When it comes to creative collaborations, Vân-Ánh Võ often acts as a conduit between ideas, musicians and sounds from California to Vietnam. Coaxing melodies of hope and heartbreak from her 16-string đàn tranh, her technical mastery and moving compositions have captivated audiences at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. and even Barack Obama’s White House.
So, like a lot of artists, the Fremont musician found herself feeling unmoored when the pandemic interrupted her flow of rehearsals and performances. “In June I felt like I was frozen,” she recalls. “I couldn’t do anything, with everything dropping around me. As the [bandleader], I have to deal with all the cancellations and all my ensemble’s needs. It’s sad, it’s very sad; it’s confusing and frustrating.”
“By July I decided to try to get out of that frozen box I was in and try to see if I can keep moving,” she continues. “I found myself drifting or floating. And that’s when I decided to write music again.”
But even while she attempted to keep herself and her ensemble motivated, Võ found herself increasingly discouraged by the limitations of working over Zoom. Finally, she turned a corner earlier this year, when San Jose Jazz commissioned her to write and perform a new piece debuting on May 6 for its New Works Fest, which kicks off online this week on April 29.