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Southwest Chamber Music
Ascending Dragon Music Festival
& Cultural Exchange

Artistic Director Statement

Jeff von der schmidt

My personal motto for Ascending Dragon was a proverb of Gandhi. He questioned the notion of revenge with the saying “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” That’s a challenging statement to confront as an artist, and I understand it as a call to action. My goal with Ascending Dragon was to demonstrate that Vietnam is a country and not a war. In many ways, I believe that we began a tremendously positive new chapter in the cultural lives of both countries. There are still strong and passionate emotions for me about this Southeast Asian country.  I was shaped, as were so many Americans of my generation, by the double crucible of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement.  I could never have dreamt in the 60s and 70s that I would be part of an ensemble representing the United States in Vietnam for the 1000th anniversary of the founding of Hanoi.

I’ve guided Southwest Chamber Music for over 20 years towards just this type of project – we have a long history of celebrating classical music in unorthodox places. Ordinary just isn’t my style. This accounts for my being an idea-entrepreneur, through Southwest Chamber Music, in the tradition-weary world of classical music.

Ascending Dragon was the most rewarding challenge to program of my career. Any festival is a departure from normal concert life – in a festival all the pieces have to fit together, creating a larger narrative for the audience and musicians. This was even more appealing when I factored in the reality that Ascending Dragon was the most ambitious formal festival of contemporary music ever on the Vietnamese cultural scene. Our four composers-in-residence, Alexandra du Bois and Kurt Rohde from the United States and Vu Nhat Tan and Pham Minh Thanh from Vietnam were a perfect fit. In selecting these four gifted individuals, I was looking for multiple talents:  accomplished musical voices, accomplished instrumental talents, and a deep expressive and moral character. These four composers represented the best national characteristics of their respective countries and helped realize my vision of New Classical Music, a world where the wisdom of tradition blends with the diversity of the 21st century, to new audiences in Vietnam and the United States.

The experience of rehearsals and concerts side-by-side with Vietnamese musicians over a six-week time period in Asia and North America, with music by Takemitsu, Copland, Debussy, Messiaen, Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Cage and Carter as well as numerous works by our featured young composers, moved and engaged people with the idea that New Classical Music can shape global human reconciliation in ways a pure standard repertory of classical music can not achieve.

I know that together with our musical friends in Vietnam we will all continue to point the way to a better world, where people make music together to understand each other. Maybe some people will have heard what we will continue to say about reconciliation in this still frightening world. We are now all a living example of how countries move forward to create a better future out of a complicated past.

I hope you enjoy learning about the activities of Ascending Dragon on our website! I speak for everyone connected with this project that we anxiously anticipate our next meetings!

-Jeff von der Schmidt
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