Last July this site observed that, due to the wide diversity of programs in the performing arts at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA), opportunities for serious music lovers are few and far between. Nevertheless, when they do take place, they invariably promise to depart from the beaten path in adventurous and compelling ways. Next month one of those events will take place, the world premiere of a new musical epic created by composer Vân-Ánh Võ to mark the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War.
This will be a full-evening composition entitled The Odyssey – from Vietnam to America. Taking the Homeric epic as a point of departure, Võ conceived the composition as an exploration of the personal and spiritual journeys of the Vietnamese boat people, refugees who fled Vietnam after the victory of the North Vietnamese, which led to the reunification of North and South into the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Like many other refugees, these boat people abandoned their lives in the search for freedom while facing and alien and unknowable future.
The result of Võ’s efforts is a media-rich work of performance art in several distinct movements. She has created new music for both Vietnamese and Western instruments and integrated it with electronic music, ambient sound, and the spoken word. The text sources for the latter are interviews with surviving boat people. Her staging will also draw upon historical objects and live media. This was all created in partnership with Asian Americans for Community Involvement, with the objective of providing older Vietnamese the opportunity to share with the younger their life stories, past histories, and the challenges they faced as refugees.
Music will be performed by the Vân-Ánh Võ (VA’V) Quartet, led by Võ performing primarily on Vietnamese instruments. The other members are cellist Alex Kelly, Dan Cantrell, who will perform on both piano and accordion, and percussionist Jimi Nakagawa, whose skills include taiko drumming. In addition environmental sounds will be provided by ethnomusicologist Philip Blackburn, who has published articles on Vietnamese music. Finally, Ian Winters will provide video work to create multiple layers of stories.
This production will be given two performances, both at 8 p.m. on Friday, January 22, and Saturday, January 23, respectively. The venue will be the YBCA Forum. General admission will be between $20 and $30, with $5 discounts available for students, teachers, and seniors. All YBCA members will be admitted for $15, and admission will be free for members of YBCA:You. Information about additional discount and group rates are available by calling the YBCA Box Office at 415-978-2787. In addition there is an event page for online purchase of tickets.