Oakland Symphony Features Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ

The Fremont-based composer and master of the dàn tranh brings her zither-play skills to the Notes from Vietnam series of the Oakland Symphony. Plus, the music Marais and Forqueray come to Berkeley, where to take in Martin Luther King Jr. celebrations, and Lin Hwai-Min’s Rice.


Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ

Photo courtesy of Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ

Since the war in Vietnam, this corner of Southeast Asia has gripped the American imagination, symbolizing everything from the dangers of blind jingoism to good intentions gone bad. American servicemen in the 1960s were only the most recent in a long line of invaders stretching back thousands of years who found a land and a people defying easy categorization. Vietnam’s turbulent history has given rise to a unique culture that blends the ancient influences of more than 50 different ethnic groups with the impact of Europeans and Americans.

Like the country of its birth, the dàn tranh is unique: a traditional Vietnamese plucked zither whose sound reflects the rugged mountainous terrain and stormy history that created it.

Fremont-based composer Vân-Ánh Vanessa Võ is a master of the dàn tranh, recognized for her zither skill here and in Vietnam, where she won first place in the 1995 Vietnam National ?àn Tranh Competition. Vân-Ánh weaves melodies that tell distinctly Vietnamese stories, harnessing the instrument’s haunting sound to give lyrical voice to an ancient people and their modern struggles. Her music for Bolinao 52, a 2009 documentary about a group of refugees who fled Vietnam by boat in 1988 to face starvation stranded in the Pacific Ocean, won an Emmy. In 2003, her music helped bring pathos to the story of a mixed-race daughter of a Vietnamese woman and an American serviceman who returned as an adult to Vietnam to reconnect with her family in Daughter from Danang.

Vân-Ánh leads this year’s edition of Oakland Symphony’s Notes From series in a show that also features Anton Dvorák’s Carnival Overture and Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. Actor and filmmaker Michael Urie (Ugly Betty) narrates Britten’s classic orchestral guide. Friday, Feb. 12, 8 p.m. $20-$75. Paramount Theatre, 2025 Broadway, Oakland. www.OaklandSymphony.org.




Study in Contrast

The music of Marais and Forqueray comes to Berkeley.

You couldn’t find two composers more day and night than 17th-century French court composers Marin Marais and Antoine Forqueray. Rivals for the ear of the king, they were as different in temperament as they were in musical style: Marais was a cheerful, gregarious family man known for his gentle and soothing melodies (including his uplifting and not at all gross ode to a gallbladder operation for viola and harpsichord), while Forqueray was a short-tempered firebrand known for his stormy, dramatic compositions.

No wonder they earned the nicknames “The Angel” and “The Devil.” But like chocolate and peanut butter, they’ve proven to be the two great tastes that go great together. Barefoot Chamber Concerts brings the two great arch nemeses together for an unforgettable night of contrasts.

Lynn Tetenbaum on viola da gamba and Katherine Heater on harpsichord will perform the masterpieces of light and dark. Get up close and personal with the music in this small, informal venue; formal attire not necessary (Finally! A chance to wear a T-shirt to a classical concert!) and snacks will be available. Friday, Jan. 15, 6 p.m. Adults $15, 18 and under free. Advance online reservations are recommended. St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Parish Hall, 2300 Bancroft Way, Berkeley. www.BarefootChamberConcerts.com.



Rice as Metaphor

Multimedia presentation contemplates life cycles.

An entire full-length dance about rice? How much can you say about something that you only eat as a filler if you’re still hungry after you finish your orange chicken? As it turns out, quite a bit.

It’s easy to forget just how important rice is: The most widely consumed staple food in the world, this simple cereal provides one-fifth of all the calories consumed by all humans worldwide. That’s a lot of calories. Chinese choreographer Lin Hwai-Min’s Rice was inspired by the vistas of Lin’s childhood, the rice fields of Taiwan’s Chih Sheng valley. This stage show by the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan celebrates the ubiquitous grain with a multimedia extravaganza. Meditative dancers move in front of a filmed backdrop that alternates between intimate close-ups of rice plants and sweeping rice terrace landscapes.

More than just about plants, it is an examination of the human experience through the prism of the grain’s life cycle and looks at the cycles of work, weather, and toil that shape our lives as much as they shape the blossoming rice harvest. Friday, Jan. 22, 8 p.m., and Saturday, Jan. 23, 8 p.m., $15-$80. Zellerbach Hall, 101 Zellerbach Hall, Suite 4800, Berkeley. www.CalPerformances.org.



The Dream Continues

A day of remembrance for the great MLK.

Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned a better world, a world where people of all races and colors could live together in harmony, and around the East Bay, people are coming together to celebrate that ideal and remember King’s legacy.

In Oakland, an annual MLK tribute happens a day early, on Jan. 17, with In the Name of Love, the 14th annual Musical Tribute Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In the Name of Love, Sunday, Jan. 17, 7 p.m. $40 premiere, $25 general, $27 at the door, $8 children 12 and under. Oakland Scottish Rite Center, 1547 Lakeside Drive, Oakland. www.MLKTribute.com.

The Oakland Library holds an all-day film festival screening documentaries and movies about the life and legacy of the civil rights leader. Martin Luther King Jr. Film Festival, Monday, Jan. 18, 11 a.m. Free. African American Museum & Library at Oakland, 659 14th St., Oakland. www.OaklandLibrary.org.

Also Jan. 18, the East Bay Regional Park District staff and volunteers join forces to plant native shrubs and remove invasive weeds on Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Grove and Damon Marsh. Children are welcome, but anyone under 16 must be accompanied by a chaperone. Wear comfortable, weather-appropriate clothes and closed-toed shoes. EBRP Martin Luther King Day of Service, Monday, Jan. 18; check in at 8:30 a.m., program runs from 9 a.m.-noon. Free. Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline, Oakland. www.EBParks.org.

Finally, Berkeley holds its annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration Awards Breakfast, with an award ceremony honoring local residents and youth who have most helped make King’s vision a reality and a commemorative performance by Berkeley High jazz ensemble Combo A. MLK Awards, Monday, Jan. 18, 7-9 a.m. $25. Berkeley Marina. www.BerkeleyMLKJrDay.org.

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