Dang Thai Son: ‘I dream that the Vietnamese will win the Chopin award again’

Artist Dang Thai Son is always waiting for a Vietnamese talent to repeat his feat at the Chopin Prize 41 years ago.

– How did you feel when your student Bruce Liu won the 18th Fryderyk Chopin international piano competition?

– The past two days, I only slept a few hours because I was busy attending the closing gala in Poland, answering to the media. I was tired but lightheaded with joy. The fans in Canada – where I live – exploded because this year, I led two students from this country into the top 6, including a champion. This is the result of the training efforts of my teachers and students during the past summer. Even with careful preparation, I did not dare to dream of such high results. When I heard the news, I wanted to post pictures of the two of us together on my personal page but was surprised because there were no pictures.

Excerpts from Bruce Liu performing in the final, were warmly received by the audience. Video: Chopin Institute

– What factors do you think help your students succeed?

– In 2015, I had three games that won the second prize, so students flocked to study me a lot. This festival, I lead a “squad” of six contestants. In addition to two young Canadian artists, my other students have American, Taiwanese, and Chinese nationalities. From July, when Canada reopened to foreigners, I started preparing for the exam. I used to joke that my class was the “Chopin Olympic camp” in Montreal.

I ask students to study hard, hold weekly mock exams, with the same rules as the real competition. I think the hardest thing for an art teacher is to understand and respect the individuality of the students. I do not force them to meet my standards, but encourage creativity. The judges commented on my six students one by one. I often liken the champions Bruce Liu and JJ Bui – the top 6 – to the sun and the moon. Bruce Liu is energetic and explosive while JJ Bui is gentle, calm, and more like me.

– What impact did you have on the results as a member of the jury?

– The jury has 17 people, choose the candidate to go next by voting method. Almost every one of them also took some students to the exam, so teachers are not allowed to vote for students. Their vote will be calculated using the average score of the remaining 16 members of the council.

This year, we have a headache because the qualifications of the candidates are outstanding. After a year of the contest being postponed due to the epidemic, the students had more time to practice and prepare carefully, so they were on par with their talents.

Artist Dang Thai Son said that after the contest ended, he returned to Canada and prepared to go to the US to teach.  Photo: Chopin Institute

Artist Dang Thai Son said that after the contest ended, he returned to Canada and prepared to go to the US to teach. Photo: Chopin Institute

– How do you rate Viet Trung – Vietnam’s representative in the contest?

– After my achievements since 1980, until now, Vietnam has only had a finalist, even reaching the second round. It was a victory. Viet Trung has a good foundation thanks to studying in Poland, imbued with Chopin’s music. He is a student of the artist Katarzyna Popowa-Zydron – the head of the jury, but has tutored me in some sessions. Therefore, I cannot vote for Trung either.

Many young people like to play the lute in a sleek, ornate style, but Trung focuses on depth, thus causing good sympathy with the judges in the first round. I see that Trung always makes great efforts, is very professional, will go far in the future.

I always dream of the day a second Vietnamese is crowned. Over the years, when I was teaching in Canada and the US, I had contact with some Vietnamese students, but their talents had not yet turned up. In the future, Nguyen Viet Trung and I cherish the dream of jointly implementing projects such as organizing festivals, teaching, and establishing Chopin music association in Vietnam, with the hope of finding many new talents.

– What do you think the domestic classical music industry needs to invest in to catch up with the world?

– In the past few decades, classical music in Vietnam has developed but is still slow. In addition to the state training institutions, many private centers have sprung up but are in the form of universal music. The domestic output standard is generally still low compared to the international level. Therefore, many talented people choose to study abroad, most of them belong to families with good conditions and self-finance. I think those who are able to study abroad early are also good, can absorb knowledge, return to serve training in their homeland. I also tried to participate in organizing an international piano competition in Vietnam, pulling foreign judges to judge the prize.

Some young artists such as brothers Luu Hong Quang and Luu Duc Anh have made efforts to contribute to the country’s classical music scene. Luu Duc Anh recently opened a piano training center for children, which is a very good sign. I think what our country needs is professional artists, dedicated to the profession, selfless dedication, then consider who is better than who, how good.

– What memories did this year’s contest leave you with?

– I remember the moment of performing with the three Chopin champions on the opening night. The first time I went on stage after a year because of the epidemic, the mood was excited and emotional, so I was extremely sublimated.

I was also overwhelmed when this year the organizers streamed the contests live, the number of followers reached millions. Since the festival has not ended, many faces have been remembered and loved by the audience. Technology has brought many benefits. They now have an advantage over us in the past, they can find lessons and music books easily after just one click.

Dang Thai Son playing music at the Chopin competition in 1980

Dang Thai Son plays Chopin’s “Concerto No. 2” at the 1980 contest. Video: Chopin Institute

– What do you remember about the time of the contest 41 years ago?

– At that time, I was a student at the Tchaikovsky National Conservatory of Music (Russia) and went to Poland alone. I can’t speak English, I don’t communicate with anyone, and I don’t have teachers, family or friends to guide me. I think I won with a strong mentality. While the other contestants were too pressured to care about winning – losing, I ignored them all. Outside of the exam time, I locked myself in a hotel, asking the organizers to inform me if I would continue. In the final night, even though it was the first time I had a solo on a big stage, I was confident, comfortable and played very “adventurous”. I think I fought with the spirit of representing Vietnam.

After winning the award, from an “incompetent” student who was almost eliminated because of his unsatisfactory record, I was pressured to face the glory. At that time, I used to think that if I had won second place, I would have been less noticed and the responsibility would be less heavy. As a result, I turned down many offers to perform, and devoted myself to three more years of training at the Tchaikovsky State Conservatory. I think it was the right decision in my life.

Dang Thai Son performing piano

Dang Thai Son had a piano duet with Dang Huu Phuc in Vietnam in January. The song was inspired by Dang Huu Phuc’s poems by the late artist Dang Dinh Hung – Dang Thai Son’s father. Video: Huy Manh

Ha Thu


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