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Friday, Oct. 14, 2011

Japanese conductor leads Vietnam orchestra to U.S.


HANOI — Founded at the prodding of revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh in 1959, the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra will perform this month for the first time in the United States, under the baton of conductor Tetsuji Honna.

It has been "a dream of the orchestra" to perform in the United States, which fought against North Vietnam during the Vietnam War, said Honna, 54, of Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture. He expressed hope their performances will help promote friendship between the two countries.

During the war, the orchestra played music for frontline soldiers. After the war ended in 1975, many orchestra members could not get adequate instruments while state finances were in tatters. From the 1990s onward, the orchestra underwent a period of rehabilitation with the help of another Japanese conductor, Yoshikazu Fukumura.

Honna has been involved with the orchestra since 2001 and now leads it in the capacity of principal conductor and musical director. The orchestra has been performing overseas since 2000, mostly in China and Japan.

The Vietnam National Symphony's U.S. tour follows a concert given by the New York Philharmonic in Hanoi in 2009. The Vietnamese orchestra will be performing at Carnegie Hall in New York on Oct. 23 and Symphony Hall in Boston the next day.

Among the pieces the orchestra will perform is "Adagio for Strings" by American composer Samuel Barber, a work often played as a requiem.

It was played on such occasions as the funeral of President John F. Kennedy and at a memorial for victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S. It was also featured in Oliver Stone's movie about the Vietnam War, "Platoon."

"I had some reservations (about playing it) because it is a serene but gloomy melody," Honna said. "Nonetheless, given the multitude of meanings it carries, we have decided to opt for it in the hope of paying respects to the United States."

The cash-strapped orchestra received some ¥4.3 million from Fukushima before March 11 that will go to toward the ¥38.5 million tour, and it will in turn solicit donations for the disaster-hit prefecture's kids.

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