Name: Van-Anh Nguyen
Occupation: Composer, Pianist
Current Release: Adagio with Double Touch on All Day I Dream
Recommendations: I just watched and listened to the premiere of ‘The Jungle’ by Wynton Marsalis and I think this is a profound body of work. It’s a 6 movement work Marsalis wrote for symphony orchestra and the Lincoln Jazz Orchestra, reflecting elements of New York. It’s the perfect merge of jazz music and orchestral instruments and the experimenting of sounds that many brass instruments can create is explored in a way that it allows the audience to visualize and be transported to New York. I really believe this work will be talked about and performed many decades later.
My second recommendation is Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1. I’m a pianist, I love Chopin and I think this work is so well written.
If you enjoyed this interview with Van-Anh Nguyen, visit her website or Facebook page for further information. She also maintains an Instagram profile.
When did you start playing your instrument, and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started learning the piano at 13 months old. My mother is an opera singer and my father a classical guitarist so it was only natural they wanted to introduce their first child to the world of music. I lived and breathed music before I could even walk and talk and I guess the piano was the easiest instrument for them to start me on as pressing a key will immediately create a sound. Classical music was all that was played in the house and I remember Mum and Dad’s vinyl collection had a lot of Schubert and Beethoven symphonies. As I progressed in the piano, I fell in love with the romantics - Chopin, Rachmaninoff and Liszt. It wasn’t until high school that I was exposed to many other genres of music and then subsequently, clubbing opened up another world.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
Coming from a musical family, my mum had already encouraged me to compose music when I was about 5 or 6 years old. I had a firm understanding of forms like fugues and sonatas through studying Mozart and Bach’s writing but was not drawn to writing this. It wasn’t until I started traveling on my own from around the age of 15 which I was then exposed to different cultures, sounds, landscapes and that was when I started to merge worlds together. I’ve always wanted to mash genres together and I think that describes what my new duo with Mark Olsen, Double Touch, is: an amalgamation between Mark’s world of being a drummer, beat maker, producer and my world of orchestral writing and piano composition.
What were some of your main artistic challenges when starting out as an artist and in which way have they changed over the years?
Integrity is a big word I battled with. Growing up in a strictly classical world, there were certain protocols you were expected to follow. Etiquette, styles of playing. I’ve never been one to stick to tradition so when I finally became comfortable with just letting go and creating music that made me happy, that freed up a lot of my head for creativity.
Tell us about your studio/work space, please. What were criteria when setting it up and how does this environment influence the creative process? How important, relatively speaking, are factors like mood, ergonomics, haptics and technology for you?
I am on the road a LOT for concerts so I have 2 bases, Sydney and Los Angeles. Mark and I work mobile a lot as often, we are in different parts of the world. When recording piano, candles make all the difference in mood. Technology is our best friend, enabling us to send files and not having to be in the same space to write. However I do find that that’s the best because I love bouncing off energies and being able to get real time reactions.
Tell me about your instrument, please. What was your first instrument like and how did you progress to your current one? How would you describe the relationship with it? What are its most important qualities and how do they influence the musical results, including your own performance?
Piano was the first. Cello was my second and then I’d say keyboard would be my third. Piano is my true love and it’s the easiest way for me to write music. The piano has taken me to so many places around the world with concerts which has then enabled me to soak in other cultures and sounds which then inspires me to write. Being an instrument of 88 keys and having 10 fingers to create chords and harmonies, I think it gives you so much playing ground to create music. No 2 pianos are the same so I have a lot of fun experimenting with the sounds you can create out of this instrument.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
If I’m at home, I’ll do a barre or Pilates class first thing, coffee and breakfast, then practice piano for about 2 hours. Then I go into emails, sort out concert schedules, do social media, sort out logistics for any up and coming shows then do another 1.5-2 hours practice then write music. I never have a fixed schedule but I find the above ‘schedule’ usually works best. Music is my entire life so I merge everything as much as I can. I can’t remember the last time I just took a holiday, it’s always been a working holiday. Music is not a chore and I am thankful I can call it my job so I treat my life as a working holiday :)
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
"Adagio", the title track from our Double Touch EP through All Day I Dream was the perfect merge between Mark’s world and my world. We wanted to take a Classical vignette, rework it, then add electronic and synth elements to it. The classical vignette is originally for strings but we transformed it to strings, piano and synths. We used plug ins to write it first in the studio but when we went into Studios 301 in Sydney to record everything live, the notes I wrote out on the manuscript came alive and I just remember looking at Mark as the girls on strings were recording it live and we were smiling. Goosebumps moment for sure!