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Its not unusual to see someone leave her high tech job these days to seek out new adventures. But how many of them wind up performing on the "Late Show with David Letterman" less than six months later?
By the time San Francisco-based singer/songwriter/pianist Vienna Teng, 26, quit her full-time software engineering job at Cisco Systems in 2002, she had signed with independent label Virt Records and was preparing for her full-length CD release, "Waking Hour." She was soon opening for such artists as Shawn Colvin and Joan Osborne. With her graceful melodies and evocative lyrics, Vienna has garnered critical acclaim and a rapidly growing legion of fans throughout the world. Her days are now filled with interviews and sold-out performances. Needless to say, it has been an abrupt shift from her cubicle days.
Vienna began taking piano lessons at age 5, studying classical composers like Bach and Chopin. Far from being pressured into studying music, however, Vienna asked for piano lessons on her own. While she delved fully into classical works, leading her to even take on the name of Vienna after the Austrian city of composers, she was drawn more to the act of improvisation, and in expressing the ideas that were emerging in her own imagination. She wrote her first song at age 6, and had an albums worth of instrumentals composed by age 16.
Vienna has returned with her sophomore release, "Warm Strangers," a diverse collection of lush, melodic songs, incorporating Vienna's classical background and folk sensibilities within a contemporary pop framework. Whereas "Waking Hour," written during the high school and college years, was mostly autobiographical, "Warm Strangers" marks Vienna's bold leap into fiction. Orchestral and acoustic landscapes, using everything from string quartets to slide guitars, provide an inviting sonic backdrop for her short stories of love, death, struggle and hope. In describing "Warm Strangers," Vienna notes, "We pass through each other's lives so briefly that it's easy to think of the people around us as mere objects, cold and removed. Writing songs is my way of breathing warmth into them. Attempting to tell their stories, however fictitious the results, reminds me of our common humanity."
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Top Customer Reviews
I'll write another one.
I recall objecting to some of the percussion, notably on
"Harbor". That was probably at least a little unfair, comparing a solo
piano performance on NPR to an album version...you know how people
are, when things are different from what they expect, they don't like
it at first. I'm here to tell you, I take it back! This album (and
"Waking Hour") are fantastic from start to finish. Sometimes it takes
a bit for thing to penetrate my skull. I loved them both right off,
but now...I can't say enough about these CD's, or about
Vienna. Beautiful. Compelling. Fantastic!
Standout tracks are hard to pin down, because they all really have
something unique to offer. However, I really think "Homecoming" is my
favorite--if I had to pick. Something about how she gets into the main
character's head on that one, a lot of things. "Passage" will probably
haunt you for a while, as it should--I really think she hit what she
was going for on that one.
Anyway, everything wonderful I've said about this CD (and everyone
else, too) I stand behind completely. Run, don't walk, and get
it. Something else you should know; when I first get a CD, I obsess
over it. I play it daily, constantly, learn it forwards and backwrds,
whatever. For weeks. Until everyone at my house (that's my wife, the
cats, and the dogs) is probably thoroughly sick of my obsession! Well,
I'm here to tell you. I'm still obsessing over these two, four months
later. Fortunately, everyone else in the house seems to like them,
There is an emotional intensity here that I find extraordinarily appealing. I heard it said that while we'll always remember those we laugh with; we can never forget those we have cried with. I have shed some warm, enriching and human tears with Vienna's music as those strangers have become warm friends.
From my perspective, there are five standout tracks on the CD:
Mission Street, Passage, and The Atheist's Christmas Carol for their lyrics
Harbor and Hope on Fire for their musical accessibility.
Since I live in the Bay Area of California, Mission Street is my sentimental favorite. I can almost hear the Hispanic street sounds that Teng alludes to, and the introspective musing sounds right in line with the drift of thought you might indulge in while cradling a warm cup of tea or coffee in your hands, looking out the window of a restaurant or coffee shop. And as another reviewer noted, the spare use of a muted trumpet at just the right times is a thing of beauty.
The Atheist's Christmas Carol's sentiments are spiritual without being religious, focusing on the healing that we can all give to each other at an otherwise bleak time of year. On the second listen, I felt tears well up.
Passage, an a cappella reflection of the lives of those most dear to you after death, both soon and a long time after, is a fresh and daring approach to a topic many consider in their bleak moments. What sat me back in my chair was the look four years and decades after a death. Most of the people I know who've thought about what would happen to loved ones after they die consider only the near-term impact. The vision of people incompletely patching up their lives rocked me.Read more ›
I first heard Vienna Teng's music on a friend's copy of the independent release of her first album, Waking Hour, and I became a fan with "Between" and "The Tower," with their graceful lyrics and catchy tunes, and the absolutely gorgeous "Lullaby for a Stormy Night," which is sweet and charming and never fails to make me get a little teary in that way very personal songs do. I had the rerelease of Waking Hour pre-ordered for over a month, and it was completely worth the wait.
Warm Strangers even outdoes Waking Hour. Lots of people will compare Vienna to Tori Amos, Sarah McLaughlan, and Norah Jones, who are all artists I like but I don't think that the comparisons are completely warranted. First off, Vienna has the ability to write lyrics that are both deeply layered, complex, and moving as well simply musical, but I feel like many other artists tend to choose either the sound of the words or the meaning of the words, without really combining them with as much grace as she does.
Second, one of my favorite things is that all of Vienna's music is very personal, so when you listen to her you feel like she's sitting across a little table from you and leaning in and telling you a story. This effect is heightened when you see her live, since she always has a story to go along with the song. That feeling of intimacy is something that I think the vast majority of artists can't create so completely as she does, and it's part of what makes her so listenable.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
Vienna Teng has a haunting, clear, beautiful voice. Her piano playing is phenomenal and her arrangements are stellar. This is an amazing album. Read morePublished on Dec 3 2005
Vienna Teng's first album (Waking Hour) floored me with its breadth of musical expression and mature lyrics. Read morePublished on July 3 2004 by Matthew A. Salchert
if you like her, check out the band Copeland. both equally wonderfulPublished on June 5 2004 by Evan Adams
i had the chance to hear her live recently and since i've been hooked. she's a wonderful, talented musician with a bright future. Read morePublished on June 5 2004 by Evan Adams
This is an exquisite album. Vienna's talent as a pianist shines in this CD, as well as her ability to paint vivid pictures in the minds of her listeners with her thoughtful... Read morePublished on April 25 2004 by T. Graham
If you like artists like Tori Amos and Sarah McLachlan, you will not be disappointed. Vienna is a tremendously proficient composer/musician/vocalist/performer. Read morePublished on April 10 2004
One Sunday morning about a month ago I heard Liane Hansen interview a young singer on NPR's Weekend Edition. Read morePublished on April 7 2004
Vienna Teng has played piano since she was 5, her parents say she sang before she talked. That kind of love of music is embodied in every one of these songs. Read morePublished on April 5 2004 by Anne Lamont