UC San Diego's Department of Music

April 10, 2012

  Pianist Brendan Nguyen's mom and sisters are Vietnam refugees, and though he grew up in America and considers himself culturally American, he also feels the pull of his family heritage.

The dark side of his family history helps explain Nguyen's fascination with dystopian films and sci-fi as depicted in books, films and television programs, from Asimov to Battlestar Galactica, Dune, and Blade Runner.

As an artist rooted in two worlds--Vietnam/United States, oppressed/free, past/present--Nguyen, a doctorate of musical arts degree candidate in the music department at UC San Diego, has planned an April Thirteenth, 7 pm concert at Conrad Prebys Concert Hall that captures the opposing forces that continue to shape his work. "The Seven Tragedies of Space Travel" mixes western classical music with contemporary music, augmented by audiovisual elements and movement.

On piano and harpsichord, Nguyen will perform works by classical composers Rameau (1683-1764) and Schubert (1797-1828), alongside new music by UCSD composers and music PhD candidates Nicholas Deyoe, Aaron Helgeson, and Clint McCallum. The audio-visual elements are a result of his close collaboration with visual artist Jason Ponce, sound designer Joe Mariglio, and costume designer (and incredible vocalist) Leslie Leytham. Throughout the evening, an otherworldly voice speaks to the audience and is derived from the voice of his own mom.

Nguyen says that his concert has a "literary element derived from the erudition and storytelling style of Jorge Luis Borges, whose collected fictions are a huge source of inspiration for my creative process. He is without a doubt one of my greatest heroes. Without giving it away too much, there is a specific story by Borges that influenced the title and much of the thematic content of this concert."

Nguyen considers his artistic process to be inspired by cosmology, which he defines as "the study of what the universe is, how it started, where it's headed and how, if at all, we humans fit in the grand scheme of things. I'm constantly humbled and fascinated by the study of cosmology. I believe cosmology and other sciences provide the tools necessary to make life fulfilling -- especially in the spiritual sense. For instance, that we are actually made of materials forged in the hearts of ancient stars is to me one of the most stupefying facts of science. It is a revelation that trumps any notion of the supernatural."

Nguyen is already making his mark as a pianist on the rise, having performed with San Diego Opera singer Priti Gandhi, with percussionist Steven Schick, and with numerous composers including George Crumb. He hopes to complete his degree in 2014. After that, he imagines himself running an independent art and performance organization and continuing to coach his select group of advanced piano students.

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