East Kootenay-trained, Cambodian-born tenor Chanthavouth Hy joins the Youth Symphony Orchestra at its performances in Kelowna, Penticton and at Vernon’s Trinity United Church Sunday.A Cambodian-born tenor is about to share his culture when he sings with the Youth Symphony of the Okanagan (YSO) on its annual tour of the valley.
The YSO’s celebrated conductor Imant Raminsh of Coldstream has invited Chanthavouth Hy (pronounced Chan-ta-voot Hee) to perform Khmer (Cambodian) music as part of the orchestra’s program.
The tour stops in Vernon’s Trinity United Church Sunday.
Hy, 25, began his musical education in Cambodia long before coming to Canada.
He has been living in the East Kootenays since Sept. 2007, thanks to sponsorship from the Cambodia Support Group (CSG), a B.C.-based volunteer agency, which is now in its 27th year of helping Cambodia with cultural aid, as well as assisting women, youth and the disabled in the Asian nation.
CSG president Arne Sahlen, who lives in Kimberley, has arranged Hy to perform three traditional Cambodian folk songs with the YSO, said Raminsh, whose association with Sahlen goes back to Prince George.
(Sahlen was a harmony student of Raminsh’s, and his father was in the New Caledonia Chamber Orchestra, now the Prince George Symphony, which Raminsh founded.)
“Over the years, we’ve stayed in touch. This is the second time one of his Cambodian protegees has performed with the YSO,” said Raminsh. “Last spring, I met Chanthavouth when he came to hear the youth symphony with Arne. I thought this would be a great opportunity for this young man to perform with the orchestra, as he has a story to tell, and to do something from his traditional background.”
For Hy, singing is something he was born to do.
“I first heard opera on the radio when I was a small child, and my heart screamed at me to sing it,” he said.
Hy will sing Enchanted Forest and November Breezes, which were composed in the 1960s by Cambodia’s now-retired King Norodom Sihanouk, as well as Aou Tuk Ho (translated as water flows) by Cambodian singer-composer Sin Sisamuth, who was killed by the Khmer Rouge during its brutal regime in the 1970s.
The latter song was recently revived by King Sihanouk’s younger brother, Prince Norodom Sirivudh, who performed with Hy during a visit to Cambodia in May, said Sahlen, who was at the concert.
“One of my most thrilling recent memories is of the prince and Chanthavouth electrifying the airspace with this very piece,” he said. “With Prince Sirivudh’s happy approval, I re-arranged Aou Tuk Ho for the YSO, blending the original and prince’s versions with operatic elements to match Chanthavouth’s passion and voice quality.
“Westerners seem entranced by Khmer pieces. Aou Tuk Ho may serve as a two-way bridge. It may impress Westerners with Cambodian quality in a form they recognize, and transport the power of opera to Cambodians on songs of their own great musicians.”
It was Jocelyn Pritchard, a Vancouver musician whose father was once a United church minister in Vernon, who first met Hy while giving workshops as a representative of CSG at Cambodia’s Royal University of Fine Arts. He was among the two dozen singing students she met –– a young man, she says, with “enormous vocal power and a great passion for helping others.”
The CSG ended up sponsoring Hy to come to Canada and study.
Now learning under tenor Chuck Bisset, Hy has excelled in both his vocal training, English and other subjects, and also devotes his time as a director with the CSG, as well as volunteering for African relief and those at risk in Canada.
Hy returned to his home country in May as a goodwill ambassador for the Cambodia-Canada friendship tour by the University of Victoria Prima-Chamber Singers Choir. He was welcomed home with open arms, and given this accolade from Cambodia’s daily newspaper: “When this slim-built tenor starts to sing, he turns into a giant; his voice filling the air with strength, warmth and beauty.”
Hy has applied to the Victoria Conservatory of Music-Camosun College diploma program, and plans on future studies in Toronto and New York.
Also joining the YSO on its Okanagan tour is 15-year-old Nick Denton of Kelowna, who studies cello with Morna Howie at the Vernon Community Music School, and will perform Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto. Coldstream pianist Andre Van den Berg, 15, who attends Kalamalka Secondary School, will also premier his first major composition, Passacaglia in A minor.
The orchestra will perform Mozart’s Symphony No. 41, Strauss’ Gypsy Baron Overture and Khachaturian’s Masquerade Suite, and will feature a guest appearance by conductor Rosemary Thomson of the Okanagan Symphony.
Tickets for Sunday’s performance, which starts at 7 p.m. at Trinity United Church, 3300 Alexis Park Dr., are available at the door: $15/adult, $10 youth/senior, $5/child (12 and under).