VC Talks: an interview with Truong Thi Ngan Ha, GLORY Int'l Music Competition prize winner

  • VirtuosoChannel Grand Prize @ GLORY Int'l Music Competition, 2018
  • 1st Prize, GLORY Int'l Classical Music Competition 2018
  • 1st Prize, GLORY Int'l Romantic Music Competition 2018
  • 2nd Prize, GLORY Int'l Modern & Contemporary Classical Music Competition 2018

In this series of interviews, we explore how some of the most talented and prize winning young classical musicians became interested in music, who are their musical idols, what they are working on at present, and what they strive to achieve in the future.

Beethoven Sonata Op.31, No.2, "Tempest", 1st Mov.

Tchaikovsky Dumka

Prokofiev Sonata No.3

Born into a non-musical family, Ms. Ngan Ha’s is the 7/9th grade of National Academy of Music’s pre-college program, class of Professor Tran Thu Ha. By the age of 15, she has won numerous awards including the 2nd prize at 1st Chopin International Competition in Bangkok, 1st Prize at 18th Argento Concorso piano Competition, Italy (Cat.B), Absolutely 1st prize at 18 Valtidone International Music Competition for Young Talents, Italy (Cat.B), 3rd Prize Hanoi International Piano Competition (Cat.A), some First and Second prizes at 2nd Lansum music festival in USA, Third Prize (Junior Category, 14-16 years old) - 7th Maria Herrero International Piano Competition, Granada, Spain, 1st prizes at Great Composer Competitions 2018 and many other prizes nationally and internationally recognized as well.

She has also performed concerts and recitals at Hanoi Opera House, the Great music concert hall of Vietnam Academy of Music, and other famous halls in Vietnam as well as Italy, America for excellent music results. She was chosen to perform as one of the solo performers with the Red Steinway and Son Model D-274 in the Steinway Red tour at Vietnam Academy of Music Hall in July 2015. Especially, she has performed Mozart concerto No.13 (Kv415) with Academy Orchestra April 2016 and Chopin concerto No.2 in F minor, 1st Mov. with Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra and conductor Honna Tetsuji October 2017. She’s got 1st Prize Concerto competition (Fall season) 2017, Category B – American Fine Art Competition (AFAF) for the concerto performance. She’s been chosen to play at Carnegie Hall this July 2018 from Hotchkiss School (America) Summer Portal.

Besides music, she has also incredible academic results. She is working hard every day with her busy schedule of academic program at school (she is following IB program (Grade 11)) and practicing without any musical background or help from her family. She was chosen as The Youngest person to receive one of ten “Hanoi capital city honor most outstanding young citizens of 2013” awards for excellent result in both academic school and music school. She also continuously received “Toyota Scholarship for Vietnamese Young Music Talents” in 2014, 2015, Yamaha Scholarship 2016 and 2018.

Thanks to great guidance from her professor, support from her teachers and school, she is growing up with busy life but enjoy music with so much passion.

What year were you born?
I was born in 2002.

Do you come from a musical family?
I was not born into a music family. My mother works for a Japanese organization while my dad is a freelancer who is a billionaire of time. He takes me around city to join a lot of extra classes whenever I need.

What was your earliest musical experience?
I had my first piano class when I was five. I came to my first music center once a week for class with about 5 other kids and practiced at home with an archaic and out-of-tune organ for 2 years.

My piano teacher, who had been overseeing my progress, told my parents that she could see that I had good ears for music learning and I studied pieces faster than my classmates. She suggested them take me to another teacher in a big music center. My parents did not really want me to take piano too seriously, but they thought, “Why not?”.

I met my second teacher when I was around seven, and she was my first and foremost source of inspiration. She helped me realize at a very young age that music was beautiful and passed the love for the piano to me. I counted excitedly day by day till Saturday to come to her class. After several time urging my parents, my teacher finally succeeded in asking my parents to buy me an upright piano. On the big day, I remember waking up super early and running around with excitement while waiting for the truck carrying my first beautiful black Yamaha to the door.

I had my first public performance when I was eight. I remembered playing ‘Wiener March’ in front of giant flashing lights and hundreds of people and I felt so great and at that moment, I knew exactly what I wanted to do-playing music for people.

Why did you choose to play the piano?
My mother initially wanted me to take piano classes just for fun because she thought it would help enrich my soul and sense of art. At the age of nine, I was taken to several minor competitions by my teacher and performed several times. After those experiences, I started hearing my friends from class and their parents talk about applying for the Vietnam National Academy of Music. I did some research on this academy with curiosity and found out that all of the best Vietnamese musicians were trained there. I also read about Professor Tran Thu Ha, and at that time, I suddenly my biggest goal was to manage to play for her. I asked my mother’s permission to apply for the academy, and that event was followed by a series of me crying and begging my mom to let me audition, my mom’s answer was a solid ‘no’, because she was too concerned about the amount of practice and strict commitment when I took it as my career. I was confused and ignorant, since all I wanted was to make piano ‘official’ in my life. When I was ten, I again, begged my parents to let me apply for the academy. When they said “NO” again, I would cry myself to sleep and be very sad for days. Luckily, my mother changed her mind as she felt really bad when hindering me to pursue my dream therefore she tried to book an appointment with Professor Tran Thu Ha exactly one week before the audition. I was extremely nervous because I was very scared being refused by Professor as I was one year older than the normal age to enter the academy. I played for her, and to both me and my parents surprise, she accepted me right away and even helped me prepare for the audition. I practiced my entire repertoire in just a week and got the highest audition score and I became Professor Tran Thu Ha’s first year student. Since then, I have joined many competitions around the world and won several prizes. I have become frantically busy with piano and school.

One day when I was at my first semester, I started to felt that playing the piano for 4 hours a day is not a typical thing for a kid to do. My friends felt sorry for me because all I did in my free time was practicing. Once, when I arrived at school late after a morning piano class, my English teacher decided to give my mom a long lecture on how she lets me be an ‘overworked’ and ‘miserable’ kid.

I was left confused because deeply inside, I thought I was the luckiest girl in the world to be able to play piano as my dream. Since then and through my dark age of puberty, social life really got in the way of my relationship with the piano. I used to pretend that I was so upset to be “stuck in the practice room” for hours and hours while my friends hung out at shopping malls. I did all I could to deny the fact that I would rather be with my piano. My younger self was not aware that my mindset was slowly and inevitably being morphed with the full thought that I should not be a pianist at all. During such dreadful period of time at middle school, I never mentioned about my concerts, competitions and success to my friends because I felt so embarrassed and alienated.

Luckily the moment of realization came to me. One day, I came to class and replayed like I just wanted to get it over with. My teacher was silence instead of giving me pages of corrections as she usually did. What she said afterwards awaked me. “I know you are having a hard time. I just want you to remember: no matter what happens or who you let into your life, at the end of the day, the piano will be the one thing that will never turn its back on you and will loyally be there for you, Emma. Today, when you go home, do me a favor and spend some decent time with your piano.”

I came home feeling stupid for my selfishness. For the first time, I thought about all the times when I came home crying because I felt left out or when public commentaries from my concerts were hard to bear, and how I would always play the piano for joy. For JOY. And when I didn’t practice for a week because I was too caught up in school or because my ‘friends’ make fun of me for being a ‘musical nerd’, how the piano was just there. I opened the piano, played Chopin’s Ballade No.1, and the rest is history.

Day by day, I have been mature gradually. Looking back to my 1st piano lesson until now, I have been practicing piano for ten years, and I simply fall in love with music with my whole heart and soul. Now, I’m a seventh year student at the Vietnam National Academy of Music and I am still going on my journey to make my dream of being a professional pianist come true.

Who are your favorite composers and why?
My favorite composers right now are Chopin and Ravel. I like Chopin’s music because of his beautiful choices of harmony and how he transforms human experiences and emotions into music that can be mutually felt by everyone else. I love Ravel because of the atmospheric aspects of his music that almost makes me feel like I am witnessing a fairytale.

My mother said that when I was in her tummy, she let me listen to Mozart music every day. When she turned on the Mozart variations “Twinkle, twinkle little star”, I was kicking repeatedly. That’s why Mozart is also my favorite composer because of the pureness in his music for the souls. As a result of music love, all family members agreed to choose the name – Ngan Ha means galaxy in the sky for me. And I have been learning Mozart Variations “Twinkle, twinkle little star” when I was a small girl with full of joys.

Who are your musical idols?
I don’t exactly have musical idols but the people that I am most inspired by or motivated by recently when I play the piano are Jacqueline du Pre (even though she is not a pianist), Yuja Wang, and my teacher.

What is a perfect performer?
In my opinion, the term ‘perfect’ for a musician is subjective. I personally think that noone is a perfect performer, though anyone can have a perfect performance, which is technically flawless and one that meets all of the performer’s intentions and ideas formed during practice. I personally like the performers who play good sound which sophisticatedly touch the souls and bring joy of music to audiences.

What music are you mostly enjoying at the moment?
Right now, I have Elgar’s Concerto in E minor on repeat and all of Ravel’s pieces for piano, my absolute favorite being Une Barque sur L’Ocean. My favorite pieces that I am playing are Jardin sous la Pluie by Debussy and Chopin’s Andante Spianato et Grande Polonaise Brillante. My previous performing experience with joy is playing Chopin Concerto No.2, 1st movement with Vietnam National symphony Orchestra under Japanese conductor Honna Tetsuji last year.

When you are performing, what are your thoughts?
To be honest, my thought vary up to the level of my preparation for the concerts, therefore I either focus entirely on music that I am playing or on what people think when they hear my playing.

Where do you study music and what are your future educational plans?
I currently study at the Vietnam National Academy of Music. I will have to apply for colleges/universities in nearly two years. At this moment, I have not yet had specific plan for future studies but I would like to study piano, piano pedagogy, and journalism in the US or in Europe. I dream to learn at a good music school or conservatory, but in fact, I have to pass the audition and I should see how much my parents can pay for my study abroad.

I have had a lifelong ambition of becoming a pianist and a piano teacher so that I am able to bring music to the children and people in my country, Vietnam, a developing country where people do not have many chances to enjoy classical music.

What are your reasons to participate in music competitions?
I participate in music competitions to have a chance to perform the pieces that I have practiced for a long time and to create new connections with friends of the same age, professors and audience members from that I don’t get to meet every day.

What is your opinion about GLORY International Music Competition?
In my opinion, GLORY International Music Competition is a great competing opportunity for musicians who don’t necessarily have the chance and circumstances to travel to compete.

When it is not music, what interests you? What is your favorite pastime?
I love to read, hang out with my friends, watching movies, drawing, and taking photos when I find spare time.

What book are you reading now?
I am reading The Secret History by Donna Tartt.

What are the happiest moments in your life?
As simple as it sounds, I love being with the friends that I love most and sharing a laugh with them no matter where we are.

And, when I play piano, even for one person, group of people or large audience and I feel that the audience love and enjoy my performance, the happiness will overflow like the spring over my mind.

What things do you not like to do?
I do not like to travel alone, especially to competitions and concerts.

What inspires you and what makes you sad?
At my age, friends and school are very important part of my life. I am inspired by my friends and sometimes strongly influenced by characters in books and movies. Things that upset me are being misunderstood by other people or make persons I care disappointed.

What are your strengths?
I think, I am quite at perseverance to follow what I want to do or I think it is good to do

What is your life motto?
“By making oneself’ busy life, one will have a good, balanced, meaningful life”

What is most important in life?
I think, the most important in life is to be hornets to myself and working hard with passion for a better future for all.

What is more important: talent or hard work?
Hard work is much more important. You could succeed by working hard even without talent but you could not get success with talent only.

If today was the last day on earth, what would you do?
I would gather with my best friends and if circumstances permit we would go stargazing and I want to wholeheartedly play all my loved pieces of music for them.

Why does the universe exist?
The universe exists despite for us to see and feel it.

Thank you very much for talking to us.