Ho Chi Minh City Ballet Symphony Orchestra and Opera

No joke, that’s the full name of the orchestra I went to see this Monday; the only real professional orchestra that I know of in Saigon.

They played a really cool repertoire; consisting of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture and Violin Concerto in D Major; Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on the theme of Paganini; and Mussorgsky’s Dawn on the Moscow River. I’m not going to lie, I went there specifically to see the performance of the 1812 Overture and the Rhapsody on the theme of Paganini. The other two pieces were ones that I didn’t know quite so well.

I was very confused at their choice of the order of the pieces. They opened with Tchaikovsky’s 1812, and ended the first half with the Rachmaninov. The second half opened with Mussorgsky’s Dawn on the Moscow River. The concert ended with Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. I really don’t understand this. In their Spring Summer programme leaflet, they stated the order to start with the Mussorgsky, followed by the Violin Concerto. The second half opened with Rachmaninov, and then the whole concert was to close with the 1812. To me, this would have made much more sense. Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture is a fantastic, dramatic, powerful piece: perfectly suited to the grand finale. Why they chose to open with this is simply beyond me.

I noticed during the 1812 that the winds were not quite in time with the orchestra. There were other problems with the accuracy, including the entrance of the snare drum being a little off. However, on the whole, I really enjoyed the 1812 Overture, other than the aforementioned placement of it in the programme. During the brass fanfare close to the end, the entire row of brass players stood up, wearing full military uniforms. I thought it was a bit gimmicky, and yet it was a brilliant idea all the same. It really did make the performance truly unique. In performances I’ve heard online in the past, the balance of the bells is frequently too loud. In this performance, I thought they got it just right.

Following 1812, there was a short break while they brought out the piano for the Rachmaninov. The change was not smooth, but it wasn’t horrible either. The pianist was, in my opinion, fantastic. I didn’t notice any problems with the orchestra here either—perhaps because there was a pianist to cover up any mistakes. The one small issue was that the pianist’s pedalling could frequently be heard quite clearly. Not having been to a professional piano solo before, I don’t know if that’s normal or not, but it did ruin the experience slightly at the beginning.

After the interval they got into the music that I didn’t know so well. Dawn on the Moscow River was played very nicely. There weren’t any serious mistakes, although at times the wind section did seem just a tad out of sync.

The Violin Concerto was played very well. The violin soloist was simply amazing. The only negative thing to be said was that the cadenzas were sometimes extended a bit longer than they needed to be. Other than that they played superbly.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the concert. Each of the pieces was amazing, and if you could look past the order they played them in, the choice of repertoire was great. I definitely recommend music fans in Ho Chi Minh City check them out. I look forward to the next time they put on some repertoire that I’m interested in.

Have you been to any concerts recently? What was played, and did you enjoy it? Particularly if you’ve been to the HCMC Orchestra in the past, what did you think of them?