Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ
& The Blood Moon Orchestra
Sunday, April 23, 2023
Bing Concert Hall
CHARYA BURT, Cambodian Royal Ballet Dance
DOY CHARNSUPHARINDR, Thai performing & Spoken Word Artist
SUSU HLAING, Burmese Harp & Drums
JOEL DAVEL, Marimba Lumina & Percussion
JIMI NAKAGAWA, Taiko Drum & Percussion
ADAM FONG, Electronic Music & Bass
VÂN-ÁNH VANESSA VÕ, Orchestra Lead on Zither, Monochord, Bamboo Xylophone, and Vocals
Concert Concept by VÂN-ÁNH VANESSA VÕ
Artistic Direction by VÂN-ÁNH VANESSA VÕ
Composed by VÂN-ÁNH VANESSA VÕ
Electronic Music & Scientific Research Lead by ADAM FONG
Co-Creative Direction by VÂN-ÁNH VANESSA VÕ & ADAM FONG
Creative Consultant by PAMELA WU-KOCHIYAMA
Spoken words by DOY CHARNSUPHARINDR
Choreography by CHARYA BURT
Ensemble Arrangement Contribution by BLOOD MOON ORCHESTRA ARTISTS
Mekong: LIFE is a multi-media production that explores issues of climate change and natural resource exploitation through the use of sounds of electronic alongside traditional instruments from the Greater Mekong Sub-regions (GMS), voices of its community members (of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and Myanmar), and visual depictions of life along the Mekong River.
Mekong: LIFE uses the “Goddess and the Ogre” Cambodian myth as the narrative of Vân-Ánh’s production. The folk tale tells the origin of thunder and lightning. In a fight against each other, the ogre’s ax flies toward the goddess to create thunder, and the Goddess's sparkling ball creates lightning. Together they bring rain, the symbol of renewed life as it imparts fertility to the Mekong River.
In Vân-Ánh’s interpretation, the goddess and the ogre will represent the community and humans who are eager to learn “magic,” which represents rain that the Goddess and Ogre seek to help soothe the droughts and fires of the lands. The message from the performance is the idea of balance; for it is when our society becomes greedy for more than what can naturally be given, that we abuse our resources to the point of
an unbalanced ecosystem. The Goddess and Ogre, representing SEA communities along the Mekong River, become greedy for more “magic,” or water. As a result, dams are built and other human-made conventions to abuse and pollute the water supply sources to “win” against letting nature carry out its own “magic” to preserve our ecosystem. This abuse eventually affects the natural cycle of rain, contributing to significant problems in our environment.
Mekong: LIFE is composed of three movements described below:
I. MORNING WHISPER introduces the beauty of the Lower Mekong Basin region. This movement intends to evoke the rich natural landscape and the lush diversity of life that shares its resources. Human culture is included in this vision as one of many coexisting species.
Luang Prabang Song
The River Tern
II. DETENDE SKETCH explores how conflicting forces struggle to find balance. While the mythical figure of The Ogre seems to bring about negative changes to the Mekong and the life that it supports, the Water Goddess brings peace, clarity, and beauty. The struggle between these forces is threatening, but when they are able to find balance and work together, life can once again flourish. The propulsive rhythms of “Running” and the lush beauty of “Green River Delta” are inspired by the way that life and energy thrive once balance is regained.
Green River Delta
III. GLITTERING VOICES focuses on the present day and challenges us all to face our modern reality. The images of people and places along the Mekong shown in “To Live” are presented alongside the reflections of environmental scientists in “Nature Undivided.” This movement concludes by commingling these “voices” with the voice of artists and a hopeful but as-yet unresolved mixture of trepidation and possibility.
TEXTS FROM PRINCETON UNIVERSITY SCIENTISTS
In the order of appearance in “Nature Undivided” and “Glittering Voices”
Professor Yu Xie: A long long time ago, we didn’t have nationality, we didn’t have national boundaries, we didn’t have ethnicity, we didn’t have government, or national government, at least. Those were better times, in some ways, for nature because nature was preserved by itself. Now, nature is carved into different territories, and nature is governed by different political systems. The dividing of nature, artificially, socially, by humans, is dangerous to nature, because nature would like to be one piece, undivided.
Professor Victoria Junquera: Things are interlinked, but it’s no longer just the trees. It’s also the people who live there.
Professor Simon Levin: There are almost no areas of the globe that are untouched by human impacts.
Professor Gabriel Vecchi: An ecosystem that has been stressed by pollution, that has been stressed by deforestation, by reducing biodiversity, when it is stressed it will not recover back anywhere close to where it started. And that is the symptom of a non-robust ecosystem, or a non-robust society.
Professor Simon Levin: And if we’re not careful about the emergent properties, we’re gonna see more of what we’re seeing now. Which is, first of all, new pandemics like the one we’re experiencing. Fires that are raging in places, flooding, food shortages, conflict, all of these are emergent properties of individuals caring only about their narrow interests and their short-term interest.
Professor David Wilcove: If people do not take measures to protect at least some components of nature, their lives are impoverished.
Professor Gabriel Vecchi: The ratio of property damage to fatality is more on the property damage end in the United States. And if you go and look at some of these tragic storms, Cyclone Nargis that hit Myanmar in 2008, there was many hundreds of thousands of fatalities.
Professor Victoria Junquera: I try not to think much about the fact that climate change is happening extremely fast. I try not to think that we need to act as fast as possible, that there is a looming disaster, and that we just need to produce results now. Because that would be extremely anguishing. What kind of dialogue needs to happen on the ground? You know, the solution is probably not black or white.
Professor Simon Levin: We all live in a global commons. We need to find ways to encourage individual behaviors that don’t compromise the collective good.
Professor Victoria Junquera: It’s a give and take, and then, if you understand the other person, it’s easier to give.
Professor David Wilcove: What’s the most I can accomplish, while I’m still around to be a part of the fight?
Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ’s music preserves and propels the traditional arts into the twenty-first century and beyond. Her creative process is like bamboo: as it grows, it cannot be stopped, silenced, or defeated. This growth does not overwhelm, but nourishes. Indeed, her music is an instrument of peace, healing, joy, transcendent love, and illumination. Her multimedia presentations include video and other visual elements, where beauty emerges from more than the sonic. These intertextual performances expand sensory perception and offer the mind pathways towards free and increased imagination. When she collaborates with other
musicians from different backgrounds and life experiences, they build inclusive music together. People find belonging and ways of communicating across cultural and generational boundaries. Her music therefore balances learning, appreciating new experiences, and pure enjoyment. She invites audiences to imagine a more connected and socially just world, and further serves as an outlet for expressing and sharing. Through music and art, audiences find new belonging as they join a global house of love and unity.
At the dinner table one night, our daughters asked us what we thought about Greta Thunberg’s skipping school on Fridays to participate in a strike for climate change. We were unprepared for that question but ended up in an exalted discussion about youth’s responsibility and skipping school for a good cause (to the end of a much longer dinner). The next day, I found myself ended up reading about Greta and articles about climate change. I remembered the chill on my back while reading them and my wonder, “What is the meaning of all that I have done to make sure our children would have a better future, but there might not be any left for them with this rate of climate change?”. The thought that there might be no future left for our and others’ children motivated me to look deeper and encouraged me to find a way to do my part in spreading climate crisis awareness within my Southeast Asian community and beyond.
From my field research trips along the Mekong River in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, I talked to people to understand the changes and impacts of environmental issues on their lives and cultures. I saw the conflicts within ourselves everywhere: on the one hand, many people did sand mining to suck sand from the river bed to enlarge their lands. On the other hand, the same people complained about how landslides along the river bank had impacted their lives. The parents would insist that they buy a piece of land now so their children would enjoy the real estate appreciation, while the children asked why they should care about that piece of land because, in 30 years, everything would be submerged under the water. I saw caskets left on tree adjunctions because the burial site was deeply under the water, while in other villages, the roads were bared with only rocks because of the draught.
Working, learning, and having discussions with scientists, I have seen their endless effort in using science and technology to improve human life. However, the research was without human touch.
That led me to see that my music can connect the dots to bring awareness of climate change, share the stories of communities who have to go through the impacts and help people see that climate change is much closer than we thought. I hope to generate the care that we have for each other and the beauty of our lands and people. Together we can contribute our small parts in keeping the balance in nature so we, the people, the animals, and everything else in nature, can live alongside each other.
PROGRAM SUBJECT TO CHANGE. Please be considerate of others and turn off all phones, pagers, and watch alarms. Photography and recording of any kind are not permitted. Thank you.
About The Artists
VÂN-ÁNH VANESSA VÕ
Artistic Director, Lead Composer, The Blood Moon Orchestra Lead, Vietnamese traditional multi-instrumental master, and Vocalist
Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ is an award-winning composer and one of the most celebrated performers of Vietnamese traditional instruments. In addition to the đàn Tranh (zither), Vân-Ánh performs as soloist on the đàn Bầu (monochord), the đàn T’rung (bamboo xylophone), and trống (traditional drums). She dedicates her life to combining the traditional music of Vietnam with other genres, creating fresh, new compositions.
Since settling in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2001, Vân-Ánh has focused on bringing Vietnamese traditional music to a wider audience and preserving her cultural legacy through innovation, collaboration, and teaching. Her albums, which include Twelve Months, Four Seasons (2002), She’s Not She (2009), and Three-Mountain Pass (2013) have garnered praise from NPR, BBC “The World,” L.A. Times and others.
Vân-Ánh has collaborated with the Kronos Quartet, Yo-Yo Ma, Alonzo King LINES Ballet, Apollo Chamber Players, Oakland Symphony and more. Additionally, she has composed and arranged for the Oscar® nominated and Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner for Best Documentary, Daughter from Danang (2002), the Emmy® Awards winning film and soundtrack for Bolinao 52 (2008), and the winner of multiple “Best Documentary” and “Audience Favorite” awards, A Village Called Versailles (2009).
She has performed at venues such as Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center (2012, 2014, 2016), Lincoln Center, NPR, and Yerba Buena Performing Arts Center. She has participated as a screening judge in the World Music category for the 2015, 2016 & 2018 Grammy® Awards. Under the President Obama administration, Vân-Ánh became the first Vietnamese artist to perform at the White House and received the Artist Laureate Award for her contribution to communities through the arts.
Vân-Ánh has received numerous awards for her projects from foundations such as the Hewlett 50 Arts Commission, California Arts Council, Alliance for California Traditional Arts, City of San Jose, Creative Work Fund, Chamber Music America, Mid Atlantic Foundation, and the Zellerbach Family Foundation.
THE BLOOD MOON ORCHESTRA
Founded by Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ in 2016, Blood Moon Orchestra (BMO) is a genre-bending musical collective of immigrant artists who are all composers, performers, and educators coming together to defy the bounds of Vietnamese traditional music, hip-hop/rap, and breakdance. Their mission is to promote cultural understanding and respect while raising awareness about political and social issues through the use of musical instruments of diverse cultures, pushing boundaries, and expanding and exploring the sonic capabilities of their respective instruments. All master musicians, members of BMO have an innate ability to blend very different sounds together, creating surprisingly new and fresh musical dialogues. Beginning back in 2015 as an initiative by RIGHTSTARTER (drummer/producer PC Muñoz and rapper DEM ONE), current director/composer Vân-Ánh took over the creative directorship in 2017. BMO concerts address social issues, critically engage with underserved communities on issues of our times, and bridge cultures and generations through traditional music. In 2019, BMO was a headliner and provided workshops to 12,800 audience members for BridgeFest Vietnam, which aimed to foster dialogue surrounding diversity and equality.
Percussionist and Taiko Drummer
Born and raised in Tokyo, Japan, Jimi Nakagawa joined the San Francisco Taiko Dojo, directed by Grand Master Seiichi Tanaka and became a performing member in the late 80's. In Japan, Jimi studied and performed Taiko with Sukeroku Daiko Hozonkai and Master Kenjiro Maru of the Wakayama style festival music. Also, he studied "tsuzumi (a Japanese hand drum)" with Master Saburo Mochizuki to become "Natori (accredited master)" and received a name, 望月武響 (Bukyo Mochizuki) . In addition to Japanese traditional music, Jimi is a jazz drummer who studied with Robert Kaufman, a former professor at the Berklee College of Music. He is one of the founding members of Somei Yoshino Taiko Ensemble, a San Francisco Bay Area based taiko group and played in the group for 11 years.
Jimi has collaborated with world renowned musicians like Peter Erskine, Nguyen Le, Frank Martin, Van Anh Vo, Akira Tana & Otonowa to name a few. Jimi's refined but driving stickwork has been featured in film, video and on stage.
Mr. Davel is a percussionist who combines his classical training with intimate knowledge and the use of electronic music resources. Davel’s diverse career and influences range from traditional acoustic folk and classical music to jazz, to the highly experimental. He has been a member of Vân-Ánh Võ's Blood Moon Orchestra since 2020. A close collaborator with composer Paul Dresher, Davel is part of the Dresher-Davel Invented Instrument Duo, Double Duo, and Electro-Acoustic Band, often creating work for dance and theater productions as well as premiering works of other composers. Davel has composed and performed live for several dNaga dance productions and appeared in theater productions for The California Shakespeare Theater, West Edge Opera, and South Coast Repertory. Other long-time performer-composer collaborators include Amy X Neuburg, Jack West, John Duykers, and Guillermo Galindo. As circuit board designer and a mentee of electronic music pioneer Don Buchla for over 20 years, he continues the design of electronic music instruments, including continued refinement and production of the Buchla Marimba Lumina — Davel’s signature instrument. The Marimba Lumina gives him lots of expressive control by recognizing each of the four mallets independently while tracking the mallets' location along each bar. Davel holds a Bachelor of Music from Northern Illinois University and MFA from Mills College.
Cambodian Royal Ballet Master
Charya Burt is an acclaimed master dancer, choreographer, vocalist and teacher of Classical Cambodian Dance. After the Khmer Rouge genocide, Burt trained extensively with Cambodia’s foremost surviving dance masters, eventually joining the dance faculty of Cambodia’s Royal University of Fine Arts. A Hewlett 50 Commission was awarded her in 2021 to create The Rebirth of Apsara: Artistic Lineage, Cultural Resilience and the Resurrection of Cambodian Arts from the Ashes of Genocide. An inaugural Dance/USA and 2022 Americans for the Arts Johnson Fellow and Isadora Duncan Award recipient for Individual Performance, Burt’s mission is to continue to preserve and renew her art-form, elevate the professionalism of community dance groups, and to create innovative new works firmly rooted in tradition. A true culture bearer, Burt is founding artistic director of Charya Burt Cambodian Dance, based in the San Francisco North Bay.
Thai Performing & Spoken Word Artist
Doy Charnsupharindr was born and raised in Thailand. He started learning music at the age of nine and fell in love with the performing arts ever since, from music to singing, acting and dance. As a vocalist, he has performed a wide range of styles--classical, choral, gospel, Broadway, and Polynesian music. While studying at Stanford University, he directed Stanford’s Mixed Company a cappella group and was a Contemporary A Cappella Recording Award (CARA) winner. As an actor, he now performs with San Francisco Bay Area theatre companies. His theater credits include “Harold Hill” in The Music Man (PSP), “Mike Masaoka” in Allegiance (CCCT), Miss Saigon, Les Misérables (BBBay), and the world premier of Conrad Panganiban’s Welga! (Bindlestiff). Offstage, he’s a teacher and a coach specialized in leadership, communication, presentation, and storytelling. He utilizes his training as an actor to help others develop their communication skills and stage presence.
SUSU MARIA HLAING
Burmese harp, Percussion & Vocalist
Su Wai was born and raised in Yangon, Burma (Myanmar). Her first musical studies happened with her father, who taught her to sing during nightly lessons. She joined the National University of Art and Culture in Yangon in 1995, where she studied the saung gauk Burmese harp. She became a professional musician after graduation in 1999 and moved to the United States in 2008. She brings music and culture to the Burmese community in the United States and performs frequently in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she is now based, and elsewhere. She released her first album Gi ta pon yiek (The Beginning of the Shadow of the Music) in 2011 and is currently working on her next album.
Electronic Music Composer & Bass
Adam Fong is an active cultural entrepreneur, and a composer, performer and producer of new music. He has helped build two innovative arts service organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area: Emerging Arts Professionals (Co-Founder 2008; Director) is a network dedicated to the development and growth of next generation arts and culture workers; Center for New Music (Co-Founder 2012; Executive Director) serves the practitioners of creative, non-commercial music. As Associate Director of Other Minds (2006–2012), he produced six editions of the annual OM Festival and many special projects. Fong holds masters degrees from Stanford University (English) and California Institute of the Arts (MFA Composition). He has lectured on experimental music, received international performance and publication of his scholarly and creative work, and serves on numerous advisory boards, panels, and committees at the local and national level.
Allen Willner: Scenic and Lighting Designer
Calvin LL Jones: Sound Engineer
Olivia Ting: Visual Designer
Pamela Wu-Kochiyama: Theater Director
Dio Ramirez: Production Manager
Emma Brennan: Production & Artistic Assistant
Wolfgang Wachalovsky: Video Programmer
Acknowledgements From Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ
I wish to express my deepest gratitude to my husband, Steven Huỳnh, and my two daughters, Nicole Huỳnh and Andrea Huỳnh, for their unwavering love and support. I would also like to extend my heartfelt appreciation to Mr. and Mrs. Jerome and Thao Dodson, Dr. Alexander Cannon, Ms. Linh Kochan, Mr. Roman Kochan, Dr. Thai Ha, Michael Johnson, Ms. Thiên-Nhiên Lương, Ms. Cathy Lâm, Mr. Mike Kane, Ms. Linh Huynh Howard, and Ms. Hằng Lê Tô for their sponsorship, encouragement, and guidance over the years.
I would like to express my warmest appreciation to my fellow artists and collaborators on this project, including Adam Fong, Pamela Wu-Kochiyama, Charya Burt, Doy Charnsupharindr, Susu Hlaing, Joel Davel, and Jimi Nakagawa.
Additionally, I wish to extend my gratitude to Professor Simon Levin and his assistant, Sandra Milburn, for guiding me in learning about environmental issues from a scientific perspective and connecting me with other professors, including Yu Xie, Victoria Junquera, Gabriel Vecchi, and David Wilcove, as well as many of their colleagues and postdoc students for my research.
I would also like to express my sincere thanks to the previous and current board members of
the Blood Moon Orchestra.
This project would not have been possible without the generous in-kind support of the following organizations: Vietnamese American Non-Governmental Network (VANGO) and Stanford University.
Finally, I want to thank the entire staff of Stanford LIVE, our sponsors, supporters, and volunteers for their contributions to making this project a reality.
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