Hoang Pham with Zelman Symphony

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Published: 13th November, 2017

The pianist Hoang Pham has long been a friend to Classic Melbourne  since performing at our launch four  years ago and we keep a particular interest in his career.  Following successful collaboration with Zelman Symphony, Hoang is planning another concert, but is more involved in the whole  event than soloists  usually are. We think he has an idea that might catch on, so editor Suzanne Yanko asked him to elaborate on it.

SY: Hoang Pham, you have had a few busy weeks but I’m particularly interested in your December concert with Zelman Symphony. First, though, tell us about the sort of things you usually do, for example what about this month (November)?

HP: I guess I do a bit of everything! I work as a sessional piano teacher at Loreto and do some accompanying when needed. I also have a busy schedule performing concerts where I’m invited by other performers and presenters. For example, I recently performed the Rachmaninoff Second Piano Concerto with Heidelberg Symphony, played the opening recital in the new Melbourne Warehouse Music Festival, performed a trio concert with William Hennessy and Chris Howlett, and I’ve just flown to Turkey to perform with David Helfgott in Istanbul and Ankara.

As you can see, this would alone keep me quite busy – but on top of this, I run my own company that presents my concerts at the Melbourne Recital Centre and when I go on tour, recent venues have included Sydney’s City Recital Hall and Adelaide Town Hall. To give you an idea of the scale of these concerts, my recent “Mostly Chopin” tour took in the above venues in Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide. The total audience attendance was over 2000 and as is almost always the case, the Melbourne concert was a full house.

Before this tour, I had already presented five concerts at the same venue since March 2016. Very often, as I’m leading up to one concert, my assistant and I are already working on the marketing materials for the next one and even sometimes, the one after that!

SY: That’s a varied as well as taxing schedule you have there! So looking ahead to the Zelman concert? It’s a little different from the traditional model of overture/concerto/ symphony, I think?

HP: Well, it takes the model above as the point of departure. In fact, it really just substitutes the symphony in the second half with a piano concerto that has perhaps a kindred spirit, that being the Brahms Piano Concerto No 1.

This work began life as a symphony and Brahms subsequently developed it into a piano concerto. The work really has symphonic proportions, a very clear classical structure, and an evolution in the thematic material that is always goal-orientated, with purpose and I suppose, extremely Germanic. It has its rhapsodic qualities in the piano part which is at times tender with the orchestra and at other times, in complete struggle. I think it’s one of the most glorious piano concertos ever written.

This work we perform after the interval but to begin, we have Brahms’ Academic Overture and Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. I felt that in a program like this, we needed a work that was completely different to the Brahms. Rachmaninoff’s invention, scintillating orchestration and brilliant piano writing are at the forefront of this 20th century masterpiece. The “Dies Irae” punctuates this rather quirky, humorous work, with moments of terror and dramatic gloom. I love this piece just as much as I love the darkness of the under appreciated Fourth Concerto.

SY: The title of the concert is a bit of a giveaway : Hoang’s Concerto Concert with Zelman Symphony. It looks like quite a crowd-pleaser! Did you choose the entire program. .. because you’re the soloist for at least two-thirds of it. If so, why did you make each of those choices?

HP: I chose the two concertos and left the choice of orchestral work to the Zelman Symphony. I think it worked out fine and I like how the two Brahms works flank the Rachmaninoff/Paganini Rhapsody. I knew that this program would be popular but in general, piano concertos are in incredible demand and very often, I talk to many people and everybody (including myself) wants to hear more concertos in one concert so I thought why not do it and present my own concert. I hate waiting for things to happen and prefer to just make things happen myself!

SY:. I take it Zelman approved of the concept? Why did you choose this orchestra? Tell us about your history with them, for instance the concert earlier this year, what was that?

HP: Yes, the committee approved the idea straight away. I have performed with Zelman Symphony a number of times (recently Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No 1 and Beethoven Emperor Concerto) and I’ve always enjoyed the chemistry with Mark Shiell and the enthusiasm of the orchestra. I can confidently say that they are the best community orchestra that I’ve had the pleasure to perform with over the years.

In addition, there’s something about the quality of passionate amateurs that I relish. In Mark’s work, I am energised by his conviction in his ideas and also the fact that we share many similar musical wishes. Sometimes, it’s just easy and pleasurable to work with people want to hear the same things as you do.

SY: What is the most important thing you want us to understand about this concert, and/or this way of doing things compared with the traditional model, where I think the orchestra decides on program and casts about for a suitable soloist?

HP: This concert is unique for a few reasons. Firstly, the program is one that you won’t find major arts organisations presenting. It’s too old-fashioned for them, which is why I love it! The other thing I’m really proud about is that the concert is 100% local, 100% relevant to local audiences, and 100% about the performers and the music they love to perform. There is no factor outside of me and the orchestra influencing the musical, marketing and whatever other decisions we need to make.

We have a group of passionate people who just want to get up on stage and perform. And I’m glad that my company is presenting this and that we will bring so much joy to the audience on the night. And what an amazing experience for everybody to be at the Melbourne Recital Centre, a truly world class venue that surely, was built for this sort of local event. I would really like to see more soloists work with community orchestras in the future to present these sorts of events.

SY: Do you still see a place for that way of doing things?

HP: Orchestras presenting concerts and casting for suitable soloists is fine but I think there is ample room for presentations such as the one above. And I think this is particularly important for young musicians working in the future. They must become more independent. You can’t sit around waiting for the artistic administrator of an orchestra to call you to play a concerto. Nothing wrong with this but why not just do it yourself if you have the experience and resources. Plus you get to play the concertos you want to play and not just what somebody else wants you to play!

SY: What do you hope will be gained from this concert – for you, the orchestra, the audience?

HP: Hopefully one hell of a good memory of an amazing concert. I don’t know what else we would want from doing something like this except to feel that it was worth all the effort from all parties involved. For the audience, I do hope that they will walk away feeling they have been given an experience that is rare and that is unique to me and the Zelman Symphony.

SY: What direction might it take you in? Do you think it’s a model that could suit other performers?

HP: Definitely, why not? As I mentioned above, people need to invest more of themselves, their own resources and experience into their own concerts. There are many community orchestras out there who have a wonderful drive and love of performing. You never know if you never go!

SY: What’s needed to make it work?

HP: Leonard Bernstein’s quote comes to mind: “To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time.”

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Need to know:

Zelman Symphony – Season 2017: Hoang’s Concerto Concert with Zelman Symphony
Saturday 2 December
Elisabeth Murdoch Hall, Melbourne Recital Centre

More information and bookings 

 More about Hoang Pham  

Editor’s note:  Classic Melbourne plans to review this concert . Come back to these pages to find out how it went.