Music, painting, and cooking are among the passions of this Vietnamese architecture student at IE University

It’s always bad news when rain comes unexpectedly. The water starts to fall on Segovia in the early hours of this June afternoon; it’s a light drizzle, persistent and uncomfortable. I push open the main door of Casa de la Moneda’s cultural building and, upon entering, the monotonous sound of the rain disappears: all that can be heard is a distant yet dizzying piano melody. I move through one of the hallways in the historic complex and head toward the room where Do Xuan Hoang should be waiting for me. The sound of the piano is now clear, vigorous, and magical. It confirms what I’ve been told: the musical technique of this twenty-two-year-old Vietnamese man is superb. He’s a true virtuoso.

For a few seconds, Do Xuan Hoang doesn’t look up. Lost in thought, he has not even noticed my presence. His fingers glide over the keys of the piano, seeming to dance. What ease and elegance, I think. It could be Baroque music, maybe Bach, but I’m not sure. Do Xuan Hoang stops playing, stands up, greets me politely, and walks to a nearby soda machine. He needs a cool drink before we start our conversation.

Everyone who knows Do Xuan Hoang, an architecture student at IE University, praises his marvelous creativity. “He’s a genius, without a doubt,” Carlos Redondo tells me. Redondo is the coordinator of IE University’s Creativity Center, a space located in the Casa de la Moneda that is managed by IE University Campus Life. It has become a gathering space for private university students and young people from the city of Segovia to share hobbies, develop their talents, and participate in entrepreneurial projects.

I ask him when he first started playing. Do Xuan Hoang pauses. He takes a sip of the soda resting on the table and responds: “When I was ten, at the Hanoi Conservatory, I received musical training and participated in some national competitions.” His childhood dream was to become a professional musician, but his parents thought this wasn’t the best idea; they suggested he pursue subject areas with better future prospects, so Do Xuan Hoang opted for architecture.

With his undeniable talent, this young man does not understand music as an occupation, but as a vocation. “I can’t live without music,” he says with feeling. The phrase seems to come from his soul. “You can play for yourself, too,” he adds. He corroborates the account of Carlos Redondo, who has witnessed Do Xuan Hoang lock himself in a room with a piano for long hours of the afternoon, playing and playing and hardly stopping to rest. “Music makes me feel better. It is essential for the mental health of human beings,” he declares. In the Casa de la Moneda, he has found the perfect habitat to develop and express his creativity.

Photo by Roberto Arribas

I confirm my suspicions: his favorite composer is Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), one of the most brilliant creators of musical compositions and the biggest influence on the evolution of music since Mozart. With the mention of Bach, his eyes quickly light up: “He is the absolute number one,” he says. He loves Baroque and Renaissance music, although for fun he also plays tango, jazz, and even scores from musicals.

And Spanish music? “I hardly knew any before coming to Spain,” he admits. The young man takes my notebook and writes: “La alborada del gracioso.”  It is one of the many scores composed by French-Basque composer Maurice Ravel in the early 20th century, in which he reveals his fascination with Spain. “I like this piece a lot,” he says.

Sketch artist

His drawing and painting skills are also very interesting. I confess to Do Xuan Hoang that I’ve seen his Instagram and discovered that he paints beautifully. “In Hanoi, I was surrounded by books. From a young age I enjoyed leafing through them, and my parents collected art and antiques. At the age of fourteen I started taking drawing and painting classes. It was only for a few months. I drew statues from different angles, over and over again. So I learned to observe,” he explains.

Among other activities, the Casa de la Moneda offers a painting workshop for IE University students, taught by renowned visual artist Alberto Fernández Hurtado. “I feel lucky to have him as a professor. He’s a really accessible, warm, and sincere person, and it’s obvious that he loves what he does,” says Do Xuan Hoang.

Permanent ink, colored pencils, oil, acrylic, and watercolor are some of the materials that he uses to create his pieces. “Do have any pieces here that I could see?” I ask him with curiosity. At this point, Do Xuan Hoang and I go to the workshop in the IE Creativity Center where he typically paints. He brings out a painting of a fountain at the Real Sitio, holding it under his arm. It is a very beautiful painting.

My goal is to do an exhibition at the Casa de la Moneda this summer. I’d like to display around thirty pieces on Segovian motifs,” he says. Do Xuan Hoang likes to stroll through the streets of the city and its outskirts, discovering spaces commonly passed by unnoticed. He makes what he calls “preparatory sketches,” or preliminary drawings, which are usually more finished than drafts, and are similar to the drawings that architects make when planning their buildings.

Lover of gastronomy

On Instagram, Do Xuan Hoang posts a number of photos of dishes that he’s prepared himself. He loves to cook, experiment with food, and create new dishes. (This young man is full of surprises.) “Wherever I go, I try to use the ingredients that I find there: fresh ingredients define my cooking.” He emphasizes that, “for me, it is a real tragedy to cook bad food.” “Spain is a paradise, in terms of the freshness of food and the variety of ingredients,” he says. You must like Segovian cuisine, I tell him. Do Xuan Hoang nods, but does have one reservation: “There are very special dishes, but it’s not all that varied. In Segovia there isn’t much international food available.”

Besides music, painting, and cooking, the fourth great passion of this IE student is, of course, architecture. In Segovia, he has just completed his third year of the program. “I love how IE University teaches this discipline, because you not only learn how to build, but also how to think properly, globally and critically. They teach you to unify different pieces of knowledge related to architecture into a coherent whole,” he says.

Is there a building or monument in Segovia that you admire? Do Xuan Hoang smiles. I expect a typical answer: the aqueduct, the castle, or the cathedral… But the future architect surprises me. “A former feed mill in the outskirts of Segovia, in La Lastrilla,” he says emphatically, as his smile widens even more. “It is a building that I find fascinating,” he concludes.