Acclaimed Vietnamese classical guitarist An Tran has won over twelve international awards and competitions, and has performed at prestigious venues and events such as the Guitar Society of Toronto, New Orleans International Guitar Festival, New York Classical Guitar Society, Chicago Guitar Society and many others. Tran’s debut album, Stay, My Beloved (Frameworks Records), featuring all-Vietnamese guitar music, was released in 2020 and was critically acclaimed by Classical Guitar Magazine and Soundboard Magazine (Guitar Foundation of America), and named as one of the Recordings of the Year by the Chicago Tribune. His second album (Naxos), to be released on June 23, 2023, features the Romantic works of French classical guitarist and composer Napoleon Coste.
Classical Guitar Magazine: “An Tran’s Stay, My Beloved (Vietnamese Guitar Music) is sure to make the year-end Top Ten list of my favorite classical guitar albums of the year. Still undeniably a classical-guitar album, with reference points Western audiences will recognize–highly virtuosic passages that display what a gifted guitarist An Tran truly is, whether effortlessly flying through dazzlingly speedy runs, or complex rhythmic shifts, unusual harmonies, or the many “effects” he employs.”
Tonebase: “The album itself is structured in a way that brings the listener on a journey through Vietnam.”
Six String Journal: “There is perhaps no better way to experience a culture than to listen to its folk music. It evokes myth, stories, history, and landscape. An Tran’s magical playing does all of this…”
In Dorchester, the quiet virtuosity of Vietnamese guitarist An Tran
The introspective solo concert presented by Ashmont Hill Chamber Music offered a welcome departure from standard guitar-recital fare
In recent years, presenting organization Ashmont Hill Chamber Music has broadened the scope of its recital series to include music that doesn’t neatly fit into the Western classical tradition, and the experience is much richer for that. A program of Bach mixed with North Indian music was one standout before the pandemic shut the recital series down, and last fall the group welcomed Iraqi maqam group Safaafir.
Guitarist An Tran didn’t arrive at his solo recital at Ashmont’s All Saints Church on Sunday afternoon with any unfamiliar instruments; two exquisite classical guitars made by Boston-based luthier Stephan Connor were his only luggage. But anyone who was expecting the standard guitar-recital blend of Bach and Iberian repertoire was in for a surprise. When Europeans brought the guitar to Vietnam, the country’s traditional music already featured fretted and stringed instruments, and over the 100-plus years since, several uniquely Vietnamese guitar traditions have flourished. Now, writes Classical Guitar magazine, Vietnam has become a classical guitar hot spot, and Tran stands to become one of its most prominent ambassadors.
The world is loud in comparison to an acoustic guitar. In the few moments before the concert began, several sounds shattered the anticipatory silence: a chair creaking as someone dragged it across the floor, a cough, a child outside in the hallway calling for his mother. Tran hadn’t even played a note, but already the ears were acutely attuned.
And over the next 80 minutes, give or take a few, he graced the small but robust Sunday afternoon crowd with a slew of pieces from his 2020 debut album, “Stay, My Beloved,” featuring arrangements of Vietnamese traditional songs and original pieces written for guitar by composers Nguyen The An and Dang Ngoc Long. When some enthusiastic children piped up during the finale of Nguyen’s epic folktale-inspired “Bamboo Child” suite, Tran took it in stride with a smile.
Whether playing a low pentatonic melody with his thumb while the other four fingers murmured over the higher strings, or tapping the fretboard to create a dulcimer-like sound, he executed every phrase with subtle, graceful virtuosity. Some sections of the “Bamboo Child” suite recalled Renaissance lute music; other melodies wouldn’t have sounded at all out of place had they been played on a fuzzy surf guitar. With its gentle ephemerality, the music invited introspection.
No program notes were provided, but Tran chatted briefly about each selection as he rested and tuned between pieces. His comments added even more emotional resonance to pieces such as Nguyen’s bittersweet and tender “Lullaby,” which the guitarist dedicated to victims of COVID-19 and anyone who had lost a parent; and the soft but relentlessly hopeful “Remembrance,” which the Berlin-based composer Dang wrote to support a fellow Vietnamese friend whom he said was experiencing a mental health crisis. Another high point was Dang’s piece “Rain,” in which Tran coaxed pinging tones that evoked the composer’s childhood memory of drizzles and downpours falling on the metal roofs common in Vietnam. The acoustically exquisite Peabody Hall allowed this intricate music to shine.
Tran mentioned candidly that his only other performance in Boston was 10 years ago, with a choir, but if Sunday’s recital was any indication, it won’t take another decade before he and his guitars return to town. In the meantime, for anyone who missed Sunday’s performance, there’s his album, which is worth 45 minutes of your time; listen on a rainy spring day, like the many that are surely just around the corner.
Video Pick of the Week: An Tran Plays the Traditional Vietnamese Tune ‘Stay, My Beloved’; Plus A Review of His Great New Album
APRIL 25, 2020
Stay, My Beloved (Vietnamese Guitar Music)
I know it’s only late April as I write this, but I can already tell that An Tran’s just-released Stay, My Beloved (Vietnamese Guitar Music) is sure to make the year-end Top Ten list of my favorite classical guitar albums of the year. Although An Tran has spent much of his still-young life studying and playing in the U.S. (he earned his master’s degree under Ben Verdery at Yale), he is still very much a product of his native Vietnam, where he started playing guitar at the age of 8, tutored by a guitarist named Nguyen Hai Thoai, and later attended the Vietnam National Academy of Music, where he studied with Vu Viet Cuong. Though his guitar education in the U.S., years of participating (successfully) in competitions, and also teaching have given him a thorough grounding in the classical guitar repertoire of every era and style, it’s clear he’s never forgotten his roots in Vietnam.
The proof is in every minute of his Stay, My Beloved album, which contains seven solo guitar pieces written by or arranged from traditional songs by a pair of contemporary Vietnamese composers, Nguyen The-An and Dang Ngoc Long. Now, I am an unabashed fan of many Asian music forms, from traditional Chinese and Japanese instrumental music, to Javanese gamelan, to Indian ragas and other folk forms. I’ve had relatively little exposure to the music of Vietnam, but I can still recognize in it elements that I’ve heard and loved in the folk music of other Asian countries, particularly China. And though many of the traditional instruments of Vietnamese folk music are unique to that region, they have analogs in other countries—zithers; fiddles; flutes; all sorts of stringed instruments of varying numbers of strings, some akin to banjos, others more lute-like; etc. Vietnamese music also employs various modal scales and particular intervals that give the music much of its character. I don’t have the knowledge or vocabulary to describe what’s going on musically to create the skipping quality of some melodic lines, or the spare, deliberate approach to others, where the combination of notes and the way they fall together, perhaps encased in an irregular rhythmic thrumming, is so distinctively compelling. But I appreciate its haunting beauty and also its power.
Stay, My Beloved is filled with those moments (including ones where An Tran is clearly mimicking the sounds of traditional instruments), and yet is still undeniably a classical-guitar album, with reference points Western audiences will recognize–highly virtuosic passages that display what a gifted guitarist An Tran truly is, whether effortlessly flying through dazzlingly speedy runs, or complex rhythmic shifts, unusual harmonies, or the many “effects” he employs: damping and snapping strings, bending notes, percussive strumming up and down the neck, fluttering cascades of notes; his uniquely Asian tremolo. It’s an amazing potpourri of styles and approaches, but they all hang together marvelously, and coalesce into a sort of enormous impressionist watercolor that depicts landscapes and the sounds of nature, and tell stories and talk about human emotions. (An Tran’s descriptive liner notes about each tune are very illuminating in this regard.)
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Gran Sonata Eroica, Op. 150
3 Keyboard Sonatas
I. Sonata in G Major, K.146
II. Sonata in A Major, K.208
III. Sonata in D Major, K.178
5 Bagatelles for Guitar
No. 1. Allegro
No. 2. Lento
No. 5. Con slancio
Guitar Sonata, Op. 47
3 Preludes for Guitar
Prelude 1 (Homage to the Brazilian sertanejo)
Prelude 3 (Homage to Bach)
Prelude 4 (Homage to the Brazilian Indian)
Dang Ngoc Long
Beo Dat May Troi (Vietnamese Folk Song)
Central Highlands of Vietnam
Nguyen The An
Nguoi Oi Nguoi O Dung Ve (Vietnamese Folk Song)
Hailed by The Boston Globe for his “subtle, graceful virtuosity” and described as a “Vietnamese Guitar Virtuoso” by Austin Classical Guitar, guitarist An Tran continues to impress audiences with his innate musicality and dynamic artistry. In recent seasons, An has been invited to perform recitals at international concert stages such as the Guitar Society of Toronto, Bangkok Guitar Society, Segovia Classical Guitar Series, New Orleans International Guitar Festival, Milwaukee Guitar Society, Latin-American International Guitar Festival, among others.
Building on the momentum of his many successes, An signed a recording contract with Naxos Records, with a new album coming out in 2023. His debut album, entitled “Stay, My Beloved”, was included in the 2020 "Recordings of the Year" by Chicago Tribune and was praised by Classical Guitar Magazine as “an unforgettable journey to a world you’ve probably never been to” with “highly virtuosic passages that display what a gifted guitarist An Tran truly is”. Released on Frameworks Records (Sony Orchard) in April 2020, the album features all Vietnamese guitar music, portraying different elements of Vietnamese traditional music and original compositions by Vietnamese composers. It was described by the Guitar Foundation of America’s Soundboard Magazine as “deeply moving music at its best” and praised for “Tran’s sense of space, touch, and mood is exquisite”.
An Tran has been featured in many radio, podcast, newspaper and television programs by Performance Today, Classical Guitar Alive!, Tonebase Podcast, Vietnam Airlines’ Heritage Magazine and Vietnam Television (VTV) among numerous others. He has won over a dozen nternational guitar competitions and music awards, including top prizes from Berlin International Guitar Competition, New Orleans International Guitar Competition, and Society of
American Musicians Guitar Competition to name a few.
After leaving the Vietnam National Academy of Music in 2007, An Tran received his B.A in Music in 2014 from North Park University (Chicago), where he studied with Julie Goldberg and Tom Zelle. In 2019, An was presented with the university’s Distinguished Young Alumni Award. An received his Master of Music, along with the Southeast Asia Studies Fellowship from Yale University, studying with Benjamin Verdery. He is a Dorothy and Carl Johnson endowed Doctor of Musical Arts candidate at Northwestern University, studying with Anne Waller.
An Tran is on the faculty at the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) and Northern Illinois University (NIU), where he established the NIU International Guitar Concert Series and serves as a faculty affiliate at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies. He is an Artistic Director of Chicago Artopia, a nonprofit organization with the purpose of making art free and available for everyone in the Southwest side of Chicago. He also serves as a board member of the Chicago Classical Guitar Society. An Tran is a D’Addario Artist and performs on guitars made by Stephan Connor in Boston. Follow An on Instagram/Facebook @antranguitar.