Vân-Ánh (Vanessa) Võ, an Emmy-award winning composer, will visit Syracuse University for the first time to perform “The Odyssey: Stories of the Boat People” at Hendricks Chapel on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. Võ is from California and is also a filmmaker and recording artist.
The concert is organized by the Society for New Music in collaboration with Syracuse Symposium, as part of its series on “Stories” by the SU Humanities Center.
“I am very excited to be among students, as they are the ones to bring about a change,” Võ said.
Võ will perform her 40-minute multimedia composition which was created in 2015 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Vietnam War. Each minute of the composition represents each year since the war.
Originally from North Vietnam, Võ said she wanted to represent the struggles of the two million refugees as they fled the communist North regime. She described the piece as a tribute to their resilience and hope and to the human spirit of the Vietnamese boat people.
“The first section depicts the odyssey of the refugees from Vietnam to America who travelled by boat at the time of the war. It will showcase theatrical music with audio of the interviews,” Võ said.
The second section depicts the culture of Vietnam in America today, as Võ believes there is such a strong community. She will be playing the traditional instrument she is best known for — the dàn tranh zither — as she performs with a quartet made up of SNM musicians.
Neva Pilgrim, an award-winning soprano and co-founder of SNM — an organization established in 1971 to enhance the musical community in central New York – is always on the lookout for new artists who have an interesting story to share. She found that in Võ, she said.
“We hosted her last year and found she would be perfect for our series. She is a terrific composer and master of her art,” Pilgrim said. “This composition is just beautiful. With the lighting and acoustics of Hendricks, it will be so eVõcative.”
The chapel will be filled with the sounds of Võ’s music, videos and images along with the All Stars’ percussion and taiko drums, accordion, piano, cello and guitar, Pilgrim mentioned.
“It is a great opportunity to work with the Society, to share music and culture like this,” Võ said. “Old sounds through new music.”
Võ said she finds no greater joy than telling the stories of her people through her music. Apart from the 2009 Emmy-award winning composition for the documentary, “Bolinao 52,” Võ’s 2003 score for “Daughter from Danang” earned her an Academy Award nomination.
“I believe the differences between the Vietnamese people can be overcome with the boat people as inspiration, through music,” Võ said.
Vivian May, the director of the Humanities Center, emphasized the importance of this event. In an email, she said audience members will be captivated by the performance and its reflection of important historical events. She encourages attendance because of the piece’s conveyance of a sociopolitical issue that is both “timeless and timely in this current historical moment.”
Syracuse Symposium will also host Võ as a guest of the Composers Seminar at Setnor School of Music on Oct. 30, at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications on Oct. 31 and for the religion department and the SU Student Buddhist Association on Nov. 1. The events are free and open to the public.
This article was written for and published in The Daily Orange, dated Nov 1, 2018