To visit Hue, Vietnam is unforgettable. To see it through the eyes, song and paintings of celebrated singer and artist Camille Huyen is exceptional. Journey to Vietnam with Luxury Gold and you’re invited to join Camille in her home, the fascinating Ben Xuan Garden House Theatre in Hue. Here you’ll be treated to an intimate, private concert, a tour of her beloved home and dine on traditional cuisine.
We had the great pleasure to speak with Camille, to learn more about her songs, painting and how, through the Ben Xuan Garden House Theatre, she’s embodying and preserving the heritage of Hue for guests and future generations.
As guests of Camille, you’ll be treated to a delightful programme of song, including Royal Chamber Songs, Folklore and Vietnamese/American lullabies. You’ll also enjoy French chanson or even Italian opera, as well as her own compositions. The performance is accompanied by the ‘Ben Xuan Vietnamese traditional instruments Mini Orchestra’, which includes Dulcimer, Erhu, Mono Cord, Moon Lute and Harp.
“The program goes from Central to North and South of Vietnam, traverses from East to West. But always keeps traceability, comparability and interconnection,” says Camille, “so that we better understand the subjects of love and nature, through colors and nuances, and through similarities and differences in regions and languages.”
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A life of song
Camille was born in Hue, Vietnam and grew up in a royal family. Three generations were living under the same roof. From childhood she became familiar with royal chamber songs (Ca Huế) and lullabies sung by her mother and grandma. She also grew up with the various Vietnamese chants and French chansons, sung by her aunts and uncles.
“One of my uncles was a famous painter who lived next to my grandparent’s house,” Camille tells us. “The image of a child holding a rice bowl, standing behind the painter whilst he worked on canvas and listening to music from the grandparent’s house, is still vivid in me today. Because that’s me and that’s why I always love to sing. While singing I always imagine all the paintings in the lyrics.”
Aged 18, Camille sang in the music restaurants of Paris in the evenings, to pay for her studies. The turning point for her career came when she moved to Switzerland with her husband. There she learned guitar classic with the talented Suisse composer and guitarist Walther Giger. Head of the OrchesTrio Zurich, (violinist Noriko Kawamura, double bassist Fumio Shirato, guitarist Walther Giger), Walther invited her to sing with them.
“After touring in Vietnam with the OrchesTrio in 2008, Walther and I began to compose music, influenced by the Vietnamese pentatonic scale and neo classicism of Arnold Schoenberg,” she tells us. “We also set the work of Vietnamese poet Hàn Mạc Tử to music.
“I belong to the sixth generation of the Count Nam Sách (the 61st Prince of the Great Emperor Minh Mạng). He was a famous artist, renowned for playing moon lute and writing Royal Chamber songs. Perhaps I’m a reincarnation of my ancestors!”
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Singing and painting are intertwined
“My painting has always had music in it, starting from my childhood. Painting came unconsciously to me then,” Camille says. “During school in Vietnam I was always good in painting as a subject but never attended any formal training.
“I began painting more in Switzerland while learning classical guitar classic and singing with the OrchesTrio. While I paint, I find that the music melody and the images in the lyrics that I’m listening or singing come out unconsciously on the canvas. Thus, working with Walther on music helped my childhood love for painting re-emerge.
“I paint with brush but preferably with palette knife and I paint subjects around me. For example, my teacher, the college girls in Hue, I tell stories of our family and of myself. I paint like I am narrating about my life!
“By listening to the music, I see the colors and the picture of the lyrics. By painting I hear the sound of the movement. When I look closely at my artworks, I remember certain rhythms and layers of lyric scenery that I was singing or listening at the time.”
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The origins of Ben Xuan Garden House Theatre
Camille’s home, Ben Xuan Garden House Theatre, is situated on the banks of the Perfume River in Hue, Vietnam. The house’s royal architecture style makes it fit well with the Cultural Heritages Thien Mu Pagoda and the Temple for Literature. Both of which are close by on the river shore.
Inside, the grand living room (salon) serves as the music chamber theatre – a structure well known two hundred years ago in the houses of the Counts and the Lords of the Royal City of Hue, and elsewhere in Europe.
The construction of Ben Xuan took ten years, but was based on many more years of Camille and her husband’s longing for Hue. “Ancient materials were collected and upcycled for the construction of the house,” Camille explains. “While living in Europe, we studied books and documents to understand the art and architecture of Hue. We learned to love every single piece of the 100,000 ancient bricks that were re-used, still bearing the burnt-in stamps of the royal construction armies. And we carefully set together thousands of broken porcelains from sunken trading ships, much older than the age of our grandparents, to become Ben Xuan’s mosaic installation artworks.
“Ben Xuan is therefore not only the first private garden house theatre in Hue, but it is also the testimony of our love to Hue, to our homeland Vietnam.”
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Preserving the heritage of Hue, Vietnam
“We conceptually designed Ben Xuan as an East-West Cultural Meeting Point,” explains Camille. “A place where our friends and guests can enjoy an individual and authentic experience of the heritage of Hue, through music, architecture, culture and beaux art. In this ambiance, we just want to give ourselves that leisure of bygone time and to share it with our visitors.
“We understand that to preserve the heritage is not just to worship the past at the altar. Nor is it just through preserving historical palaces or buildings. For us, heritage is the stream of cultures flowing continually from history into our life of today. Heritage can only survive when integrated into the life of people, and only when people are living integrated with it.
“We built Ben Xuan with this understanding. We hope the next generations, and all people loving Hue, Vietnam, will also help preserve this special house. So that hundred years from now, while traveling on the Perfume River, it will be here still to be enjoyed.”
To meet Camille Huyen, enjoy a private concert and gain an exclusive insight into Hue, Vietnam, take a look at our luxury tours to the region: Spirit of Vietnam, Cambodia & Vietnam in Style, Inspiring Indochina.