Tag Archives: Leslie Stewart

Kenney-Stewart South Korea tour photo

Our Korean Experience, Entry #6

Director of Orchestras Wes Kenney and Music Professor Leslie Stewart are spending two weeks in South Korea where Maestro Kenney will conduct the Changwon Philharmonic. These entries document their latest experience!

Wednesday, June 20
A routine has been established of an American or Korean breakfast followed by a stop at Starbucks. At a Korean coffee house, if you want a quick coffee you need to order a Cafe Americano or a Latte and they will always ask if you want it hot or iced for the latter is very popular. For a drip or brewed coffee, you’ll need to wait at least five minutes as they do individual cups only and fresh.

Rehearsal begins at 10 a.m., goes to 12:30 p.m. We then seek out a lunch and following that is more exploration. The breakfasts are OK, but never really varied. The orange or tomato juice that comes with the American breakfast comes out of a carton as a convenience and the coffee is an Americano. There is one choice of white toast and if you order poached eggs, they will come on the top of it. There is an ingenious strawberry jam packet that squeezes the jam on your toast when you fold and bend it between your fingers.

Ju-eun LeeToday’s rehearsal is going through the entire Prokofiev symphony and we’re all tired by the end. Before leaving the hall, the two inquiring violinists from the previous day appear and tell Choi they would like to take us to lunch the next day between rehearsals. Today our midday meal is with Inho and Jeune Lee, the wonderful pianist who came to Fort Collins last November and performed with FCS. She is thrilled to see us and we enjoy some lively conversation over another traditional Korean lunch with even more taste experiences. Jeune is playing a concert of her own on Friday near the DMZ on the north side of the country. She is a faculty member at a nearby university as well. Jeune is particularly excited to be returning to Fort Collins to perform and adjudicate at the Keyboard Odyssiad at CSU in August.

After lunch, Inho guides Choi and us through Changwon University where he teaches conducting. The university is up on a hill, something that is common for most schools in Korea as the land is less expensive as explained by Choi. It is a nice campus and we stop at a student coffee house to grab some ice coffee and hear about Inho’s graduate conducting class which he has just started teaching this past fall. Changwon University has a small music department and we pass by the building where it is housed.

Wes Kenney and Leslie Stewart at the beach in South Korea After that we are off to one of Busan’s famous beaches along a strip of modern high-rises. The beach is clean and not very crowded for this time of year, but it is later in the afternoon about 4 p.m. by the time we arrive. Leslie and I take a walk to explore some of the sculptures found about 150 yards into the water. Swimming is limited and a boat or a jet-ski with patrolmen wave people out of the water where they are not supposed to be. No one seems to know why swimming is not allowed near us, but is fine about 500 yards to our left. It is here on this Busan beach that we see more foreigners. In Changwon, it is possible to go an entire day and see one or even none.

On returning, Choi takes me across the street south of the hotel to order dinner. Tonight is fried chicken, another food that the Koreans love. When we do sit down, we are given a cabbage slaw and a huge platter of chicken pieces and they are very tasty. We go to sleep early for Thursday will be a double rehearsal with our soloist.

~ Submitted by Wes Kenney, Director of Orchestras

Kenney-Stewart South Korea tour photo

Our Korean Experience, Entry #5

Director of Orchestras Wes Kenney and Music Professor Leslie Stewart are spending two weeks in South Korea where Maestro Kenney will conduct the Changwon Philharmonic. These entries document their latest experience!

Tuesday, June 19
We are on our own today as Choi has a concert elsewhere in the area. Changwon has a Philharmonic – a full-time orchestra, Busan has a Philharmonic – a full-time orchestra, and Choi is playing with an orchestra on an island that is a pick-up group. It is clear that South Korea is flush with musicians and they are well-trained. There also seems to be a bit of a competition amongst the groups. I pick-up a brochure for next season in the conductor’s lounge of yet another orchestra nearby. On the season is Mahler 5 AND Mahler 2, not to mention, Bruckner 7. I ask Choi regarding the heavy-handedness of the repertoire in one season and he comments on the ambitiousness of their music director. It occurs to me that not only are these full-time orchestras, but they are BIG ensembles with more than 100 musicians on the payroll.

There is also huge local government subsidies to these ensembles, from what I understand, hundreds of thousands of dollars. That thought leads us to one of the dichotomies I discover during this week: five out of the six  rehearsals are spent in a rehearsal room and the last rehearsal is on stage the mid-afternoon of the concert. I’m not sure if this is a cost saving measure, but for great orchestras, it does seem odd that the “fifth section” of the ensemble – the space they play in and its impact on the music – does not come into play until the final day.

After our standard breakfast in the hotel – the soup has now changed to corn-chowder to start – I walk across the street to the hall where Inho greets me, brings more water, and then leaves me to get rehearsal started. The concertmaster Reena comes in to ask me about a misprinted rhythm in the violin 1 and clarinet part, then goes off to tune the orchestra. With the ample rehearsal time for this concert (!), I have the luxury of digging into just the 3rd and 4th movements of the Prokofiev. All goes well with the rehearsal process (although today I’m giving rehearsal numbers in English and German since I’ver heard many have received training in that country) and again I let them out a few minutes early.

South Korean mealLeslie has arrived at the end of the rehearsal and while I’m toweling off, two violinists from the orchestra appear at my door. One of them asks if we speak French, which does not get us far, but they seem to want to have lunch with us later in the week. I tell her that we’ll talk when Choi comes back on Wednesday.

Ms. Baek, the PR person in the office volunteers to help us find a different Korean lunch a bit further away from the hall, but still within walking distance of the hotel. We go about a quarter mile north of our neighborhood and are shown a traditional restaurant where our host orders for us then departs.  Soon a large ground beef patty is brought to the table which we are supposed take pieces from (harder with chopsticks) to wrap up in lettuce, or cabbage, or sesame leaves with Kimchee, chili sauce, and other sides. This is similar to the way much of the Korean styled BBQ is eaten.  We are also served a type of pork soup, all of it wonderful.

red bean ice creamWe then walk into a neighborhood just a few blocks south that is filled with restaurants (one is Vietnamese), coffee, and dessert places. What is unusual about this neighborhood is that none of the buildings are taller than two stories and most have outdoor patio seating. The coffee houses in particular do a serious business even with several being side by side by side. We are on the hunt for a red bean ice cream, an ice concoction that Ms. Baek has mentioned and after several stops we score one. It is huge and similar to what we had with Choi at Spaland. Our walk back takes us around a school with a park with some green houses and finally deposits us on the north end of the lake opposite our hotel.

A few supplies are in order so we walk a few blocks southeast of the hotel to a huge traffic circle lined with stores. Our destination is a business called emart which contains a huge grocery store on the bottom floor along with McDonalds and a few other fast food franchises. The upper floors contain other goods so it feels as if we’re at a large Target. The grocery level is busy and we have come to pick out a few gifts for people. There are many packaged foods as we have learned from Choi that Korean people are generally busy with work and that time for cooking at home is limited. For example, under coffee there are many choices of “Coffee Sticks”, essentially instant coffee that we also find in our room. A kettle on a heating base is always available to heat water, something we have found in the accommodations of other Asian countries. Before returning to the hotel, we walk across the street and look at the Lotte Cinema just to see what is playing and discover a mix of Korean and U.S. films (with subtitles).

We decide to dine in the hotel’s Cubar’s Grill for dinner and are rewarded with a very reasonable Prix Fixe dinner complete with pasta, steak and dessert. It is a bit more western than we’ve had and a respite from all the new tastes we have been experiencing.

Another extraordinary day!

~ Submitted by Wes Kenney, Director of Orchestras

Our Korean Experience, Entry #4

Director of Orchestras Wes Kenney and Music Professor Leslie Stewart are spending two weeks in South Korea where Maestro Kenney will conduct the Changwon Philharmonic. These entries document their latest experience!

Monday, June 18
It is Monday which marks the first day of rehearsals with the Changwon Philharmonic. Choi has been very upbeat about the orchestra as an ensemble saying several times, “You’re going to love this orchestra, Maestro!” We meet Choi around 9:30 and walk over to the hall. The Changwon Arts center is a huge complex with several theaters at street level and offices and rehearsal space below. After we cross the street, Inho Kim, the orchestra’s associate conductor, meets us outside with the orchestra manager and walks us down a long hallway lined with photographs of the various resident arts group and posters for upcoming concerts. We turn a corner and I’m ushered into the conductors dressing lounge complete with elegant paintings of the previous two and current music directors. There is a nice area to relax, a grand piano, refrigerator, desk, computer, and other things that might be appreciated, such as a hot water kettle for coffee or tea. Inho makes sure I have cold water and we meet briefly with the general manager and personnel manager regarding the rehearsal schedule.

The assistant concertmaster, Rina – acting as concertmaster for this performance – comes in and introduces herself. She speaks fluent English after having been trained in New York at Juilliard and spending many a summer at the Aspen Music Festival. Rina is also good friends with Michelle Kim, an assistant concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic and a soloist with us next season. She asks a few questions about Prokofiev, then also about the size of the string section for the Brahms Violin Concerto on the program. For this concert they are carrying 14, 12, 10, 10, 6, which we reduce by one stand for the concerto. Today and tomorrow though, we will only work on the Prokofiev Symphony No. 5. Inho read through the piece with them on the previous Friday, so they at least have a sense how the piece goes. The orchestra tunes (before the 10 a.m. downbeat) and at 10 I am introduced and off we go into the first movement. Having never heard or conducted this ensemble, my plan is to read the first movement then go back and rehearse.

The rehearsal room is spacious and the orchestra seems quite comfortable with the place. Curtains line the walls as the size of the winds and percussion will create some decibel levels that could be dangerous. The layout of the orchestra is different from what I am use to with the woodwinds directly in front of me and the brass in a line behind them. The horns are stacked on the risers next to the woodwinds on stage right and the percussion further off to the same side. The strings are configured in a standard way save the violas to the outside and cellos between them and second violins.

Well, Choi was right. The orchestra is fabulous. They are VERY attentive and even with my speaking to them in English, they only need to be told most things once before they make an adjustment. They follow like a dream and the ebb and flow of the first movement is already something they seem to understand. They also have a true sense of their own sound and play to that level. Technically they are solid and even the most intricate of rhythms (of which Prokofiev writes many) are clear to hear. We work for an hour or so, then take a break of 15 minutes. Then we launch into the scherzo which is equally at a “tweakable” level as opposed to needing “woodshedding.” We accomplish most of what I’m looking for and they are released a few minutes early – they certainly earned it!

The humidity is doing its customary number on my shirt and hair and by the end I have that wilted look that such an environment leaves me at the end of a rehearsal. I ask Rina if I’m the only conductor who sweats so much and she says certainly not, they all do. (Nonetheless, I don’t see the orchestra perspiring.) Inho takes pity on me and brings a towel, some water, and a fan into the conductor’s lounge which helps. After rehearsal we gather up the general manager, Inho, Choi, Leslie, Rina, Ms. Baek, the publicity person for the orchestra and another fluent English speaker, and head to lunch. This is another traditional Korean meal with many dishes and soup hitting the table. The conversation is lively and fun. Leslie discovers that the GM is also a composer, Rina talks about her time in the U.S., Inho tells us some of the pieces he’s conducted this season (including Strauss Alpine Symphony!), and Ms. Baek gives her own background which is not in music, but in literature.

As lunch concludes we are taken back to the hotel. Before departing, Choi and Inho help us find a restaurant nearby to have dinner. They walk us down to the next block and we are set up with a BBQ pork dinner with the owner at 7 p.m. We head back to our room and I decide it is time for a work out around the lake before cleaning up and going for dinner. The meal is delicious and though we are struggling to pronounce Korean, the owner takes good care us.

It has been a good day and I’m now quite excited for the rest of the week.

~ Submitted by Wes Kenney

Kenney-Stewart South Korea tour photo

Our Korean Experience, Entry #3

Wes Kenney and Leslie Stewart at a market in South KoreaDirector of Orchestras Wes Kenney and Music Professor Leslie Stewart are spending two weeks in South Korea where Maestro Kenney will conduct the Changwon Philharmonic. These entries document their latest experience!

Saturday, June 16
We spent a slower morning, same choices for breakfast, although my Korean meal had seaweed soup as the centerpiece on this AM. Choi met us again at the Starbuck’s late morning and we headed off to the Busan again to a shopping mecca down by the waterfront and the famous fish market.

If you want to learn something intrinsic about a culture, the open air markets are the way to go. Walking into the four story building one is immediately faced with the bustle of sellers of live wholesale seafood in a diverse set of tanks. It would be easy to spend hours just perusing the aisles to see the variety of fish, octopi, squid, sea slugs, anemones, eels, snails, and so much more. And, any of it can be fresh at your table (raw or cooked) in a matter of minutes.

Wes Kenney and Leslie Stewart at a market in South KoreaChoi took us up an elevator to the top floor looking for stall 29, the proprietor recommended by his mother. Along the way down the aisle, a young woman used forceful persuasion to convince us that her place was THE place to eat (at least we believe that’s what she was shouting at Choi in Korean). Another 25 yards down the row we found the our destination. We sat down at a table overlooking the harbor and was served a seafood feast, the culmination being a square platter with four rows of a multiple kinds of raw fish. The Kimchee, chili-sauce, bean sprouts, shaved green onion, and other sides could be wrapped up in sesame leaves with these delicacies to create a sandwich of sorts all downed with copious amounts of the light tasting lager that is a also a staple of tables throughout this region. Choi was amazed at our adventuresome palettes, willing to try anything.

After lunch we headed down stairs and into the markets that lined the streets nearby. We were looking for a few items (Zantac being a must for the spicy foods consumed) as well as some colored pencils for my score marking (this IS a business trip) and some gifts for the grandchildren. Much of the shopping is low key and bargains can be had if you are willing to haggle a bit. E-business might be taking over much of the world, but here you see crowded streets and people hunting for just about anything in live time and place.

Wes Kenney and Leslie Stewart at a temple in South KoreaAfter an hour or so we had our purchases and headed back to the car for a drive to a Buddhist temple out in the area where Choi lives. Traffic was still heavy even on Saturday so it was close to 4 p.m. by the time we arrived. Such shrines dot the region and they are an oasis to hubbub found in the cities. Tongdosa Temple, is located at the base of Yeongchuk mountain just outside to the city of Chonglim. There are multiple buildings including a museum and a 1000 year old temple. One can start at the front entrance and enjoy a considerable uphill walk along the Nokdonggang river or drive to a closer parking lot. We opted for the latter, passing through several temple gates to the inner sanctum of the compound. Missionaries are present at work amongst the Zen chamber, precepts chamber, and lecture chamber. It is an idyllic and relaxing setting in stark contrast to the scenes experienced earlier in the day.

After about an hour we headed back to the car and a restaurant where we would meet Choi’s in-laws for dinner along with his wife and young son Dustin. The restaurant was a family buffet along with a cook your own meat style BBQ. Choi’s father-in-law showed us how to put everything together. A disk of rice paper is set into warm water to soak briefly, that is then put on a small but wide bowl and filled with meat and other sides, wrapped together and then eaten. His motions were clear and elegant all the way to his mouth, while I spent the evening trying to figure out how to not let the construction fall apart while picking it up with chopsticks. Still it all tasted great and we had a good evening learning more about Choi’s family–his father-in-law  was a chemical engineer and his wife a school teacher. They are both retired now and help Choi and his wife with the new addition to the family. It was clear that 9 month old Dustin was the star of the evening with the attention lavished on him.

At the end of the meal, we said our good-byes and headed back to Changwon, ready to collapse from the multiple hours of activity. Another day filled with new experiences provided by this magical country.

~ Submitted by Wes Kenney

Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra Wes Kenney performance

Our Vietnam Experience, Entry #10


Director of Orchestras Wes Kenney and Violin Professor Leslie Stewart are spending ten days over break in Vietnam with the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra and at the National Music Academy. These entries document their unique and exciting experience!

January 5, 2018

Concert Day. We leave the hotel at 8 a.m. for a 9 a.m. rehearsal. There is a huge poster outside the opera house with Do Phuong Nhi and my photos on it. We are early so there are very few people around, but fortunately we know the way to the dressing room area and manage to claim one of them.

I wander onto the stage, which is still being put together, as well as the shell being put up. The stage is huge, very much large enough for an opera turntable for sets when a theatrical performance is presented. The orchestra only takes up about half of the space, with the front half extended in front of the proscenium (mostly the strings.) It is clear, the pit must be huge and they’ve had Puccini sized orchestras of about 65 down there. That would be something to see!

view of orchestra hall from loftBy 9 a.m. the shell is up, and the rehearsal gets started about 9:15. One player is missing because of a family emergency, but fortunately they are only a few minutes late. The Copland and the concerto go relatively smoothly. Balances are better than I anticipated although it seems that the brass sometimes tends to overplay the space. We get to go over a few things in the Dvorak and get through the entire symphony just as time expires. I thank the orchestra for their work and they applaud. Eight rehearsals down and only the performance is left!

Lan, Thang, Nhi, Leslie, and I are hosted for lunch at a western styled steakhouse by Honna the VNSO’s music director and his significant other, the assistant concertmaster of the orchestra and also a gracious host. It is once again a wonderful and large meal that ends when the ACM pulls out some Durian cookies for an ending sweet. Durian is a somewhat controversial crop stemming from its unique aroma. As the Vietnamese say, the fruit “smells like hell, but tastes like heaven.” Lan and Nhi really like Durian, but Thang says it should be eaten in the bathroom…! The smell is so strong that there are many hotels that have banned the fruit from their premises. I brave the aroma (which doesn’t seem all that bad) and try a couple of cookies. To me, they are quite good — a new taste treat.

We are returned to the hotel by the VNSO driver for an afternoon of rest before returning to the Italian restaurant we dined at the previous Monday. A little pasta and salad (and we make sure our hosts understand it should only be a small amount) seems to be a great way to get the evening started. We walk the two blocks to the hall, braving the traffic and crowds to get to the musicians entrance. Lan and Thang make sure that the guest artist and conductor manage safe passage, something more challenging for a pedestrian than any westerner could imagine. Lan plays social butterfly with well wishers in front of the hall, eventually finding her way back stage with the rest of my clothing that she insisted on carrying. The humidity concerns me that I might go through several changes of clothes on this evening. I certainly have come prepared with extra undershirts and a hair blower, all of which get used during this event.

The hallways are abuzz with excitement and indeed they are expecting a full house. At shortly after 8 p.m., the orchestra takes the stage en mass, Lan tunes up the ensemble, and I come out for the Copland. I’d been told that going to a concert in Vietnam was similar to China and that the crowds were boisterous and more like a sporting event. However, other than the spontaneous applause after Buckaroo Holiday, it was clear that everyone had truly come to listen to their orchestra with quiet attention. The Copland was well received from the capacity audience. Nhi then took the stage and wowed the house with her spirit and prowess on the Bruch. The audience gave her four curtain calls and she was given two huge bouquets of flowers.

Group of violinists and Wes KenneyAt intermission, the hall outside the dressing rooms is filled with family and friends of Nhi, Lan, and Thang. This includes Honna-san who stops by to tell me the Copland was terrific. As photos are being taken in the hallway, I towel off, blow-dry my hair into some semblance of neatness, and get my game face on for the 2nd half. Their librarians are efficient in taking scores to put on my stand and returning the first half, always being gracious in doing so. Everyone speaks a little bit of English, so communication has always been fairly easy during the concert process.

The Dvorak is ready to roll and the orchestra plays as if they are on a mission to prove that this is a piece they intend to play for years to come. The audience again breaks into applause after the first movement. The pastoral second movement is met with quiet reflection in the audience, save for one really loud sneeze out of the house. The furiant/scherzo is played with great energy and one little quirk I threw into the final third goes off without a hitch. The last movement, which had been the albatross for the strings, is played with élan, including the frenetic finale that the cellos set at a blistering pace. The performance produces five curtain calls and I’m told later that the chanting style applause seemed to indicate that they wanted to hear the finale again, something that was lost on me…still, we left them wanting more.

The orchestra members greet me back stage with smiles and many kind words. It seems that we’ve made some great music together and they express their appreciation. Again, the hallway is overrun with people all seeming to want to meet an American conductor, even if his hair looks like he just stepped out of the shower. The after photos with me in my white tie and tails make me look like someone from the “roaring twenties” with slicked down hair, but admittedly, Brylcreem was never my thing. (See the climax to The Sting if you miss the reference).

We eventually work our way back to the Italian restaurant where we toast with wine, pizza, pasta, salad, and good cheer the success of the evening. Around the table are Executive Director Mr. Hong, Assistant Conductor Ling, Thang, Lan, Nhi, Music Director Honna, and a few others. Honna tells me that I remind him of the Czech conductor Zdenek Macal, which I take as a great compliment. Later I would learn that he wants me back as soon as possible, again something that I am thrilled to hear. However, change is in the future for this orchestra. On a positive note, there is a new rehearsal space that is to open soon. But, there is also word another orchestra is soon to start up that may bring more players from outside of Vietnam. It is not clear what this development means for the VNSO as qualified players are not easy to find and they will be losing a few of their own to this new ensemble. We can only wait and see what happens as the future unfolds.

After a couple of hours of revelry we are returned to the hotel for some rest and recouping. Our journey is far from over and we still have more of North Vietnam to explore!

Our Vietnam Experience, Entry #9


Director of Orchestras Wes Kenney and Violin Professor Leslie Stewart are spending ten days over break in Vietnam with the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra and at the National Music Academy. These entries document their unique and exciting experience!

January 4, 2018

It is the day before the concert and there is still much work to be done, primarily on the Dvorak Symphony. We’ve arranged to get to the rehearsal hall by 11:30 a.m., so we can meet up with one of our summer M.M.E. in conducting students who is currently teaching in Myanmar, and has completed one summer and one semester on-line in our program thus far. Lee Pophal is on break from his job and is touring Vietnam with his sister. He makes arrangements to meet us for lunch that day and Thang and Lan take us to another Thai place. They order a few appetizers and a hotpot for the table to share. A hotpot is a popular Asian dish where a chicken broth is heated then brought to the table and placed on a heating element of some sort. When the broth is at a boil, meats, seafood, noodles, and vegetables are placed in the pot for quick cooking and then served. It is about as fresh a dish as one can get, and again, it is a fulfilling meal and Lan loves to play “cook,” both in terms of adding the various food elements, then serving it up.

During lunch, we talk about the political situation in Myanmar (some parts of the country are dangerous), but Lee says he is absolutely safe where he is teaching, which is at an American school. Lan and Thang are a bit quiet, perhaps because of the fluid English that is being spoken at the table. We spoke to Lee about other students in our program, or recently graduated, who are also teaching at American schools around the world.

After lunch we head back to the hall, but not before seeing some interesting signs of business such as “Pho Nho!,” and “Huy pei nah?” Maybe this is legit language, or maybe someone is having fun with double entendres! On arrival, we get the strings going on the finale to the Dvorak 6th as the rest of the orchestra shuffles in. The personnel manager informs me that the oboes and the pianist will be late. This is frustrating since the rehearsal was moved to the afternoon on their account. Fortunately the oboes are only 10 minutes late, but the pianist never shows up for the Copland. In my mind the rehearsal is to go to 5 p.m., since the original schedule was for 3.5 hours. However, after we are finished with the concerto, I’m told the rehearsal is to end at 4:30 and now we do not have time to run everything. Tomorrow’s AM dress rehearsal at the opera house would have to suffice. All one can do is take a deep breath and hope we are all ready to focus and run through the full program in the three hours we have left.

Over the course of the week, we have been collecting “take-away” leftovers in our hotel fridge. Lan looks exhausted at the end of rehearsal, so we tell her to please take the night off and be with her family and we will fend for ourselves. We have been eating so much during the week that the thought of quietly nibbling on leftovers in our room seems quite palatable. The next day will be an early one to the opera house and then a long day ending with a party after the concert, so getting to sleep early seems to be the best plan.

Our driver returns us to the Sheraton. I’m following along on my iPhone Map app. The hotel is situated on an inlet on the east side of Westlake. It appears that both the opera house and the rehearsal hall are the same distance to the south. However, since the rehearsal hall is more west, we always travel up and around the top of the lake then south. The opera house is closer to the downtown area and more east, so then we go the opposite direction. In either direction, there is always something new to see. A beautiful garden with multicolored flowers, a set of partially constructed condos that appear to have been abandoned as they have no windows, and an amusement park with a large ferris wheel and roller coaster that sits dormant during this time of year.

There is a long stretch of road where a portion of it is being lowered about 15 or 20 feet to the level of the businesses on either side. This is to help increase the number of lanes and help the flow of traffic. The single lane road going south created by the construction is home to a businesses ranging from Land Rover dealers to very small open air markets where meat is set out for people to peruse. Of course, motorbikes weave around sometimes passing on the right, sometimes passing in the wrong direction on the left. For us westerners often disconcerting, for the people who live there, just another day in Hanoi.

Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra promotional poster

Our Vietnam Experience, Entry #8


Director of Orchestras Wes Kenney and Violin Professor Leslie Stewart are spending ten days over break in Vietnam with the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra and at the National Music Academy. These entries document their unique and exciting experience!

January 3, 2018

Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra posterAnother morning rehearsal this time back on the Copland which was a bit rusty from the weekend’s activities. The music came back soon enough allowing us to go through the entire piece and then the concerto. The Dvorak was more challenging and during the break, the personnel manager came to me and told be that because of exams at the Academy of Music, two oboes and the pianist could not make tomorrow AM’s rehearsal. Thus he asked me if starting at 1:30 would be adequate. Then the assistant concertmaster asked if we could get more string section rehearsal on the last movement. So within the span of ten minutes, we went from a scheduled AM rehearsal for the next day to a 1 PM string sectional and a 1:30 full rehearsal in concert order. It was amazing that the orchestra was able make this change the day before, but they did, and without apparent complaint. Flexibility is a required trait for the musicians, and even with other jobs, they make their complicated lives work. What was NOT communicated to me was that in the wheeling dealing of scheduling, I had lost 30 minutes of rehearsal from 3.5 hours in the morning to only 3 hours in the afternoon. Something that would cause consternation the next day.

When rehearsal was over, we headed to a traditional Vietnamese restaurant where the dishes came from several regions in the country. This included noodle dishes, dishes wrapped in rice paper (Lan again did the assembly), a type of fried dish that resembled a quesadilla, but done with rice paper, and then finally a fruit concoction that you mixed in a glass then added ice. All wonderful, tasty treats and all very filling.

P's and Pizza from a successful Vietnamese restaurantWe returned to our hotel for some rest before being picked up to go to one of the most successful restaurants in Vietnam, a Japanese pizza house called For P’s and Pizza. The monogram “P’s” being short for peace. Lan had managed to get the last table available that night, but in fact should have made a reservation a month ago. The first of these was in Japan, but now there are a several throughout Vietnam and they are never without business. This is for good reason, the pizza is some of the best we’ve ever tasted. Semi-chewy crust, they make their own cheese, and the presentations are extremely intriguing. Lan ordered several pies. One had a soft camembert cheese that was then spread over the rest of the pizza slices. My favorite was duck, pear, and blue cheese. Thang pointed out that the pizza is always cut for the number at the table. We had six which is not unusual for pizza slices, but they can artfully do 5 and 7 as well. Even after several slices we ended with a crab pasta with a creamy peanut type of sauce and then Tiramisu (a very popular dessert in the area) for final treat.

The restaurant was located in the downtown area near the opera house. There are stores lining the streets, some being the upscale names you see in Beverly Hills, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Dior. It is clear that someone is spending money in this country. There are also many modern and gleaming hotels sprinkled throughout city. Pan Pacific, Intercontinental, boutique hotels, and of course a Hilton right next to the opera house…think about that one.

In walking back to the car, we passed one of the oldest ice cream stores in the city dating  back to 1958. It looked tempting, but our stomachs said no. Tomorrow would be the final rehearsal in the music building before the orchestra moved to the opera house.

Vietnamese Experience Tour photo

Our Vietnam Experience, Entry #7


Director of Orchestras Wes Kenney and Violin Professor Leslie Stewart are spending ten days over break in Vietnam with the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra and at the National Music Academy. These entries document their unique and exciting experience!

January 2, 2018

parking lot full of motorcycles covered in traps

How the Vietnamese National Symphony gets to work…

After three days off from this concert repertoire, it is time to renew our preparations for the performance on Friday. This is one of the hardest working orchestras that Leslie and I have ever witnessed. After the two double rehearsals on my concert repertoire last Thursday and Friday, the VNSO had rehearsals on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday for Mondays New Year’s Night performance at the opera house. They had Tuesday morning off and then start again this afternoon with me. They will rehearse every day this week, perform on Friday, then maybe get a day off (depending on who you talk to) before starting again. I asked Thang when he thought the orchestra would get a break next, he thought the 18th of January!!!

Lan brings her daughter and violin soloist Nhi to our hotel for a rehearsal. The concerto has now been with Nhi for a couple of years and she has rethought much of her approach to the famous work. We then head out for lunch at a ramen place. Certainly Leslie and I have had ramen before, but not like this! The broth was thick, the noodles heavy, and quite filling. After lunch we pick up our ride to the hall where we have the first rehearsal on the Bruch violin concerto. The VNSO has added a new first violin, Leslie Stewart Kenney! On Sunday at the concert I noticed there were twelve first violins in the section and mentioned to Lan that we had not had more than nine at any rehearsal thus far. The conversation evolved on the way back to the hotel as far as availability of violins and suddenly, Leslie is part of the section! At the beginning of today’s rehearsal, she is introduced to the orchestra and now we have ten firsts.

We run the Bruch concerto with Nhi and the familiarity of the work helps the orchestra pull the music together quickly. Every orchestra has its own personality, often geared to the hall they play in. We have been rehearsing in a smallish rehearsal hall, but having heard the orchestra onstage over the weekend helps. The Dvorak is also coming along, but it is a new piece to the orchestra, so there is much to teach them in terms of the style of the great Czech composer vs. the sound and music of Aaron Copland. It is a long rehearsal, lasting until 4:30.

After rehearsal, we gather up Nhi and head to a Chinese restaurant for some roast duck and many other dishes. Once again, we are whisked into a elegant private room and are waited attentively by a very friendly staff. We eat until be are fully stuffed – again. Our Wednesday rehearsal will be in the morning so an early night is a welcome one.

~ Submitted by Wes Kenney, Director of Orchestras

I show up to the rehearsal planning to sit last chair in the first violin section, but Lan insists that I sit on the fourth stand (out of five). My stand partner is a young man in his mid-twenties who joined the orchestra just a few years ago. He is extremely attentive to every detail in the music and marks all bowing changes as soon as they are made. It is a great pleasure to sit next to someone who is as serious as I am about playing in orchestra – and I feel that in spite of all of our differences (age, gender, ethnicity) we have an immediate bond.

~ Submitted by Leslie Stewart, Violin Professor

Vietnamese Experience Tour photo

Our Vietnam Experience, Entry #5


Director of Orchestras Wes Kenney and Violin Professor Leslie Stewart are spending ten days over break in Vietnam with the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra and at the National Music Academy. These entries document their unique and exciting experience!

December 31, 2017

After Leslie has Pho and I opt for an omelet for breakfast, we are picked up by Lan and Thang and driven an hour out of town. Because it is Sunday and a three day weekend, the traffic is much lighter than the beehive experience we’ve had thus far. However, it also means people are moving faster and one of the things we observe is that stopping only happens when you are forced to stop, meaning you’ll hit something if you don’t. Right of way belongs to the individual. Yes there are crosswalks on the streets, but they don’t mean much for the intrepid pedestrian moving from one side to the other. It seems in this country the punch line to “why did the chicken cross the road?” is “for the thrill of it.”

Lake on Vietnamese farmStill after awhile we find ourselves leaving the skyscrapers that are even on the outskirts of Hanoi and heading south on a Freeway and out into the country. We see crops, rice paddy fields, and other flora. We also see police waving down speeding vehicle (100 kilometers per hour – about 65 mph – is max) We are headed to the farm owned by Lan’s sister Ha and her husband Pham.

mermaid statueTo be taken out to meet the full family is an honor in Vietnam. After leaving the highway, we drive a few kilometers east and turn down a road where an open gate and archway lead us into a courtyard where people are sweeping, dogs are barking, and a late model BMW is parked.

Lan posing with giant fruitPham is an international banker and travels much. He and Ha bought this farm eleven years ago as an investment. There are fruit orchards, chickens, ducks, and a wine cellar that seems to be abandoned at the moment. We meet in short order Ha, Pham, Lan’s father, Pham’s father, Ha’s daughter, son-in law, and three-month old child. We sit down, drink some tea, eat some snacks, walk around the buildings a bit, then sit down for a “country” lunch of Asian chicken salad, sausages, herbs, soup, and finally a hot-pot. There is also red wine, lots of red wine. Once again, it is a huge amount of food and we are offered a place to nap afterwards for an hour. After that we tour the farm where we see some huge examples of exotic fruits (see the photograph of Ha holding her prizes).

Two women preparing dinnertable set for Vietnamese BBQ dinnerLettuce wrap After the walk around, we head back to town (although a golf course near by would have been fun to look at), swing by Lan and Thang’s apartment to pick up Long, and then stop at a multi-story mall for coffee and a conversation about orchestras. We then head upstairs for a Korean barbecue dinner that involves thin meat cooked on an air-heated grill right in our own private dining room (see photo of Lan cooking). The meat is then wrapped in lettuce with other herbs, condiments and vegetables before being dipped in a sauce and eaten by hand. It is another food discovery of which there have been many on this trip. As someone at the high-rise dinner has pointed out, in Hanoi sight-seeing is not the primary reason to visit, but the food is!

Bollinger Champagne bottleWe do a bit of shopping in the very elegant stores. There are some good deals to be had, but for the most part, many of the items are very expensive. One must learn to calculate the costs quickly. 1 US Dollar = 22.000 VND. Thus a 500.000 VND bill is nothing to get excited about…$45. We saw a leather bag for 11.000.000 or $484 US. Many of the clothes were in the same range. Wow!

We finally head back to our hotel – it is New Year’s Eve – knowing that we have some French champagne in the fridge to toast at midnight. Long before anyone in the west would be doing so. Midnight Jan. 1 in Hanoi is 10 a.m., Dec. 31 MST in Fort Collins. Happy New Year!

~ Submitted by Wes Kenney, Director of Orchestras

Vietnamese Experience Tour photo

Our Vietnam Experience, Entry #4


Director of Orchestras Wes Kenney and Violin Professor Leslie Stewart are spending ten days over break in Vietnam with the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra and at the National Music Academy. These entries document their unique and exciting experience!

December 30, 2017

Hanoi ShertonCatching any kind of a bug on an international trip is not fun, but compound that with two days of double rehearsals in humidity, and a day off was needed to get back on the mend. Thus most of Saturday was spent inside the hotel.

The Hanoi Sheraton seems like a grande old dame with rather square architecture augmented with Asian touches, but in fact built in 2003. The marble shines and the staff is extremely friendly and attentive. There is an elegance, though it does show some wear and tear from over the years. The fixtures in the room appear to be original and show a bit of their age. Still our room is lovely, comfortable, and generally quiet.

Figurine of santa with a saxophone Christmas tree made of candyMost important is that the hotel supports the Vietnamese National Symphony Orchestra in trade. The lobby is decked out at this time of year for the holidays and they are interesting and sometime downright elaborate (see the full sized saxophone-playing Santa Claus and the cookie-made Christmas tree).

There are a few interesting quirks. A sign on the second floor main lobby tells you that to get to the pool, spa, and tennis court, go up to the fourth floor (the floor our room is on). The signs take you down the fourth floor corridor to another door that leads outside to a roof-top tennis court and a view of the hotel courtyard. You then walk down that patio to a side building (no sign now) that you have to walk into, then take another elevator down to the first floor where the pool and spa await…or you can walk outside from the lobby all the way around towards the lake and access the pool and spa that way. Hmmm…

Even though we are quite a ways from home, work there does not cease. So score preparation for upcoming concerts, administrative work, and other business is always beckoning. Some of our day is spent concentrating on that part of our lives.

A meeting with Nhi, my soloist, is cancelled because she is now running fever, so Thang comes over and takes us to dinner at an Italian restaurant on the opposite lake shore from our hotel. It is clear that many families enjoy going out to eat as no matter where we go, children with young parents are present. We take a corner table with a view (thanks to some wheeling and dealing by Thang) and then enjoy and excellent meal of salad, pizza, and pasta.

Ho Chi Minh's tombAfterwards, Thang drives us over to the area where the presidential palace is, a large conference center, and Ho Chi Minh’s tomb. The story is that Ho Chi Minh did not want a large tomb as an edifice, but the government felt otherwise. They are all magnificent.

That seemed to be enough for the day, so back to the hotel for more rest before a big sight-seeing day!

~ Submitted by Wes Kenney, Director of Orchestras