Asian Composers Reflect on Their Careers in Western Classical Music


Asian composers writing in Western classical music forms such as symphonies and operas have a few things in common. Many learned European styles from an early age and completed their education at conservatories there or in the United States. And many later found themselves doomed to programming ghettos like Lunar New Year concerts. (A recent study Works by Asian composers make up only 2 percent of American orchestral performances scheduled for next season.)

At times the music of Asian composers was misunderstood or exoticized; They have been subject to simple mistakes, such as the repeated misspellings of Huang Ruo, who was born in China.

For all their shared experiences, each of these artists has a unique story. Here, five offer a small sampling of the lessons, struggles, and triumphs of composers born in Asia who have made careers in Western classical music. These are edited excerpts from interviews with them.

Music is my language. To me, “West” and “East” are just like ways of speaking – or ways of cooking. I’m a chef and sometimes I find my recipe is like my orchestrations. It would be so boring if you asked me to cook in one style. So East and West became a unique recipe for me where one plus one equals one.

I’m in a very special area historically. I am 63 years old and I am part of the first generation of Eastern composers dealing with Western forms after the Cultural Revolution. But just like rosemary, butter and vegetables. You can cook it this way, that way – and that’s why the same orchestras from Debussy to Stravinsky sound so different.

I am lucky. When I came to the United States as a student, my teachers and classmates gave me great encouragement to discover myself. And I learned a lot from him John Cage. After that it was very easy to compose. And when people approach me for commission, I approach them again about what I’m thinking. I remember when Kurt Masur He asked me to write something for the New York Philharmonic – Water Concerto for Water Percussion and Orchestra – “Can I write something for water?” said. “As long as you don’t flood our orchestra,” he said.

Yes, we are often misunderstood. Like when you cook beautiful black beans with chili sauce and chocolate. They might say, “Hey, that’s a little weird.” But you explain why, and it could be very interesting. Thank God I love to talk. And there has been progress for us. I am the first Eastern composer to become dean of a Western conservatory in the Bard. It’s like a Chinese chef being the chef of an Italian restaurant. This is the future: a different way of approaching color, unlimited, unity of spirit.

Something about composers like Tan Dun: They came out of the Cultural Revolution after a door closed all these years. So there’s been so much focus on what China is doing, so much curiosity – curiosity rather than active racism. Our generation – I’m 44 – is very different.

We learn western music with such meticulous systems. Nor do we turn a blind eye to different traditions or styles; this attitude determines early on that you don’t have that kind of limit or ownership. But you still hear the talk about “East meets West”. So tiring. East meets West for thousands of years; If we’re always just meeting, that’s a problem.

Programming Chinese composers around Lunar New Year is generally very problematic. Do we have to celebrate culture? Yup. Do we have to celebrate tradition? Absolutely. However, it can be part of the main subscription series or a one-year series. then you can Really Don’t just group people by country, tell stories.

My name does not give me ownership of Chinese culture. There is a lot I don’t know. As a woman, woman of color, Chinese woman, there are so many burdens and fights that I decided not to fight anything and just create my own stuff. I told myself that if I had a great job, I would tell you what a Chinese woman could do.

I never wanted to be a pigeonhole to be a reduced representation. I’ve always wanted to open Pandora’s clutter box – and encourage others to celebrate clutter, the dirty narrative of your life. Every immigrant has his own path; Your work should certainly reflect this. So if I’m a spokesperson, it’s for my own voice. And through that particular sound, I hope there is something resonant.

When I left China, it was a time of economic and, in a different way, cultural reform. I’m glad I came to the United States, but I feel a little guilty. I could probably do more there. But my goal was to try to learn Western music and be the best pianist, conductor and composer I could be. I was lucky to meet Leonard Bernstein, and I was under his wing for five years. When a now 65-year-old asks me whether I describe myself as a Chinese or an American composer, I most modestly say “both 100 percent”. I have mastered both cultures.

There has been racism and misunderstanding, but it is inevitable. Would it be different if there were Asian people conducting the orchestras? Yes, of course. My answer was simply to try to write the best music I could. I wrote an opera for the San Francisco Opera — Their re-enactment of the “Red Room Dream”. It’s a very popular Chinese story and when I’m working on it David Henry Hwang, we asked ourselves: “Is this for a Western audience or an Eastern audience?” We decided that first of all it had to be good and poignant. Good music transcends.

For example, a part of me “H’un (Tears),” It premiered at 92nd Street Y in New York. It’s subtitled “In Memoriam 1966-1976” – about the Cultural Revolution – and it’s melody, too harsh and dramatic. My mom was there and she said it brought back a lot of painful memories. I was sitting next to this very old Jewish woman, and after bowing on stage, she said, “If you change the title to ‘Auschwitz,’ that would be very appropriate.” That was the highest compliment.

The Korea of ​​my childhood and youth was a very different place than it is today. In the 1960s, it was an impoverished developing country devastated by colonialism and the Korean War, and a military dictatorship was in place until the late 1980s. It was necessary to go abroad to develop as a composer, because there was no infrastructure for new music. Now 60 years old and having lived in Europe for 35 years, contributing to the contemporary music scene in Asia remains important to me.

When I moved to Germany there was a tendency to put composers in certain boxes with all the aesthetic space wars at the time. While living in Germany, I had to start a career in other countries, as I was not interested in joining any camps, trendy avant-garde or other trends, meeting exotic expectations, or assumptions about how a woman should or should not compose. Prejudices such as looking at an Asian composer or performing a musician through purely “sociological” lenses are still relatively common in various countries, but times are changing. Of course, there are prejudices and complacency all over the world, including Asia. Perhaps the only remedy for this ostensibly and unfortunately overly human impulse is to try to maintain a sense of curiosity and try to distance oneself.

I’ve worked in different countries for decades and felt the need to stay curious about different musical cultures, traditions and genres. I believe in multiple identities, and out of curiosity, I think that any musical style or culture is atrophied and runs the risk of becoming a museum: Art always flourished when there was cross-fertilization.

At the same time, caution must be exercised against the danger of exoticism and superficial cultural appropriation. I think that a contemporary composer should study different cultures, traditions and genres, but he needs to make use of these influences in a selective, historically conscious and self-critical way.

When people hear that I’m from China, they often say, “Does your music sound like Tan Dun?” they would say. I don’t think they want to do any harm, but it shows a certain ignorance. I tried to explain that China is a big country and we all speak with our own voices.

I started out as an instrumental composer, and many of these works are Asian-themed or scheduled at Lunar New Year concerts. I didn’t realize it at first, but you start to see patterns. I don’t think my work is of any less quality than my fellow non-minority composers, but for conductors, programmers, and art directors, it doesn’t seem to occur to them that you can naturally program the work of an Asian composer. To Beethoven or Tchaikovsky.

This is one of the reasons why I turned to opera. I thought there shouldn’t be any opera company with a themed season dedicated to Asian composers. Eventually I had to be programmed alongside “Fidelio” and “Madama Butterfly”. This was my revenge. Also, I wanted to overwrite Topics reflecting Asian or Asian-American subjects, to truly share these stories. In this case actually I choose.

Someone once told me that I speak English with an accent. “Or how would you know I’m talking?” said. As a composer, I feel the same. I want to have my own authenticity, to speak with my own accent – with my love for Western musical styles, but also with this legacy I carry from Chinese culture.

If I hadn’t come to the United States, I would have been a different composer. If I had gone to Europe instead, I would have been very different too. But I feel like I made the right decision, and at 44, I fully embrace who I am and where I am today.


Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *