KVT – A Tribute and a Celebration to Austria and Song Hong

KVT – A Tribute and a Celebration to Austria and Song Hong

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KVT 2013

KVT and occasional article about expatriates who have made an outstanding contribution to the Vietnamese cultural scene… This is a tribute to the former Austrian Ambassador to Vietnam, 2009-2013 and his wife who contributed enormously to the classical music scene in Hanoi….and also a celebration of an exciting Vietnamese chamber music ensemble that they mentored.

October 26, 2009 was an auspicious day for five Vietnamese musicians.

It was Austria’s National Day and the newly arrived Austrian Ambassador, Georg Heindl and his wife Neline, decided to celebrate the event by inviting a musician, violinist Phan Thi To Trinh, who had studied in Austria, to play for their guests. Trinh, a teacher at VNAM- Vietnam National Academy of Music- in Hanoi and violinist with the Hanoi Philharmonic Orchestra asked four musician friends to join her in an informal chamber music ensemble for the occasion.

Neline’s shining grand piano was a prominent feature of the residence’s reception room and this meant that Pham Quynh Trang (also a teacher VNAM and an occasional pianist with the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra) was able to be invited and join Trinh in musical conversation with lead violinist Pham Truong Son (another VNAMcolleague and in the Philharmonic), full time cellist with the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra, Dao Tuyet Trinh, and experienced and very talented viola player, Ho Viet Khoa.

Neline recognized the potential of the players and encouraged them to come together as a permanent chamber music ensemble. They followed her advice and started snatching precious spare time for rehearsals in an attempt to become an integral part of Hanoi’s classical music scene

So Song Hong was born, named after the river that flows the rough Hanoi

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I first caught up with the ensemble performing a spring concert at the L’Espace auditorium in early 2011
Like any competent chamber music ensemble the players can utilize their talents to perform in a variety of configurations and, to a crowded house of families, friends, and inquisitive lovers of chamber music, they commenced admirably with piano, violin and cello playing two movements of Brahm’s well loved Piano Trio No 3.

Then they tackled Schumann’s Piano Quintet Op 44 which the group still concedes is the most difficult piece they’ve taken on so far. Tackled it so scintillatingly that I became an immediate Song Hong fan.

I had recently become acquainted with the music of Argentinean composer Astor Piazzola and when the quintet flowed into the Spring movement from his ‘Four Seasons of Buenos Aires’ They won me over completely and I decided that they more than deserved the bottles of Austrian wine and red roses presented to them by their number one fans and benefactors, the Heindl family from the Austrian embassy

2012 was momentous for the Song Hong. Their reputation had grown and at their Spring Concert when they played Schubert’s String Quintet in C major and Dvorak’s Piano Quintet, the house was packed with fans.

The icing on the Song Hong cake was at the celebration of Austria’s National Day in October when the Austrian Embassy invited their country’s internationally famous Acies String Quartet to perform at the Hanoi Opera House and in TP Ho Chi Minh As it was also the 40th anniversary of Austria’s establishment of diplomatic relations with Vietnam, the Ambassador and his wife arranged that the Acies would work with Song Hong in days prior to the concert and include them in the evening’s program.

And what a performance it was. Acies started off with Hayden’s Opus 74, the ‘Rider’ and to prove their versatility, an atonal quartet by Gulda. This modern piece set the stage and the challenge for Song Hong who met it magnificently with contemporary Vietnamese composer Vu Nhat Tan’s experimental tone poem ‘Rains’. This was an edge of your seat listening experience and demonstrated the maturity that the ensemble had developed as a piano quintet

To cap off one of those delightful concerts that stay embedded in your memory, the Song Hong strings joined the Acies in Mendelssohn’s Octet Opus 20.

Gruppenbild 28 Oktober 2012

In late January this year the Song Hong’s were invited back to L’Espace for another Spring Concert and they really excelled themselves.

They commenced with Hayden’s piano trio ‘Gypsy’ and Neline said, after being totally enthused by the third movement, that she felt like transporting the musicians back through time to 18th century Eisenstadt at the Austrian Hungarian border where Haydn had composed so many of his works and where they would be able to feel the gypsy vibes that had spilled and danced like sparks from their keys and strings. It was music that had your fingers and toes tapping. I had to clamp my feet to the floor in case I started drumming with them.
Schubert’s String Quartet No 12 followed to tremendous applause but it was their sensitive interpretation of Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet Op 57 that made me realize that they’d really come of age and I had to agree with Neline when she stated … ‘all I need now is a glass of excellent champagne to compliment music that brought tears to my eyes.’

It was that good!


On a warm July evening this year there was a reception at the Austrian Ambassador’s residence. The Heindl family were at the end of their stay in Hanoi and were ready to transfer across the Pacific to the United States to take up a diplomatic post in New York. A field of diplomats, friends and musicians had been invited to a reception to say farewell.

In the reception room where the shining grand piano stood proud, guests were invited to be seated and after a short recital on its keys by young Anna Heindl, members of Song Hong took their places to give their tribute to the Heindl family.

As a finale the quintet sent shivers up my spine with a re-playing of the first and last movement of Shostakovich’s String Quartet. It was a fitting and emotional way of saying thank you and farewell

Song Hong, Honna and Heindls
The Austrian Ambassador, Georg Heindl, and his wife Neline, four original members of Song Hong and Mr Tetsuji Honna, Musical Director and Principal Conductor, Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra

Goethe described chamber music as a small group of rational people conversing through their instruments and whenever you hear an ensemble playing at their peak it’s an analogy that is amazingly accurate. Future conversations that the Song Hong share with each other and their audiences should be delightful and, at times, amazing.

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Chamber music was initially written for like minded friends to play in each others’ homes and it is the tem friends that is true today if an ensemble is to constantly rehearse together, agree upon interpretations of the music they play, and in the likelihood of travelling to distant venues on tours, to be have an abiding empathy for each other

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When you see Song Hong performing, this empathetic friendship is very apparent and has supported them through twenty concerts so far including a guest appearance at the First Mozart String Competition in Bangkok where Son and Trinh were members of the Jury, and at the China/Asian Music week in Naning where they had great success playing Vietnamese classical works

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Naturally the members of the Song Hong aim to travel overseas to take part in chamber music competitions or to play at invitational concerts, but sponsorship is the biggest issue that hinders them developing a deserved, international reputation. It’s also lack of sponsorship that precludes them from performing more often in Hanoi with expenses such as venue rentals being an issue.


Song Hong will finish 2013 with a concert for friends and admirers on December at VNAM, 77 Hao Nam St, with two pieces by Mozart and Mendelssohn.

Young viola player Khuc Van Khoa, who was invited to join the ensemble in 2013, will go to Europe to continue his music studies and will be replaced by another young talent, Do Huong Tra My. She’s a final year student at VNAM and has studied in Norway.

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The Song Hong continues to be an exciting and influential tributary flowing into the Vietnamese musical stream….a tributary that owes its genisis to a supportive Austrian presence.

Some Song Hong YOU TUBE excerpts follow:

Kiem Van Tim is a keen observer of life in general and the Hanoi cultural scene in particular and offers some of these observations to the Grapevine. KVT insists that these observations and opinion pieces are not critical reviews. Please see our Comment Guidelines / Moderation Policy and add your thoughts in the comment field below.


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