Symphonic Take on Vietnam War Sparks Memories : Music: Excerpts from emigre Khoa Le’s ‘1975’ is premiered at Orange County Performing Arts Center, drawing an emotional response from the audience.


Described by one concert-goer as “an orchestration of East and West components,” the symphonic suite “1975” by Vietnamese American composer Khoa Le was given its world premiere Saturday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center.

Le fled his native land two decades ago when Saigon fell to the Communists. He now lives in Orange. The piece, which incorporates traditional Vietnamese music and folk songs, is the tale of a village sundered by war, and it stirred strong emotions.

“I feel very proud to see that, for the first time, Vietnamese traditional music is getting to be known by the Western community,” said concert goer Viet Hung, a Mission Viejo resident who was a prominent folk and opera singer in Vietnam before leaving his homeland.


An oratorio by American composer Elliot Goldenthal commemorating the tragedy of the Vietnam War premiered at the performing arts center in April. That work draws on some traditional themes but did not contain as much traditional music as “1975.” “It didn’t give us many memories,” Hung said through an interpreter.

The Pacific Symphony Institute Orchestra, a Fullerton-based training group, played excerpts of the suite as part of Project 20, a yearlong series of cultural and educational events commemorating 20 years of life in the United States for Vietnamese refugees and emigres.

Le, also an actor, author, producer and photojournalist, is a leader in Orange County’s Vietnamese community, which at 100,000 is the largest outside Vietnam. He has been a driving force behind Project 20, which was organized by a committee of local Vietnamese Americans who coordinated and funded the “1975” premiere.

“We would like to show to the American people that we are here and we are taking part in the cultural aspect of the society,” Le said before the concert.

Saturday afternoon’s free program featured three of the seven movements of “1975,” which Le is still writing.

As the piece built, the audience heard strains of such well-known Vietnamese folk songs as “Lullaby” and “Full Moon Festival.” Then the melancholy vibrato of dan doc huyen , a stringed instrument, was dramatically cut off by a percussive cacophony signifying rocket explosions and battle. The piece also contained anthems from North and South Vietnam.


Only about a third of the center’s 3,000-seat Segerstrom Hall was filled (Le said he had difficulty finding financial sponsors to help publicize the event), but many on hand, most of them Vietnamese, appreciated what they had heard.

“It reminded me of the Vietnam War and the sound of music of my country,” said Andy Le, a Midway City songwriter. “I recognized a lot of the Vietnamese folk songs and the wartime too. It made me very sad because of the way we had to leave our country behind.”

During a question-and-answer period after the suite, one audience member objected that Le had ended his work with the North Vietnamese Communist anthem, “ Tien Quan Ca “ (“Soldiers Marching On”). Le responded that his suite “is a piece of history” that must respect the fact that the North Vietnamese triumphed.

“I had to end it like that,” he said, adding to a round of spontaneous applause, “even though I would like to turn it around.”

Le, 61, began writing “1975” three years ago and hopes to have it finished by July. He has scheduled a performance of the final movement in La Mirada in September. Saturday’s performance was led by Institute Orchestra conductor Edward Cumming.