Symphony of a Thousand

Around a thousand Vietnamese and international musicians gathered in Hanoi on 23 October to perform a Vietnam premiere of Symphony No. 8 of the famous composer Gustav Mahler. Among the thousand were six participants from Norway.


Symphony No. 8 of Gustav Mahler is known as the symphony of a thousand, as it requires almost a thousand musicians on stage at the same time. The performance was held in the National Convention Centre in Hanoi, where 3,500 people in the audience took part in the event to celebrate Hanoi’s 1000 year anniversary as a city.


One of Norway’s contributions to the millennium festivities was through the Mahler 8 concert. Six participants from Norway spent three weeks in Vietnam before the big event. During this time, they rehearsed and played with the orchestra, choir and soloists of the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra to make the concert the great success it was. The Norwegian musicians are involved with the Transposition project, under the direction of MIC, Music Information Centre Norway.


Rehearsing with the Japanese conductor Tetsuji Honna. Photo: Linn Helene Husby Løken
Transposition is an on-going musical project between various Norwegian and Vietnamese music institutions. It seeks to enhance competence and understanding in the classical music spheres, both in Vietnam and Norway. As a result, exchange has evolved with the aim of promoting musical cooperation, knowledge, and cultural interaction. The project was initiated in 2005 and has since 2007 enabled Norwegian and Vietnamese professional musicians to travel across the country borders for the purpose of mutual experiencing and learning.


Among this year’s Norwegian participants was the violinist Stig Nilsson from the Philharmonic in Oslo. He was impressed by the great dedication all musicians showed working together on this event. Astrid Marie Eek, a hornist from The Norwegian Military Bands agreed, and added: “Our Vietnamese colleagues usually juggle two or more jobs and take care of their family, in addition to the long rehearsals for this concert. This shows a commitment to the orchestra that we all can learn from.”


Jon Klavenæs who plays the drums, also with the Norwegian Military Bands, was in Vietnam last year and was very eager to join this time as well. He further explained that: “It is so important for us to understand the working conditions of our Vietnamese co-players. It encourages us all to be even more determined to make the concert a success.”


Part of the delegation were also Terje Grøndahl on trombone; Margrete Christensen on bassoon and Andreas Karlsen on trumpet. Their delegation leader from the Norwegian Military Bands, Truls Sanaker, stressed that they do not come to play a concert as soloists, but to support and play with the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra.

“Our reason for being here is our joint enthusiasm and love for playing our instruments,” Stig Nilsson emphasized. “The fact that the people involved both from Vietnam and Norway are so engaged in what they do, is a crucial factor for the continuity of this great cooperation,” Truls Sanaker highlighted.


Mahler Symphony No. 8 is a symphony which is seldom set up because it requires so many people to be involved. In early springtime next year, a group of Vietnamese musicians will travel to Norway to continue the cooperation with the Norwegian musicians. There they will play and rehearse, and learn about the culture and life in Norway. “If they tidy up the back room of the Norwegian Opera House in Bjørvika in Oslo, we will next year be able to perform a concert just as huge as Mahler 8,” Jon Klavenæs said with a smile.


The trombonist Terje Grøndahl will, as an additional contribution to Hanoi’s anniversary, play in and conduct the concert “The Journey of Love” in Hanoi Opera House on Friday 29 October.

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