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Musical diplomacy in Asia

October 16, 2009|Associated Press

HANOI — The conductor of the New York Philharmonic wielded his baton as an instrument of diplomacy Thursday. His words, however, weren't all sweet.

"You've learned the rhythm wrong!" Alan Gilbert told students at the Hanoi Conservatory of Music as they struggled through a tough section of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. "It's just wrong!"

The oldest orchestra in the United States performs in Vietnam for the first time this week as part of an Asian tour that has included stops in Tokyo and Seoul. The Philharmonic will play Beethoven's Seventh today and Saturday at Hanoi's ornate 590-seat opera house, which is nearly a century old.

Gilbert, the 42-year-old conductor who took over the orchestra last month, held the students to his usual high standards during a master class, part of the Philharmonic's outreach during the tour.

It was easy to hear the students improve as they absorbed his advice.

"This is a great opportunity for us," said Nguyen Thu Binh, 32, a violinist. "He pays attention to the smallest details. Everything must be very precise."

The performance in Vietnam will be another first for the New York Philharmonic in Asia. Under Gilbert's predecessor, Lorin Maazel, the orchestra became the first major American cultural group to perform in North Korea in February 2008 and the largest U.S. delegation to visit its longtime foe.

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