I was very fortunate this weekend just gone, folks, to interview the supremely talented classical guitarist Minh Le Hoang ahead of his solo concert with the Melbourne Guitar Foundation on 9th May.
We had a great chat (he’s such a lovely, funny laid back chap), with Minh talking about the work he does in Vietnam, keeping familiar pieces fresh and his feeling on solo versus group performance.
As usual, I’m splitting the interview across a couple of posts for you.
Here you go……
Tell us a bit about yourself – who is Minh Le Hoang?
A bit about myself? What a question! You always feel funny talking about yourself. I’m based in Canberra, forever. We came from Vietnam in the early 1990s, as a teenager, and we settled here ever since., 24 years ago.
And I started classical then. When I was in Vietnam we played pop guitar, with steel strings, chords and whatever was around at the time. So I got into classical music here, and got into music through high school and went on and studied with Tim (Kain) for, you know, forever still! To this day!
So at the moment I’m just teaching at the Canberra School of Music (at Australian National University) and round a couple of private schools. That’s my main teaching job.
I perform solo, in duo with a flute player (a friend) and trekking with the boys (Minh is a member of guitar quartet, Guitar Trek). We’re preparing for a new CD in June.
I guess my solo activity has been going back to Vietnam quite often, to where I come from, once a year for the last 10 or 12 years. So I go back and do a few solo gigs and teach a bit there at the Conservatorium, share a few ideas, show them stuff we learn here. The kids over there don’t get the same sort of input so I try to contribute whatever I can.
Is there much interest in the classical guitar in Vietnam?
Yeah! It’s huge! Basically everybody plays guitar you know, whatever style. The classical guitarists there being years, and friends of mine organizing international festivals. This year they’re doing the second one. For Vietnam it’s quite a big step up.
Quite a lot of young, talented players but they don’t get the same sort of teaching you know. It’s all mostly self-taught. Even the teachers there, you know, are self-taught!
We’re very excited here in Melbourne that you’re playing a gig with the Melbourne Guitar Foundation on 9th May (check out further info here folks: http://www.melbourneguitarfoundation.com/events) – what are you going to play for us?
It’s a varied programme, a mixed bag of old and new repertoire I’ve been ticking over the last 6 months or so.
So there’s some Bach, the first lute suite in E minor BWV 996. A lot of Spanish music, there’s Asencio’s Colletici Intim. You’ve probably heard that one a lot, probably sick of it, everybody plays it you know!
There’s Rodrigo’s Invocation y Danza, some Torroba and a set of South American pieces – three Brazillian pieces and a waltz. So there’s a mixed programme of Latin, Spanish and Bach. The Bach is the odd one!
There’s no hardcore difficult listening in there. It’s all accessible I think.
Is there any rhyme or reason as to why you chose those particular pieces?
No, not really. There’s just some of my favourite pieces I like to play, some of those Spanish ones and it’s there under the fingers.
At the moment I’m doing a lot of teaching and not performing, on the road all the time, so you need to fall back on some of your more familiar pieces. But the Bach and the South American pieces are relatively new, yeah
How do you keep those very familiar pieces fresh?
That’s tricky. It all depends on how much time you have you know!
I guess the older you get, the more you teach, the more you form your own idea of how you interpret the music. I try to, you know, make the most out of what I know when I come back to pieces.
Some of it is still fresh because you’ve gone through different phrasings and articulations and you have better fingerings. In that way it’s still fresh even though you still have your memory of how the piece sounds.
Or you may change totally, looking in the score and saying “why did I do that?!” you know?
It’s only dangerous if you play the Chaconne when you’re 12 or 15 then you come back to it. It’s pretty dangerous, you have this notion of the piece formed as a 12 year old. Some people never tend to play it better. They took on this massive work when they were really young and they can’t change it.
We know you as a member of the enormously influential and world-renowned Guitar Trek, and you also play with a duo partner. Playing in a group or ensemble environment versus playing solo are quite different experiences – do you have any preference as to solo versus group playing?
Oh that’s a difficult question to answer. I actually enjoy doing both you know, solo and chamber music. But approaching the concerts for solo or chamber is so different.
When you’re playing solo you’re basically more exposed, you’re naked on stage really! It’s a lot more stressful doing solo, you know. Generally the repertoire’s harder, physically harder.
But there are also challenges in playing chamber as well. It’s playing with others. You’ve got to have a rhythm, you’ve got to prepare the parts as well as you can because you can play your part as well as anybody in your room on your own with a metronome. With the four or the two of you guys you tend to go off somewhere! It’s really hard.
But I do enjoy performing and touring with the guys, doing solo on a tour you can get a bit lonely. You get to hang out by yourself and do your own thing. With four guys it’s always much more fun! I enjoy both though I don’t have any preference.
Head back this time next week folks for the second part of the interview!