Vietnamese Composer and Musician Van-Anh Vanessa Vo Release THREE MOUNTAIN PASS Today
Passionate and wildly talented traditional Vietnamese instrumentalist and composer Van-Anh Vanessa Vo knows where the soul of her music lies: in her left hand.
"It brings out all the colors, everything you want to hear, the bending and sliding notes. Otherwise, with just the right hand, the melody feels so dry," explains Vo. "The right hand is the father who sired me, but the left hand is my mother who raised me."
The left hand's color and emotive quality burst through the diverse and intriguing pieces of Three Mountain Pass, (Innova; release: September 24, 2013). A masterful player of the 16-string danTranh-a zither with moveable bridges and the springy, bending tones resembling the koto-and the pitch-bendingmonochord danBau, Vo draws on the dozens of traditional genres found in Vietnam to craft new arrangements and compositions.
Whether setting a sensual 18th-century poem to a newly invented instrument ("Three Mountain Pass") or completely upending one of Satie's Gnossiennes, Vo brings virtuosic subtlety and profound emotion to her work, a keen ear for the essence of her roots and their potential resonance with contemporary sounds.
In collaborations with Kronos Quartet (the wonderful chamber music conversation of "Green River Delta") and in her work with orchestras and Japanese taiko drum ensembles, Vo reveals the great breadth and flexibility of the traditional styles she spent decades perfecting with master musicians and at the conservatory in Hanoi. Now based in the Bay Area, Vo pushes the envelope of the past, engaging sounds and complex, multi-layered concepts to unfurl new spaces for the music she loves.
"I think if you have a love for music, you want to explore more and more and maximize your abilities," muses Vo, whose mastery of danTranh, danBau,and 5 other Viet traditional instruments is exceedingly rare. "I'm still doing it, not just with Vietnamese traditional instruments, but I've moved to many other instruments around the world, as many as I can."
Finding the freedom and well of feeling in long-standing forms and age-old instruments comes naturally to Vo, who grew up surrounded by a near cacophony of different music, streaming from the windows and apartments of her childhood neighborhood in Hanoi.
Vo's father worked as a musician to keep up morale in the North Vietnamese army during the war, accompanying himself on the guitar. Her family was eventually given housing in Hanoi's remarkable artists' quarter, where musicians lived choc-a-bloc and a dozen different genres and traditions entwined.
"We'd get up and start to hear people practicing, very early in the morning," recalls Vo fondly. "In front of me I'd hear Western opera and behind me I'd hear traditional music, traditional opera, people practicing voice and instruments. On my right I might hear western-style pop and on my left I'd hear someone practicing traditional instruments. It all came to me, and I thought it was very inspirational."
Vo knew from her first lessons in reading music with her father that she would be musician herself, never needing parental insistence to practice and play. In fact, Vo pursued what she wanted to know with an astounding dedication and persistence. It took her three years to win over one of her masters, a brilliant player of the danTranh, the late Master The Thiep. She pays homage to her beloved teacher with her own interpretation of "Vong Co," a classic piece from Southern Vietnamese folk opera. She kept asking for lessons, and he kept saying no, until he took her on as an apprentice, a role that more closely resembles that of adopted daughter than mere music student.