June 5, 2009 / 4:59 AM / 10 years ago

NY Philharmonic to play "Platoon" theme in Vietnam

HANOI (Reuters) - The New York Philharmonic Orchestra will play the haunting orchestral theme from Oliver Stone’s Vietnam War film “Platoon” in Hanoi this October, and the reasons are purely artistic.

American composer Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” is part of the orchestra’s program during its debut Vietnam performance, along with other classics by Beethoven and Mozart, music director-designate Alan Gilbert told reporters.

“We often try to play American music when we’re on tour, and there are some limitations size-wise, as far as how big the stage is,” he said during a preparatory visit to Hanoi this week, more than 34 years after the war ended.

Barber’s solemn strings-only work requires a relatively small number of performers.

“Given all the various factors that we have to consider — and there are many, believe me — it seemed like a wonderful choice since it’s such a beautiful piece, and for me one of the really great, great expressions of American music,” Gilbert said.

The Hanoi Opera House is a tiny jewel of a venue, constructed by the French government of Indochina about 100 years ago, with about 600 seats.

The colonial Hanoi landmark was, in fact, one of the reasons the orchestra considered coming to Vietnam, according to Zarin Mehta, the Philharmonic’s president and executive director.

“We said, look, Vietnam is a place where we know there’s this wonderful opera house,” he said. The Philharmonic made contact with Vietnamese diplomats in the United States, and an invitation came shortly afterward.


But the venue will also prove an acoustic challenge because of its sizable wings and cavernous spaces.

On Thursday, Gilbert, Mehta and others from the Philharmonic ventured inside the opera house for the first time to see what they would be working with.

With some cajoling, the staff cranked down from the rafters part of an old-looking set of movable panels, designed to direct the sound toward the audience, for the orchestra team to inspect.

Logistical challenges are not new for the Philharmonic. Hanoi will be the 460th city the orchestra will have entertained in its 167 years of performing.

Last year, it performed in Pyongyang. The ground-breaking concert was broadcast live and the visit was widely feted as a positive sign for U.S.-North Korea relations.

For many in the performing arts, funding is a challenge this year, with the global economic crisis forcing some cutbacks.

But Mehta and Gilbert said money was not such a big problem for the New York Philharmonic.

“We have funding for the tour arranged before the economic crisis hit, but nobody’s retrenching on it, and we’re planning to tour the following year as well,” Mehta said.

Gilbert, who begins his tenure as music director in September, added: “We are still able to play around the world, and act as a musical ambassador for the United States.”

“Assuming everything goes as smoothly as it looks as if it will, then I see no reason why we shouldn’t make it (Vietnam) a regular stop on our touring itinerary.”

The orchestra is slated to perform Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in Vietnam in addition to Barber, but Gilbert said there could be changes.

The Asian tour will also take the orchestra to Singapore, Seoul and Tokyo.

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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