The Symphony in Saigon

On the evening of Sunday, October 9th, 2011, after perhaps a 10-year hiatus, I went to the symphony. It was wonderful.

Ngân and I had always wanted to go to a classical music performance in Saigon. Neither of us had ever been inside the iconic Opera House set in the midst of downtown. We’d only admired it from the outside while passing by and learned about its history online (it was the senate of the South Vietnamese government before it was restored).

Then last week, @natalie470 (who unfortunately I still haven’t met), posted something on Twitter about an upcoming performance. I checked it out and saw that the program was indeed something worth attending: A fun little Mozart piece, Dvorak’s 8th Symphony and Beethoven’s violin concerto in D major. I happen to be a little biased having a background in violin, but seeing a good concerto performed on the violin is one of the most amazing things that a person can witness.

We also dressed up. Ngân wore a dress and put her hair up. I put on a jacket and tie. We even took a taxi there.

When we finally stepped inside the Opera House, I was delighted. It was elegant, yet cozy. I could not recall having ever been inside a performance hall that was so small. It seemed just like other halls I’d been to before, yet just miniaturized.

Looking down from the second balcony. Stage is on the left.
View of the three-tiered seating arrangement.

The orchestra was better than I anticipated as well. I was afraid that a typical, local audience would ruin the performance for me, yet I heard no cell phones go off, there was very little talking and there was plenty of applause: The conductor and the soloist each had multiple curtain calls.

The conductor, Celmens Schuldt, orginally from Germany, did a fabulous job and showed great passion, even giving the audience an encore from Brahms. The violinist,  Byol Kang, who is still a student, surpassed my expectations with a very complex piece demanding a high level of skill.

I left the Opera House with my head in the clouds and most certainly will be back for more soon. They’re putting on The Nutcracker next month and I’m thinking of getting a seasonal subscription to the performances. More people in the city need to attend the symphony. Even if you’ve never studied or played classical music, there is still something extremely powerful in it that transcends cultures.