been called by this name since 2013, but has existed since 2010. The orchestra is also relatively young in the age of its players; its 40 musicians consist of a mix of professional musicians, amateurs, students and teachers. There are frequent guest musicians who will come for a single programme, or stay for weeks or months at a time. The youngest player is 19 years old while the oldest is 65, and there is even a father and son playing violin side-by-side, two generations practicing together.
The SPO offers a learning space for many of the students at the HCMC Conservatory for them to develop in their classical training. Adrian Tan, music director at the Saigon Philharmonic, says: “To play in [the SPO] is very similar to driving in Saigon; you must maintain precise synchronicity with everyone around you while also being able to play your part.”
The latest programme, Legacy, performed on Jun. 24 at the HCMC Conservatory of Music, consisted of two distinct pieces; Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor and Johannes Brahms' Piano Concerto No.1 in D minor.
The Legacy programme featured Maestra Apo Hsu as the guest conductor from Taipei and the piano concerto was led by pianist Albert Tiu from the Philippines. “I’m feeling fortunate to be involved in the Brahms, as it’s not a piece you normally get to perform,” said Albert during the final rehearsal. “It’s very elaborate and a challenge to play, but rewarding for everyone.”
Both pieces were majestic to hear played live, but the Beethoven Symphony No.5 is an unconscious classic. Maestra Apo used her conducting skills to lead the audience on a wild ride from the rolling crescendos followed by delicate melodies, through the continual build-up of a challenging but playful piece.
“The orchestra was extremely responsive,” she says. “The room was filled with energy when they played, and the pieces were filled with such complexity and excitement.”
When it was released, Beethoven’s Fifth was considered obscene with the amount of emotion it demonstrated, but it is so cleverly composed it has become a legend that people recognise immediately. At a performance such as this, it is easy to sit back in awe as the cellos and bass reverberate in your chest and the melodies tickle your ears.
The magic of watching a good conductor is observing their interaction with the orchestra, how effortless their command and the whole affair appears. With sharp fingers and controlled gesticulation, Maestra Apo guided the room on an auditory musical adventure. The power in a talented orchestra lies in the combined effort of every musician; they must not only know the piece and their individual role, but also be able to listen to each other and feel the energy.
“Music should be essential to everyone,” says Adrian Tan. “Many people associate classical music with old European men because history has dwindled musicians down to the few greats. But that doesn’t mean it can only be performed or enjoyed by old European men, there is something we can all find from this music.”
Classical music transcends language or spoken words — it resonates within you, makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end, manipulates your heartbeat with the crescendos and whispered phrases.
The Saigon Philharmonic Orchestra may be young and ambitious, but it pays off in the beautiful symphonies they perform and the fantastic way they play together.
For info on upcoming performances click on facebook.com/SaigonPhil