Tri Nguyen, Master of the Vietnamese Zither “Dan Tranh”, Passes Away at 87

In his performances, Tri Nguyen, a pianist and “dan tranh” (Vietnamese 16-chord zither) artist, always couples European classics with Vietnamese folk and traditional music. With the combination of Western classical music and Vietnamese folk music, his compositions are much loved by audiences in various regions.  He won the Golden Award and the most popular artist at the Global Music Arads selected by  the American audiences in 2015 which was an international acknowledgement of the musical career of this Vietnamese-French composer.


Tri Nguyen was born in Saigon and developed a passion for traditional music at a young age. He studied the “dan tranh” instrument at the Saigon Music and Drama School and later at the Paris Music Pedagogy School under renowned professors.

With his natural musical talent and love for the “dan tranh”, Tri Nguyen has mastered playing Vietnamese music on various Western instruments. His compositions on the “dan tranh” are inspired by his deep connection to his homeland.

Tri Nguyen, a master of the “dan tranh”. Photo: Thong Hai

Tri Nguyen performing piano and “dan tranh” in Ho Chi Minh City, February 2017. Photo: Thong Hai

Tri Nguyen showcasing his dexterity on the piano. Photo: Thong Hai

Tri Nguyen captivating audiences with his instrument. Photo: Thong Hai

Tri Nguyen introducing the structure of the “dan tranh” to audiences. Photo: Thong Hai

Tri Nguyen at a talk entitled “A cultural journey” at Vietnam – US College, Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Thong Hai

Tri Nguyen engaging in a dialogue with audiences in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Thong Hai

Tri Nguyen’s “dan tranh” accompanying a piano performance on the IDECAF stage in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Thong Hai

Fans taking photos with Tri Nguyen after a performance on the IDECAF drama stage in Ho Chi Minh City, February 2017. Photo: Thong Hai

Tri Nguyen aims to elevate the “dan tranh” to a prominent sound in Western orchestras, incorporating the unique sounds of Western instruments to enhance the distinctiveness of the “dan tranh”.

In his compositions, the “dan tranh” takes on various roles, sometimes leading a Western string orchestra, sometimes blending harmoniously, and sometimes engaging in a duet with a violin. Tri Nguyen fearlessly incorporates familiar Vietnamese lullabies into his works, transforming them with new techniques while preserving the essence of traditional Vietnamese music.

Since 2014, Tri Nguyen has consistently released albums featuring the “dan tranh”, including “Consonances” (2014), “A Journey Between Worlds” (2016), and his latest album “Beyond Borders”. His music has received warm reception from global audiences. His debut album “Consonances” received the Golden Award at the Global Music Award and the Akademia USA award for best concerto album.

“I take great pride in my music being appreciated by international audiences. These accolades acknowledge the fact that Vietnamese traditional music has transcended borders, meeting the musical demands of the world and gaining acceptance and recognition,” said Tri Nguyen.

Album cover of Tri Nguyen’s “Consonances”. Photo: File

Album cover of Tri Nguyen’s “A Journey Between Worlds”. Photo: File

Album cover of Tri Nguyen’s “Beyond Borders”. Photo: File

Composer Tri Nguyen skillfully combines traditional and Western music, writing pieces for the “dan tranh” in harmony with other musical instruments from around the world. Photo: Thong Hai

Composer Pham Thuy Hoan praises Tri Nguyen for his dedication in bridging the “dan tranh”, a national instrument, with other instruments globally. She commends him for introducing unique aspects of Vietnamese traditional music, such as reformed drama and familiar lullabies, to foreign audiences, promoting an understanding of our national music.

Recently, Tri Nguyen has made an effort to introduce his works to domestic audiences during his visits to Vietnam. Each year, he holds at least one musical night to showcase his newly released albums or compositions. In February, Tri Nguyen performed music from his album “Beyond Borders” in Ho Chi Minh City. He plans to present his new works to local audiences in October 2017, as he considers them to be the most important group to serve.

Story: Son Nghia – Photos: Thong Hai and Files