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					Kim Tran Music 85 Kui Dong Kui Dong claims she was forced into studying music and if given the choice she may not have pursued it as a career. When taking the national standardized test in China, it was recommended that Dong pursue the sciences in high school and college. However, Dong‟s mother, who was a classical opera singer, had unsuccessfully urged her two older daughters to pursue music and saw Dong as her last hope for a child who would become a musician. Dong says that if she had had a younger sibling, she might be doing something completely different in life. She sometimes thinks that she might want to become a filmmaker or architect rather than a composer, even today. In any case, she says that she with out some kind of creative outlet, she becomes restless very easily. After being told at the age of 15 by a teacher that she would never become a successful pianist or conductor because of her physical stature, Dong applied to the composers program at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. She was too young to be accepted and was sent to the one-year high school program affiliated with the conservatory to study theory rather than performance. After graduating from high school, she enrolled at the Central Conservatory. Here, the main focus of her studies was Western art music, from Mozart through Ravel and Debussy. Students were also required to play a traditional Chinese instrument, as well as take classes on Chinese folk music and opera. Every winter and summer, the school also gave composition students a small amount of money to collect folk songs in remote villages. Dong says that hearing and collecting these songs would form a lasting impression in her and her music.

After four years at the Conservatory, Dong continued with the Master‟s degree program. The Tiananmen protests occurred during this time, from 1988-1989. Dong remembers this as a very exciting time, but also a difficult one. It was during these years that Dong composed music for the 3-act ballet Imperial Concubine Young, commissioned by the Central Ballet Group of Beijing. It was performed for two years until it was not supported by the govement. The middle movement, called Soldier’s Rebellion, was deemed too controversial with its suggestion of violence, and production was shut down. Dong and many of her classmates were seeking their studies and adventures abroad, and she applied to graduate programs in Europe and the US. She chose Stanford University not only because they offered a full scholarship, but because she wanted to stay away from the strong, rooted traditions of Europe. Her Chinese culture has roots 5000 years old, and Dong felt that Europe‟s long cultural history would exhibit similar pressures on her work. She was also attracted to importance of the individual in American culture, something that was very different from socialist China where she grew up. She remembers her professors in China whose compositions were almost always collaborative (all the ones commissioned by the government) feeling that they lacked a sense of individual contribution to the music. Although she says that she believes the socialist system gives artists a much better support system that encourages the quality of art rather than art that will sell, which is the case of a capitalist system, the socialist system sometimes eliminates the individual. During her years studying at Stanford from 1991-1994, Dong did not compose much. Her idea of modernity, which was Stravinsky, Bartók, and Prokofiev, was being bombarded with new forms of music she was being newly exposed to. One of these forms

was computer music. The first computer piece that Dong composes, Flying Apples (1994), experiments with algorithms. There is one main timbre in the piece, which sounds something like a slightly metallic piano. Dong says she was attracted to the visual, abstract, patterns of sound that the algorithms created. Moments in her later computer music would mirror this aesthetic. When Dong began to compose more regularly again, she deems the pieces during this time as her “Chinese music” period. Being exposed to so many new types of music, Dong held on to the musical language she knew well to keep from becoming disoriented. Most of her pieces of this time use heterophonic imitation rather than western counterpoint, are inspired by folk songs or tales, or are written for traditional Chinese instruments. One example of this is Pangu’s Song (1998) written for alto flute/flute and percussion. Pangu is the giant in Chinese mythology that separates heaven and earth with a great swing of his axe. He held them separate for eighteen thousand years, then was laid to rest, his breath becoming the wind, his eyes the moon and the sun, his body the mountains, his veins the rivers, his sweat the rain, and the creatures carried by the wind over his body become human beings. The piece is not a narrative of the myth, but evokes an earthy sound with use of the alto flute and frequent flutter-tones, which has a breathy timbre closer to a bamboo flute. The percussion also evokes the natural world with use of woodblock, Chinese bass drum, and Tibetan bowl. Other pieces during this period include Blue Melody (1993), written for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano and was inspired by a folk song collected in a remote village, and Three voices (1998) written for zheng, erhu, and xiao. In these pieces, there is a conscious effort to sound Chinese, even within the framework or orchestration of Western art music.

In 1998 Dong met the composer Gyorgy Ligeti. Their first encounter is an interesting anecdote. Standford was hosting a reception for Ligeti‟s visit to campus, which Dong attended. She remembers Ligeti walking up to her and asking directly and immediately, “How many people died in the student movement?” Dong answered, “Isn‟t one enough?”, and Ligeti walked away. Ligeti must have been moved or at least interested in her reply, because later in the day they had quite q bit conversation with each other. Although Dong admits that it is difficult to pin-point the direct influence of Ligeti on her musical compositions, she says that Ligeti affected her life in a more philosophical way on a deeper level. At the time, Dong‟s English was poor, however she never felt that the two had trouble communicating with one another. Although 40 years her senior, Ligeti‟s experiences in Romania/Hungary and his presence of the Soviet invastion of Czech were similar to Kui‟s in China during the student movments, and when sharing their experiences, they often felt that “history was repeating itself.” Dong does admit one conversation with Ligeti that did directly affect her identity as a composer. When Ligeti asked her what kind of composer she wanted to be known as, she replied “a Chinese composer”. He then asked her why she wanted to be a Chinese composer. Dong could not provide a clear reason or justify herself. After that conversation, Dong began to questioning her identity as a composer and why she felt the need to make her music recognizably Chinese. This marked the beginning of Dong‟s compositions that began testing the boundaries of what was Chinese and what was Western in her music. In these pieces, she creates a clash between sounds of each culture rather than limit herself to writing “Chinese” music within a Western art music context. Dong‟s computer piece Crossing is representative of this period. In this piece, the jarring

juxtaposition between rock „n roll slap bass guitar and a well-known Beijing opera character is in no way subtle. The timbres in Crossing are varied, unpredictable, and dissonantly opposed with one another; very different from her earlier computer piece Flying Apples, which is largely a single timbre. In 1999 Dong also begins to improvise with Christian Wolff and Larry Polansky, and they form an ensemble called Trio. This would add another element to her compositions that we see in her work Earth, Water, Wood, Metal, Fire (2001), which were based on Dong‟s piano improvisations. In these pieces, Dong takes inspiration from the 5 elements that make up the material world according to traditional Chinese beliefs, but is not seeking to write a programmatic piece. For example, Dong says that the piece Earth does not refer literally to soil, but rather is a spiritual representation of mankind that inhabits the earth. The movements Wood and Metal refer to pencils and metal rods placed in the piano strings that create distinct timbres. Fire, the last movement, is the longest and most energetic not because of the element Fire‟s importance in mythology, but because compositionally its length allowed previous themes to return and bring the work to a close. The prepared piano shows influences of John Cage, the clusters of dissonant chords are suggestive of Henry Cowell, and repeated, stagnantly moving sections could be described as minimalist. However, there are also fragmentary moments of pentatonic melodies as well as heterophonic passages which create the flavor of Chinese music, but in a more subtle manner than previous works. In these pieces, after being in the US for 10 years, Dong finally seems to be able to amalgamate the influences that she has been exposed to and bring them together in a balanced way.

Another piece that Dong considers part of this “Fusion” period is Shui Diao Ge To & Song. The texts for this work were the 11th century poem, Shui Diao Ge, by Su Shi and a contemporary poem, Song, by a friend of the composer named Denise Newman. Dong felt that these two texts balanced each other within the composition, and that her work would not be complete without one or the other. Written for mixed chorus and percussion, the piece was commissioned by the Dale Warland Singers but was deemed too difficult to perform by their conductor and was eventually premiered by another group in California in 2003. Su Shi‟s poem contemplates the moon and the author‟s own place in the universe with a sense of wonder and serenity. Dong‟s setting of the text is expansive and atmospheric, capturing the mystery of the verses. In a stream of consciousness outpouring, Newman‟s poem expresses the confusion, alienation, and materialism that entrance its character‟s world. Dong sets this text as a subdued chant on a single note, sometimes drowned out by the percussion. These two themes seem to represent two different ways of seeing the world, but are woven together in a larger synthesis by Dong. The percussion seems to hold everything together, especially the piano, which roams in and out of the chorus texts in a sort of commentary. The climactic point towards the end is nearly violent with outbursts of drums and percussion that are able to blend with the crescendo of the chorus. Dong views this piece as a “cultural amalgam of all her life‟s experiences”. In 2004-2005, Dong wrote the piece Let the Crickets and Frogs Carry It On, a three-part suit subtitled “Ludamus Denuo” for treble choir, which she still considers part of her “Fusion” period, but is moving in a new direction. The text of the piece are sung in Chinese, Spanish, Medieval Latin, includes children‟s play song, two 21th century poems

written for children, which Dong has asked friends to translate into Spanish and Medieval Latin and set for children‟s choir. Here, Dong is attempting to create a sense of timelessness and stylistic anonymity in the piece. At certain sections the piece is motetlike and at other instances evokes more of a twentieth century harmony. When I suggested to Dong that the piece did not sound stylistically “Chinese”, she replied by saying that she is Chinese herself and asked how anything written by herself could possibly not be Chinese. One of her latest pieces, entitled The Seasons also is part of this fusion period. The piece is written for string quartet and four Chinese musicians, who play the zheng, dulcimer, horse-head fiddle, sheng (mouth organ), and Chinese percussion (bass, tomtom, cymbal, opera gongs, temple blocks). Dong says that the work is an homage to John Cage and Antonio Vivaldi, who both wrote music inspired based on the four seasons, solo piano in the case of John Cage, and a violin concerto in the case of Vivaldi. The first movement, Spring, is based on a symmetrical chord structure based on the third (C, E) and gradually moving outward in thirds to expand the chord (A, C, E, G, then F, A, C, E, G, B). The entire piece basically moves from an Am7 chord to a F11 chord. The first section of Spring is based entirely on the Am7 chord, with no clear melody. The strings are simply repeating these notes overlapping each other in group so f 4, 5, and 7 notes per beat, creating a shimmering affect musically. Once this timbre is established, slight changes become noticeable. Accents are placed on single notes that trade off between the instruments creating a sense of shifting, but still using the same pitch class. Then, at measure 23, for the first time a new note, B, is introduced in the cello. In order to punctuate this note, the cello stops playing for 2 measures after the note

is introduced for the first time. This B then becomes very important, since it creates a new possible interval of a second between A-B and B-C. The melody line interplay between the viola and cello that follows the introduction of the B rely heavily on this second. Then, suddenly all the instruments drop out except for the second violin, who is playing a major third, C-E (measure 32). This is the “middle” of the symmetrical Am7 ACEG chord. The second violin first plays it in groups of 9 notes/beat, and then subtly trades with the first violin who plays 10 beats/note. This again creates a shimmering affect of slight phasing. The first violin then plays a fifth, C-G while the second violin continues the third (C-E). The viola and cello enter again, now asserting the second between A-B and B-C even more by playing them together vertically rather than simply using them in a melody line horizontally. The B is brought out more by a trading of the note between the viola and a harmonic in the cello in measures 52-54, and also in measure 65 when the cello plays a pedal tone with its lowest note C together with a B a seventh above. The tension that is built up by this added B, which in a way unbalances the symmetrical chord structure (if we are thinking about C-E as the middle) on the top, is countered with the introduction of the new note F in the cello. This F balances perfectly on the bottom of the chord what the B added on top. It also changes the mood of the piece slightly as the piece now has an overall sound of a F11 chord (FACEG) with the F as root rather than Am7 (ACEG) with the A as root. Sweeping gestures with the F on the bottom are heard in the cello from measures 78-83, when suddenly the lowest note changes to C in the cello and the F drops out completely in all voices. There is a measure of rest after

this at measure 87, and the F reappears as the each voice now has swooping lines, (Dong writes the instructions “Big romantic sound! Use separate bow for every “longer” note” on the score) that do not quite sound like single melodies separately, but their interactions with each other create an overall melodic shape, with overlapping groups of 3, 6, and 5 notes per/beat. These groups then become 7, 8, and 9 notes/beat in measure 94, then 9 and 8 in measure 97 until the end of the piece. There is an intense feeling of release in the closing chord, (F-A-C-E-G-B) in its symmetry and its verticality. For the entire piece we have heard pieces of this chord, but the parts have been always moving horizontally and constantly changing rhythmically. The held final held chord creates a sense of rest and stillness that everything previously in the piece had been searching for. As a composer who has lived a significant portion of her life in two different cultures, Dong faces challenges and opportunities that many other composers face today in our global world. She navigates her musical language between cultures in her own distinct way, choosing by personal preference what she would like to keep and incorporate and discarding what she does not. Although Chinese music and Western art music are strong influences, her i-tunes listening currently has everything from classical Indian music, to Rachmaninoff, to James Blunt (popular for his song “You‟re Beautiful), to Japanese opera, to Xenaks, to Zimbabwe thumb piano. She is currently working on a string quartet commissioned by the Forumm Foundation and a Double Concerto for sheng (mouthpiece), erhu, and string orchestra, commissioned by Melody of China and the San Francisco International Arts Festival.

List of Work
INSTRUMENTAL COMPOSITIONS  Untitled (upcoming) – for string quartet Commissioned by Forumm Foundation, MA. To be premiered by Arditti Quartet 

Double Concerto (upcoming) - Sheng (mouthpipe), Er-hu/Horse head fiddler and String orchestra
Commissioned by Melody of China and San Francisco International Art Festival To be premiered Melody of China and San Francisco Chamber Orchestra

  

My Words (upcoming) for Symphony orchestra My Africa (2006) – for mixed choir Hands Like Waves Unfold (2005-2006) – for prepared piano
Release date: Fall, 2007, OtherMinds Record Label Composer/improviser: Kui Dong



Four Seasons (2005-6) – concerto for string quartet and a Chinese instrument quartet, duration ca 25‟
Commissioned by Melody of China, Del Sol String Quartet and Meet The Composer/USA commissioning award Premiered by Del Sol String quartet and Melody of China, Feb. 18, 2006 Montavle Art Center, CA



Ludamus Denuo/Let Crickets and Frogs Carry on (2004-5) – for treble clef choir, duration ca 10‟
Commissioned by Piedmont Choir Premiered by Piedmont Choir of 2005 Asia Tour, Conductor: Robert Geary



Movements (2004) – for Woodwind quintet, Sheng and percussion, duration ca 10‟
Performed by Citywinds, Feb. 18, 2005



Spring Night of Moon, Flower at Riverside (2004) - for dulcimer and chamber orchestra Duration ca.
6‟ Performed on Nov. 6, by Mission Chamber Orchestra, Conductor: Emily Ray, Dulcimer: Yangqin Zhao



Fantasia: A Dialogue With Wind (2003) - for piccolo/flute, oboe, bass clarinet/clarinet, violin, viola,
cello, contrabass, harp and percussion. Duration: ca 17” Commissioned by the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, for the Serge Koussevitzky Music Foundation Performed by SFCMP, November 10, 2004 Conductor: Daivd Milnes



Shui Diao Ge To/Song (2001, revised 2003) - for mixed chorus and three percussionists. Duration: ca
19‟00” Commissioned by the Dale Warland Singers, with financial support from The Jerome Foundation, Minneapolis, MN Premiered by the San Francisco Chamber Singers, June 11 and 2, 2003, Berkeley and San Francisco Conductor: Robert Geary Text: Su Shi (11 century), Denise Newman (1963-)



Suit for Two Pianos (2003) Duration: ~8‟
Commissioned by Pinkas-Hirsch Piano Duo Premiered by Pinkas-Hirsch Piano Duo on Feb. 18, 2004, Hopkins Center, Dartmouth College



Irrelevant 13 (2003) - for woodwind quintet and percussion Duration: N/A
Commissioned by the Citywinds and Melody of China To be premiered by Citywinds and Melody of China, February, 2005



4 Miniatures (2002) - for violin, cello and percussion. Duration: ca 8‟
Commissioned by the Core Ensemble for “Silken Phenix Project” with financial support from Florida Collage Arts grant



Singing, The Moon Reels, Dancing, The Shadows Stir (2001) - for mixed ensemble of
Chinese and Western classic Instruments. Duration: ca.14‟00” Commissioned by Music from China Inc. with financial support from the Mary Cary Flagler Trust, New York Premiered by the Ensemble Music from China, October 2001, at Merkin Hall, Lincoln Center, New York



Metal, Wood, Water, Fire And Earth (2000-2001) - for piano solo. Duration: ca. 20‟00”
Commissioned by pianist Sarah Cahill, with financial support from the Peter S. Reed Foundation, New York Premiered by Sarah Cahill, February 27, 2001, at Freer and Sackler Galleries, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C. Three Voices (1998) - for Er-hu (Chinese violin), Zheng (Chinese Zither) and bamboo flute. Duration: ca 9‟ Premiered by the Ensemble Music from China Performer: Er-hu, Guotong Wang; Zheng, Yin Yang; Bamboo Flute, Tao Chen, Oct. 25, 1998, Lincoln Center, New York.





Pangu’s Song (1998) - for alto flute/flute and Percussion. Duration: ca 9‟30”
Commissioned by Flutist Laurel Zucker for New American Music Festival, Sacramento, CA Premiered by Flute/Alto Flute, Laurel Zucker, Percussion, Dan Kennedy, November 10, 1998



Invisible Scene I (1994) - for string orchestra. Duration: ca. 7‟30”
Premiered by the Windsor Symphony Orchestra, Conductor: Susan Haig, November 7, 1994, Toronto, Canada



The Blue Melody (1993) - for flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano. Duration: ca. 9‟00”
Premiered by the Alea III New Music Ensemble on November 7, 1994 “Concert for the finalists of Alea III International Competition for Chamber Music Composition”, Conductor: Theodore Antoniou



Piano Suite (1993) - for piano solo. Duration: ca.10‟10”
Premiered by Kui Dong, Alea II concert recital, Stanford University, CA



Imperial Concubine Young (1989-90) - for 3-act ballet for orchestra. Duration: 100‟00”
Commissioned By Central Ballet Group of China Premiered by the Symphony Orchestra of Central Ballet Group of China, Conductor: ZuShan Pian, TianQiao Theatre, February 7, 1990 Beijing, China,



Dan (1989)-- for 2 piano. Duration: ca.13'00”
Commissioned by 1989 National Pianoforte Conference and Festival Premiere by pianists Bian Qing and Liu Suesu, April 4, 1989 Grand Concert Hall, Central Conservatory of Music, Beijing, China



Four Image Song (1989) - for piano and soprano. Duration: ca. 15‟00”
Premiered at Grant Concert Hall, Central Conservatory of Music, Beijing China. December 7, 1989 Performer: Piano, Zhong Li; Soprano, Fangfang Kong



Zhang Jing Tang (1988) - for Orchestra. Duration: ca. 14‟00”
Premiered by the Youth Symphony Orchestra of China and Beijing Dance Institute. Conductor: Jia Liu



Xigu (1986) - for Chinese percussion and Bamboo flute. Duration: ca. 12‟00”
Premiered at Concert Hall, Central Conservatory of Music “Concert of Winning Works of The National Collegiate Music Award for Chinese Instrument”, August 1986, Beijing China Performer: Bamboo Flute, Tao Chen, Chinese Percussion, Yue Ma Received First Prize of the National Collegiate Music Award for Chinese Instruments, Beijing,

China


Prelude And Fugue (1985) - for piano Duration: ca. 7‟00”
Premiered at Concert Hall, Central Conservatory of Music, August, 1985, Beijing, China Performer: Xun Pan



Poems On The Way Home (1985) - for Tenor and Piano. Duration: ca 12‟00”
Premiered at Concert Hall, Central Conservatory of Music, April, 1985, Beijing, China Performer: Tenor, Tiemin Wang, Piano: Kui Dong



Piano Suite (1984) for piano solo. Duration: ca. 8‟00”
Premiered by Min Li at Concert Hall, Central Conservatory of Music “Concert for Awarded Compositions for the National Piano Work Competition”, February 1984. Poems On The Way Home (1985) - for Tenor and Piano. Duration: ca 12‟00” Premiered at Concert Hall, Central Conservatory of Music, April, 1985, Beijing, China Performer: Tenor, Tiemin Wang, Piano: Kui Dong





Piano Suite (1984) for piano solo. Duration: ca. 8‟00”
Premiered by Min Li at Concert Hall, Central Conservatory of Music “Concert for Awarded Compositions for the National Piano Work Competition”, February 1984.

ELECTRO-ACOUSTIC/COMPUTER MUSIC COMPOSITIONS  Impromptu (2005-) for prepared piano and processed sounds 

Crossing (1999-2000) - for computer generated tape music (2 or more channels). Duration: ca. 26‟04”
Commissioned by New Radio Performance and Arts Inc. and Meet the Composer USA/commissioning Program, New York Premiered by New Radio Performance and Arts Station/KPFA, December 1999, New York/Bay area, CA



Youlan (1997) - for computer generated tape music and slides (2 or more channels). Duration: ca.11‟00”
Commissioned by the Meridian Gallery, first installation at the Meridian Gallery from April 1-31, 1997 San Francisco



Eclipse (1995) - for slides and computer-generated tape music. Duration: ca. 7‟00
Commissioned by and first Installed at the Visual Cymbal Gallery, San Jose, CA July 1995



Flying Apples (1994) - for 2 or more channel tape music. Duration: ca. 10‟14”
Premiered at “Digital Under The Star” Concert, July 22, 1994, Amphitheater, Stanford University, CA

Received an Honorary Mention of 1996 Prix Ars Electronica International competitions for Computer Music and Art, Linz, Austria


				
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