Simone Ramjee

The Soundtrack of the City. Talking All Things Music with Aria Nominee and Concert Pianist Van-Anh Nguyen

Uncovering the best music hubs one neighbourhood at a time.

Sydney is home to a diverse music scene. From classical concerts to intimate jazz clubs on the rise, this city is once again coming alive with late-night bar destinations that not only offer a supper menu but also a diverse range of musical experiences. And if you're looking to immerse yourself in Sydney's vibrant music culture, there's no better person to guide you than Van-Anh Nguyen.

Born and raised in Sydney, Nguyen has become a prominent figure in the city's music arrangement. She has received numerous accolades for her compositions, including an Aria nomination, and regularly performs at prestigious venues such as the Sydney Opera House, the Segerstrom Performing Arts Centre in Los Angeles and for luxury brands Moet & Chandon, Tiffany & Co., Porsche, and Ferrari, just to name a few. With her deep knowledge and love for all things music, we go inside Van-Anh's world as she uncovers the best music hubs in Sydney and her tips on staying local for a weekend getaway.

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Where did you grow up in Sydney?

I grew up in the Hills District and now live in the Northern Beaches.

When did you first learn how to play the piano? Is it true you started your classical journey learning how to play as early as 13 months old?

I’m super lucky that both my parents are musicians, with Mum being an opera singer and Dad a classical guitarist, so music was something they both wanted to introduce to me at the earliest possible point. Mum was still doing recitals while pregnant with me. She then introduced me to singing and pitch, and then colour and letter coordination. Music notation came after, but yes, 13 months old was when it all started.

Your love of music has led you to perform in some amazing places around the world, but many musicians always say how different it is to perform in your hometown. Having performed all around the world in New York, Ibiza, San Francisco, and Mykonos, how does it make you feel when performing in Sydney?

Sydney is home turf, so it’s always nice to play to a home crowd. There are definitely more familiar faces. There’s a realness with Aussie audiences too; there are no pretences per se, so I like that.

What has been one of your most memorable performances in Sydney yet?

The Sydney Opera House is always spectacular to perform at, but in particular in 2012, when I produced my first independent classical crossover album, which I crowd-funded to make happen, with contributors coming to the album launch at the Sydney Opera House. That was a real sense of self-accomplishment, and I look back and see how far I’ve come.

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"Mark and I have a mutual appreciation and love for both worlds of classical and house music, and that’s where it started."

After so many years, it’s great to see the nighttime economy making a comeback in New South Wales. There are so many concerts, performances, shows, and live DJ sets, and the entertainment industry is starting to thrive again. But what we have been seeing lately is a real resurgence of how restaurants and bars are playing a big part in the world of entertainment. You find more and more venues incorporating a live music component into the dining experience and night out.

Having experienced this firsthand, where in Sydney are your favourite dining establishments that merge music well with their guest experience? 

I see this a lot, especially in Europe and some parts of North America. First and foremost, the sensory experience is something I love so much. In my eyes, music is a must in any establishment, whether conscious or subconscious, and when restaurants make a conscious decision to place importance on the music, it changes the whole dining experience. I personally love Sydney's Restaurant Hubert, where there is live jazz most evenings. Icebergs Dining Room and Bar also feature artist events and curated playlists.

Which moves me onto Double Touch, where you are one half of a melodic house duo blending live instrumentation with electronic beats. Where did you get your inspiration for creating Double Touch?

Mark and I have a mutual appreciation and love for both worlds of classical and house music, and that’s where it started. We would write in this style for the fun of it, never actually thinking it would become ‘a thing’ because we already had our separate careers. A few releases led to being signed to 'All Day I Dream', which led to playing their parties and festivals, and the rest is history.

And better yet, how do you find working so closely with your husband, Mark?

We are super lucky and have a great dynamic. We each have our strengths, and when combined, they work really well. We are brutally honest with one another and conscious of the little time we have, so sometimes, for an outsider, if they see us working, it might sound brutal, but there is no menace or venom behind what we say. It’s just direct.

What would be your top five tips for seeing the best live music in Sydney?

1. For house music, my go-to would be seeing what Return to Rio and Movement are putting on. They are the main promoters of this genre.

2. Look at the Sydney Opera House calendar; they’re often putting on lots of different genres of events and concerts now, not just solely classical.

3. Phoenix Central Park in Chippendale is a great spot that has eclectic performances, so that’s also a good spot to check out. A great local stay nearby is The Old Clare Hotel.

4. City Recital Hall is also a good concert hall to look at on their calendar.

Where would you stay in Sydney for the perfect weekend getaway?

If you want to be in the heart of the city, the rooms at Crown Sydney and Capella are divine. If you want to get a little further out of Sydney, say Palm Beach, I am obsessed with the idea of a houseboat, so Lilypad is a great one.

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The Locay Top Five

Top three neighbourhoods in Sydney that you love?
The Northern Beaches for laid-back beach vibes, Surry Hills for city eats and bars, and then the Blue Mountains (it’s greater Sydney but close enough).

What three things can’t you travel without?
Noise-cancelling headphones, hydrating face masks, and my AirTags (in every check-in bag).

Where to next?
We head on an Asia tour, which will include Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Hong Kong, Bali, and Phuket, before we go back to the USA and Europe to tour the Northern Hemisphere in the spring or summer.

Favourite boutique hotel in Australia?
Osborn House

Favourite boutique hotel in the world?
Seven Hotel in Paris, each room is themed differently, and there’s a room called Note that has a piano in it and a record player.

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