Pianist Luu Hong Quang: I have found the roots of music

Monday, 2017-03-27 17:55:11
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Pianist Luu Hong Quang (Photo: dantri.com.vn)
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NDO—Luu Hong Quang, together with his mentor, People’s Artist Dang Thai Son, is the pride of Vietnam’s classical music sector, as he has earned a lot of the world’s musical prizes, such as first prize at the Chopin Piano Contest and third prize at the Val Tidone International Music Competition, among others.

Quang has held that it is not true that you can contribute to the motherland only when you stay in Vietnam. He chose to go out and grow up and make the connection with the world, it is his way to bring Vietnam’s music closer to international audiences.

Question: You left Vietnam when you were 17. Now, you have many prestigious classical music prizes. What have you learnt from your ten-year journey?

Pianist Luu Hong Quang: I have participated in many competition over the past ten years; the number of contests in which I failed is triple those I have won. Such failure has made me question whether I really love music or just follow it as my aspiration, whether I do it with all my heart or just to win glory. Failure has taught me more than success. Now I know who I am and where I am.

In an interview, you said that the most significant milestone in your life was the time you spent in Canada learning piano with People’s Artist Dang Thai Son. What kind of influence has Son had on your musical career?

I have grown up a great deal thanks to two years as a student of People’s Artist Dang Thai Son, not only in piano techniques but also in behaviour, culture and philosophy. I understand who I really am. Working with him helped me find the roots of music, which should focus on depth rather than a flashy façade. This approach has had an impact on my lifestyle, the way I think and the maturity of my soul. This two-year period was a significant milestone, as it not only improved my piano technique, but also effected a makeover of my ideology.

You are known for your perfectionism, strong will and determination in the journey to find yourself. It seems that you don’t stop even when you are on top of victory. Is this true?

Before leaving for Canada, I graduated from the Australia International Conservatory of Music and earned a number of prizes. I felt fine at that time. However, I wondered whether this was all I could do or if there was still potential that I hadn’t developed yet. If I stop, I just stay in Australia and Vietnam only. But I want to go further.

I decided to return to be a normal student and isolated myself so I could practise. It is a challenge for me to figure out whether I really care for quality in doing arts or just aim for fame. When I finally understood that I should devote myself to the arts, not to fame, I felt very comfortable. I am not here to prove that I am better than others; if I thought so, this game would never end, because there would be others that would be better than I.

My decision to go to Canada was one of my best. Uncle Son has enlightened me that when you reach freedom in your soul, you can create your own space for music and become a true artist rather than just being a player.

Many artists want to return to Vietnam and contribute to the country after years living abroad. What do you think about this?

Living in a comfortable environment which fits you the most will raise productivity at work. I need a space to work quietly. I left Vietnam when I was 17; a ten-year journey has created a different lifestyle for me. Living abroad provides more opportunity for me to introduce young Vietnamese talent to the world.

I think that civilisations are like train carriages, and I am the link connecting them. When you sit in a certain carriage, you don’t know about the other ones and how to bring them together. You can contribute to your motherland no matter where you are. The world is big, and it provides you with opportunities to make you better.

Violinist Bui Cong Duy has shared that many Vietnamese youngsters over-evaluate their talent, which prevents them from going further in their arts careers. Have you ever experienced a situation where glory entices you to stop trying?

It is important to be confident and successful while being aware of where you are. It is dangerous not to know who you are. Many Vietnamese children show their talent at a very early age, but their talent quickly gets squandered then. This is unfair for a child without good guidance. At music conservatories, they are kept busy due to short-term goals. If they overindulge themselves in earning money, they cannot have enough time to hone their technique in the long term. It is ridiculous for one to waste his youth making money and then to spend his old age relearning what he had learnt before.

I think that teachers and lecturers should not ask for immediate success from their students, as it just forces them to do their work perfunctorily. It is difficult to nurture interest and grow it into passion, and it is even more difficult to raise passion into a career. An artist must not only be good at playing but also at personality, which is the decisive key to lead him to success.

People say that pianists live in their own world, so they are often alone and lonely. Do you feel the same?

When interacting with audiences, turning musical notes into a living experience that can hypnotise the audience, make them cry or make them laugh, the artist needs a great deal of energy, so after each performance he needs time to refuel himself. An artist’s energy is always taxed, and more dangerously, he has to repeat each performance many times, like a robot without feeling.

I think that I can teach my students techniques for and the origin and history of a composition, but not how deep to feel into music and their instruments. A musical prodigy is born naturally; this is partly true, but the key is he must love music unconditionally and forget himself while playing music.

Everyone in his youth wants to express himself and leave an impression on others, but impressions without depth can create an effect only. Before I met Uncle Son, I tended to make an effect to make myself different and show myself off.

Living far from Hanoi for ten years, what are your favourite things to do when you return to Hanoi?

I like wandering Hanoi’s corners, where have a strong attachment to my childhood memories. I like having pho at Thin food shop in Lo Duc—perhaps there is no food shop in the world that can cook a better pho dish than this one. But what I like the most is the simplicity and friendliness of Vietnam, where not everything is mechanised as it is in developed countries. Life is flowing constantly and is very vivid outside.

Thank you for sharing!