Tra Nguyen Pianist

Words

Meet The Artist Interview

Click to read interview on source website.

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and make it your career?

I was growing up in Hanoi right after the war so taking up piano was not exactly my conscious decision, given the trying circumstances that we were all facing. My father, though, was a violinist, a graduate from the Moscow Conservatory, had noticed that I had some musical abilities and was very persistent that I would take up an instrument. After my refusal to play the violin (too difficult !), he miraculously found a second-hand piano that I was much more happy to get on with. My father certainly had ignited the love for music that has become my close companion since.

Who or what were the most important influences on your playing?

I do find that most things are closely interconnected: human voice plays a substantial part in my understanding of sound - innate and comparative; literature helps me to understand the psychological architecture and the narrative sense of a music composition; visual arts inspire me to explore different spectrums and shapes of sound and, more importantly, the relationships with people in my life teach me to understand the emotional meaning of all the above.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

The greatest challenge so far is to view what I love doing most as a career. I constantly struggle with this concept since certain things that are considered to be good for the 'career' nowadays can kill true creativity. We are living in an era where most things are expected or forced to happen instantly while the truth is ars longa, vita brevis.

Which performances/compositions/recordings are you most proud of?

I don't have one that I am totally happy with - but when it happens that the music directs me, draws out unexpected things in concerts or in the recording studio, it feels quite good!

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

As long as there is an audience who wants to listen, am in it.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I love to play too many things (not always from the solo repertoire) but performing the Andante from Brahms Second Piano Concerto brings a deep sense of wonder. It feels very special to be a living part of such ethereal sound world, breathing and creating it on spot with other musicians.

I listen all the time so on top of a very long list, can I have more Lully and Medtner's songs?

Who are your favourite musicians?

There are so many musicians that I admire: Edwin Fischer, Clara Haskil, Henrich Neuhaus, Carlos Kleiber, Kathleen Ferrier are the first ones that came to mind. When you listen to these performers, music is what you hear first, not the "performance" nor "interpretation".

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There are two: the first one is listening to Richter playing a Bach recital by candlelight in Moscow when I was a child. Time simply stopped. I hadn't known until then that such beauty existed.

Second is witnessing Sir Colin Davis conducting Sibelius 5th symphony in London:- in the finale, just a few seconds before the famous climax reached its height, he stepped back, stopped conducting altogether and let the musicians continue by themselves. That was a great gesture of trust and the result was that as if the music was set to be free, it flew up and exploded into a firework of sounds and emotions - very moving.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

For learning as well as performing: listen with your mind but see with your heart.

If you are a pianist, go out and make music with your fellow musicians - learning Schubert Winterreise is as important as learning Bach WTK!

What are you working on at the moment?

A selection of piano sonatas for my upcoming recital at the Wigmore Hall

Clementi Sonata op.25 no.5
Schubert Sonata D664
Scriabin Sonata no.6 op.62
Chopin Sonata op.58

What is your most treasured possession?

My windows. I live in a small place but it is quite high so the far-reaching view keeps things in different prospective. The ever changing sky accompanied by London's diverse rhythm is the most valuable live painting that I could ever own.

November 2012

 

Brief Notes For Raff Series On Grand Piano, NAXOS

RAFF PIANO WORKS • 1
BALLADE • SCHERZO • METAMORPHOSEN • FRÜHLINGSBOTEN • FANTAISIE

I will always remember my first reading of Joachim Raff's piano music in the British Library – in front of me was music filled with exquisite beauty, light and joy. It has been a privileged journey to discover and to recreate this wonderful sound world of the composer once again.

 

RAFF PIANO WORKS • 2
FANTASIE-SONATE OP. 168 • VARIATIONEN ÜBER EIN ORIGINALTHEMA OP. 179 • VIER KLAVIERSTÜCKE OP. 196

Most performing musicians would agree that the process of 'deciphering' the scores in order to find out the composers' foot-prints behind the notations is the most fascinating aspect of what we do. The Raff's recording projects have been very challenging in a sense that here is the composer whose musical language is very versatile and eclectic - at times it felt like learning Akkadian with German grammar! But how rewarding it can also be when the music choses to reveal its elusive beauty, switching from the spiritual stillness of slow movements to the delicacy of heartfelt miniatures, or to make one stand up to dance along with foot-tapping Hungarian finales - all asking me to come back and searching for more.

 

RAFF PIANO WORKS • 3
ALBUM LYRIQUE, OP. 17 • CINQ EGLOGUES, OP. 105 • IMPROMPTU–VALSE, OP. 94 • FANTAISIE–POLONAISE, OP. 106

While the previous two volumes of Raff’s piano music showed the composer as the restrained romantic, Vol.3 is quite a departure from attitudes and strict rules of classicism. It was a real revelation for me to see Raff’s softer side, embracing a thorough lyrical, sensitive and intimate voice for the Album Lyrique op.17 and Five Eclogues op.105. These short pieces hold moments of rare sonic beauty – fragile and ephemeral as dew drops before sunrise.

Tra Nguyen

 

Music, Hanoi and Moscow

"I was born in a quiet part of Hanoi in early spring, soon after the Peace Agreement was signed in Paris. As with many postwar children in Vietnam, I learnt about the basic human needs but also about the value of the selfless parental love in most vivid ways. While the living conditions then were not most comforting due to scarcity of food and electricity, I was surrounded by lots of Bach solo violin, mostly in tune, played by my father's students. We lived in a tiny place that always felt secretive to me because there were one front door, one back door but no windows. I, however, was very happy with the world that opened up for me from my mother's bookshelf that would take me from the mystic world of Ancient Greece to the troubled sea of Hemingway via the moon of Stefan Zweig with Japanese plum gardens spread out beneath. The state of being curious as a form of escapism has followed me since.

I have been fascinated with human voice and the rich world of sounds since I was a child so music came naturally as a way of being. Much later on, spending my teenage years in the foreign land of Russia as a student, caught up in the midst of the social chaos caused by the abrupt fall of the Soviet Union, I learnt that music can be one of the way to reach out to others. Music, I realised, can move beyond physical constraints, transcends metaphysical boundaries and yet, it touches and binds us together with the immediacy of sound and time.

For me, music represents the gentle power that does not divide and am grateful for its presence in my life."