HA NOI Evening gowns and motorcycle helmets were the contrasting attire as the New York Philharmonic played its first concert in Viet Nam after an historic visit to North Korea last year.
Inside the cosy French colonial-era Ha Noi Opera House, a mixed crowd of Vietnamese and Westerners, some in evening dress, filled almost every seat beneath a large chandelier.
Except for the occasional click of a camera shutter, they watched in mesmerised silence as the black-clad orchestra performed Beethoven s Piano Concerto No 4 conducted by Alan Gilbert, with Emanuel Ax on the piano.
Outside, dozens of Vietnamese, many of them young, pulled up on their motor scooters to watch the performance free on two giant screens that flanked the concert hall.
A never-ending stream of constantly honking traffic flowed past them but could not drown out the towering banks of loudspeakers and the melodies which lingered in the night air.
Do Van Son, 50, a motorcycle taxi driver, parked his bike in front of the screen, not caring that he would give up much of the VND100,000 (US$5.5) he usually earns in a night.
"What I have is music, and a loss of income today does not mean anything," Son said, admitting there are not many classical music fans in his country.
"This is a special case, when a world-famous orchestra comes to Viet Nam."
Mai Suong, a fourth-year violin student, also watched outside with several other students from the local music conservatory.
"The performance was great," she said. "I dream to become one of them of course, but I don t think I m good enough."
Gilbert, who became the orchestra s music director last month, said before the concert that, for him, coming to Viet Nam was the "realisation of a dream come true".
On Friday night the audience shouted its approval and applauded for about three minutes at the conclusion of the concerto, prompting Ax to return for an encore piano solo.
Officials from Viet Nam and the US said the Friday and Saturday concerts would help to further cement ties that have grown diplomatically, economically and culturally since the two countries normalised relations in 1995, two decades after their war ended.
"It s putting Ha Noi on the world map," Michael O Brien, 66, a visiting American, said of the concerts before taking his seat inside.
Leo Dyar, 60, an Irishman working in Ha Noi as a schoolteacher, said the music is something that everyone can enjoy.
"Anything like this, any cultural exchange, has to improve relations," he said during the interval.
The concert was part of an Asian tour by the orchestra.
More than a third of tickets for the two concerts went to sponsors and government officials, with the rest sold to the general public, an organiser said. AFP/VNS