Cultural harmony on Southwest’s program

The U.S. premiere of a suite by contemporary Vietnamese composer Phuc Linh and a neoclassical work by Walter Piston will share the spotlight with an early Beethoven success for the launch of Grammy-winning Southwest Chamber Music’s 2007 Summer Festival season Friday and Saturday on the Garden Terrace of the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino.

The program -- Linh’s Suite for Winds and Strings, Piston’s “very American” Quintet for Flute and String Quartet and Beethoven’s Septet for Winds and Strings, Opus 20 -- is about harmony, in music “and between nations,” said Southwest artistic director Jeff von der Schmidt, who will conduct.

The ensemble met Linh while in residence in December at the Hanoi National Conservatory in Vietnam. That residency, the first of its kind by an American ensemble since the Vietnam War, was part of a cultural exchange project made possible by funding from the James Irvine Foundation.

The project included a companion Southwest residency in Cambodia, the first for an American ensemble there since the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979.


Linh’s suite, based on Vietnamese folk songs, is a story told in three short, “very beautiful” vignettes about a poet named Tu Thuc who prefers poetry to reality and travels to a fairy-tale world where he falls in love with the “angel of poetry,” Von der Schmidt explained. “The final movement is when Tu Thuc asks the angel, whom he has married, to join him as his wife on Earth.”

The second half of the program will be “one of the most popular pieces of Beethoven’s early career,” he said. “It was so successful during his lifetime that as he aged he was known to remark that he wished it were burned, because it got played so much.”

The U.S. premiere of Linh’s piece celebrates the composer’s 60th birthday. He is unable to leave Vietnam to attend but “is deeply honored and surprised that Americans are playing his music,” said Von der Schmidt, who added that the feeling of respect is mutual.

Performing in Hanoi, he said, was “one of the highlights of our careers. The Vietnamese gave every member of our ensemble a bouquet after every piece. We really made lifelong friends.”

Southwest ( will play more of Linh’s music in 2008 at Pasadena’s Boston Court in a program featuring works by Cambodian and Vietnamese composers whom the ensemble met during its residencies.


-- Lynne Heffley