American Composers Orchestra

 

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Related Concert:
"Pacifica Mix" October 11 at Japan Society

Essay
P.Q. Phan: Reborn in the U.S.A.

Essay
How should we listen to music by Asian-American composers?

 

 

Sunday, October 15 2000 at 3pm
"Pacifica"

Notes on the Program
By Simon Z Michaels

Common Ground
Melissa Hui
Born 1966, in Hong Kong
Now living in Stanford, CA

Composer Melissa Hui was born in Hong Kong and raised in Vancouver, British Columbia. She received degrees from the University of British Columbia (B. Mus.), the California Institute of the Arts (M.F.A.) and Yale University (M.M.A., D.M.A.). Her mentors include Jacob Druckman, Mel Powell, and Earl Kim.

Ms. Hui has received numerous awards, including first prizes from the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra Canadian Composers Competition, grand prize at the 1996 CBC Young Composers Competition; finalist at International Gaudeamus Music Week in 1996, and grants from the Canada Council, Meet the Composer, The ASCAP Foundation, and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1997.

She has written works on commission by the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, Oregon Symphony, Vancouver Chamber Music Festival, and Dogs of Desire. In addition, she wrote the soundtrack for Sunrise over Tiananmen Square, an Oscar-nominated documentary from the National Film Board of Canada. Her works have been performed by the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, Taiwan Symphony Orchestra, the California EAR Unit, the Esprit Orchestra in Toronto, at Gaudeamus Music Week in Amsterdam, the Focus Festival and MoMA Summergarden in New York City, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Green Umbrella series, among others.

Current projects include commissioned works for the Kronos Quartet, the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival, oboist Lawrence Cherney with the Elmer Iseler Singers (Toronto), the Société de Musique Contemporaine du Québec (Montréal), and New Millenium Ensemble (NYC) as part of the annual collaborative venture with the Common Sense Composers Collective.

Her works, San Rocco and Speaking in Tongues, have been released on Centredisc and UMMUS labels, respectively. As a member of the Common Sense Composers Collective, her chamber work, Solstice, was released on CRI's Emergency Series in 1997.

Ms. Hui has been an Assistant Professor of composition and theory at Stanford University in California since 1994.

About the work, the composer writes:

    Common ground was commissioned by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra for performance at the New Music Festival in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1994. It is a loud-hyper-kinetic fanfare, full of boisterous "sound objects" that jostle for attention and elbow for "air time". In using materials that sound, in turn, primal and urbane, I aimed to create a musical quilt, a patchwork of inviolable musical entities whose diverse natures would be united, and by juxtaposition, strengthened, in a single, integrated whole.

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Inner Voices
Chinary Ung
Born November24, 1942 in Prey Lovea, Cambodia
Now living in La Jolla, CA

Chinary Ung was born in Cambodia, and until he was in his late teens, hadn't heard any Western classical music. Though music did fill the Ung household; his father played several Cambodian instruments, and Ung played the Roneat, a Cambodian xylophone with bamboo slats. Ung was a member of the first graduating class of Cambodia's National Music Conservatory, and in 1964 came to the United States to study at the Manhattan School of Music in New York City, where he received a Bachelor's and Master's degree in clarinet. He later turned his studies toward composition, became a student of Chou Wen-chung, and in 1974 received a doctoral degree with distinction from Columbia University.

Between 1974-1979 many Cambodians were detained in work camps or were executed at the hands of the brutal regime of Pol Pot. Dr. Ung, then in the United States, did not know about the well-being or whereabouts of his family. He stopped composing and instead, searched for new ways to approach his direction as an artist. The holocaust in Cambodia had nearly destroyed the rich culture of the Khmer people, as many artists and intellectuals had been singled out and executed. Dr. Ung turned his attention to the rescue of surviving relatives, and the rebuilding of the tradition of Khmer court music.

Inner Voices is a summation of the ideas from Khse Buon, the only work that Ung composed between 1974 and 1985. In Inner Voices Dr. Ung created an open-ended form with the intention of embracing the expression of many cultures in a singular, new musical "language" that embodies degrees of expression derived from many cultures.

Aspects of Inner Voices may remind some listeners of Asian music. But Inner Voices, Dr. Ung insists, does not contain any direct references to Cambodian music, instead capturing a sound devoid of typical Eastern or Western musical characteristics:

    Nowadays we cannot speak just of East and West anymore. At a certain time in the past that was somewhat true. Now, sounds are passing here and there, and we cannot avoid them. I think this East and West interaction represents just one dimension, meaning the external sound elements. But composing has to do not just with external elements. I don't believe when I use some sound that I say to myself,' this is from the East and this is from the West.' If you get into that kind of thinking, you can't produce any music. Composers of my generation have internalized all those sound materials to the point that while we recognize that they represent something as sound manifestations, on the other hand that should not be the real issue. In the simplest form, I just lump all sounds together as external influences. It's the interaction within yourself, between the self and the external elements, that is the main thing.

An image from Ung's childhood helped solidify his composition style, Inner Voices in particular:

    My family used to visit an old woman who collected scraps of cloth, all shapes and colors. Each time we went to her hut, I watched the progress as she overlapped and sewed them together into quilt. Finally it became a beautiful rectangular quilt hanging on the wall.

    In Inner Voices I've overlapped certain colors, groups of ensembles, made different scenarios and moments, and yet the piece conveys some form of unity within the plurality of multi-colors. And also the imagery coincided technically with the shape of the piece, which is a kind of quilt of fragments of sounds, either connected linearly or superimposed on one another in layers. What one ought to do is figure out which one of the fragments ought to be attached to the other, and at one angle, and how the sonorities should overlap.

Ung has received honors for his compositions from The American Academy of Arts and Letters, Meet the Composer/Reader's Digest Commissioning Program, The National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim, Koussevitsky, Ford, and Rockefeller Foundations. In 1989, he was the first American to receive the international Grawemeyer Award for Inner Voices. Ung is a scholar on the traditional music of Cambodia, and lectures widely across the country and abroad on both his native music and his compositions. He is the founder and President of The Khmer Studies Institute, which has sponsored publications, videotapes, as well as several recordings on the Folkways label. Dr. Ung has been Professor of Composition at University of California, San Diego since 1995.

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When the Worlds Mixed and Times Merged
P.Q. Phan
Born January 19, 1962 in Da Nang, Vietnam
Now living in Bloomington, IN

Composer P.Q. PHAN, born in 1962 in Vietnam, became interested in music while studying architecture. He taught himself to play the piano, compose, and orchestrate. In 1982 Mr. Phan immigrated to the United States and began his formal musical training. He earned his BM from University of Southern California and his DMA in Composition from University of Michigan, and has studied with Leslie Bassett, William Bolcom, William Albright, and Barney Childs.

Mr. Phan's music has been performed throughout the world by the Kronos Quartet, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the Radio France, Ensemble Modern, the Cincinnati Orchestra, Seattle Symphony Orchestra, the Cleveland Chamber Symphony, the Sinfonia da Camera, and Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, among others. Mr. Phan has received the Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome, a Rockefeller Foundation Grant, an ASCAP Standard Award, Ohio Arts Council Individual Artist Fellowship, Charles Ives Center for American Music fellowship, and residency at the MacDowell Colony. Currently Mr. Phan is concluding a Music Alive Residency, a program of Meet The Composer and the American Symphony Orchestra League, with American Composers Orchestra. Mr. Phan is an Associate Professor in composition at Indiana University at Bloomington.

Mr. Phan's recent works have focused on music that integrates the musical aesthetics of Southeast-Asia and the West. About When the Worlds Mixed and Times Merged, the composer writes:

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Piano Concerto
Lou Harrison
Born May 14, 1917 in Portland, OR
Now living in Aptos, CA

Lou Harrison lived his first nine years in Portland, Oregon; residences since then include San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City, North Carolina, Oaxaca, New Zealand, and the Monterey Bay region where he has made his permanent home for the past forty years.

Mr. Harrison's musical style was shaped by the San Francisco of the 1930's. There he studied composition with Henry Cowell; accompanied such dancer/choreographers as Carol Beals, Bonnie Bird, Bella Lewitsky and Lester Horton; and staged high profile percussion concerts with John Cage. Harrison and Cage spent hours rummaging through junkyards seeking out found "instruments" that would ring, or resonate with various musical qualities.

By the time he left San Francisco in 1942, Lou Harrison had composed over 175 works, including several 12-tone compositions and even some quartertone pieces. He spent the year 1942-43 in Los Angeles where he studied with Arnold Schoenberg. He then followed Lester Horton and his dance troupe to New York, reviving his association with Cage and Cowell, and developing a close friendship with Virgil Thomson. Through Mr. Thomson, Lou Harrison would ultimately contribute over 300 music reviews to the New York Herald Tribune. He also wrote articles for Modern Music, Listen, and View, and published an extended essay About Carl Ruggles.

Mr. Harrison was elected to the National institute of Arts and Letters in 1973 and has, over the years, received numerous awards and commissions including two Guggenheims, two Rockefeller grants, a Fulbright fellowship, and two honorary doctorates. Residencies for teaching and composing include Reed College, University of Hawaii, Black Mountain College, University of New Mexico, The Music Academy of Basel, The Mozart Academy in the Czech Republic, and Dartington Hall in England. Mr. Harrison has taught at San Jose State University, Mills College, Greenwich House Music School, and on a Fulbright scholarship at the four main Universities of New Zealand.

In addition to teaching and composing Harrison has worked as a music critic, an animal nurse, florist, dance accompanist, and forestry firefighter. He is also a calligraphist and poet (his poetry anthology "Joys and Perplexities" is printed in one of his original fonts), painter, and writer. In 1993, his book "Music Primer" was republished in Tokyo in both English and Japanese. Mr. Harrison has helped introduce the Indonesian Gamelan to the United States and, with William Colvig, constructed two large gamelans, now in use at San Jose State University and Mills College. Mr. Harrison is currently completing a new book, Poems and Pieces, with recent poetry and gamelan pieces, and this past August received the MacDowell Medal of Honor at the MacDowell Colony.

About the work, the composer writes:

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