Bard Conservatory's US-China Music Institute Presents Fourth Annual China Now Music Festival, October 12–17
This Year’s Theme, Asian American Voices, Focuses on Moving Society Forward Through Music
ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, NY—The US-China Music Institute of the Bard College Conservatory of Music announces the fourth season of the China Now Music Festival, from October 12 to 17. The festival’s concerts will take place at The Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College and streaming online. Through an annual series of concerts and academic activities, the China Now Music Festival is dedicated to promoting an understanding and appreciation of music from contemporary China. This year’s theme broadens the festival’s scope to include the voices of a wide array of Asian American composers, with the aim of exploring their importance in contemporary American music and society. “Asian American voices are American voices, and Asian American music is American music. We should always cherish the cultural diversity in American society,” says China Now Music Festival Artistic Director Jindong Cai.
The fourth annual China Now Music Festival, Asian American Voices, arrives in the midst of a particularly challenging time, shadowed by the global pandemic and recent rise in anti-Asian discrimination and violence. The repertoire thus reflects how Asian American composers have responded to this particular moment, as well as to the historical reception of Asians in America.
“Music is not just an art form but should help move society forward,” says Huang Ruo, the festival’s composer-in-residence.
The festival features three important works by New York–based composer, Huang Ruo. Born in China in 1976 and based in the United States, Huang has established a career as a major figure in classical music today. Spanning many genres and traditions, Huang’s work often aims to integrate Chinese and Western influences into multidimensional soundscapes. Key festival performances include a preview of excerpts from his latest composition, Angel Island; A Dust in Time, a piece he composed in response to the pandemic; and selections from his opera An American Solider, with libretto by David Henry Hwang. The festival programming also showcases new works by a range of Asian American composers. These works delve into the Asian American experience stretching back 100 years to today.
“The recent spike in anti-AAPI hate reminds us that Asian Americans must lift up our voices and show the world who we are, in all our strength, complexity, and humanity,” says playwright David Henry Hwang.
On Tuesday, October 12 at 8pm, the festival’s opening concert, Asian American Voices: Composing for History, music of Huang Ruo, conducted by China Now Artistic Director Jindong Cai, will be held at the Fisher Center for Performing Arts. The Orchestra Now will perform Huang’s 2020 meditation on the pandemic, A Dust in Time: A Passacaglia for Strings, which mirrors a Tibetan sand mandala in its musical structure. The festival’s ensemble–in-residence, the San Francisco-based Del Sol Quartet, will also present a preview of excerpts from Huang’s latest work, Angel Island: Oratorio for Voices and String Quartet. Angel Island sets to music the haunting Chinese poetry, more than 200 poems, inscribed on the walls of the Angel Island immigration center in San Francisco by detained immigrants during the early 20th century.
On Wednesday, October 13, 2021 at 8pm, Asian American Voices: Undercurrents in Contemporary American Music, a multimedia chamber concert, will be held at the Fisher Center at Bard College. Korean-American composer Jin Hi Kim presents the world-premiere of A Ritual for COVID-19, a multimedia composition inspired by the Korean shamanistic ‘ssitkimkut’ ritual for purifying the spirits of the dead. The Del Sol Quartet will perform new compositions by Erberk Eryilmaz, Takuma Itoh, Vijay Iyer, Erika Oba, and Jungyoon Wie, representing many diverse voices to reflect various aspects of Asian American society and history, from the early years of Japanese immigration—with Itoh’s piece Picture Brides—to selections from the quartet’s ‘Joy Project’—an effort to respond to current social and political change, technology, and artistic innovation.
On Saturday, October 16 at 3pm, Asian American Voices: Symphonic Portraits, with The Orchestra Now, a festival concert, will be held at the Fisher Center for Performing Arts. Jindong Cai will lead The Orchestra Now to showcase three symphonic works by the composers Tan Dun, dean of the Bard Conservatory; Xinyan Li, Bard Conservatory faculty member; and Peng-Peng Gong, Shanghai-based composer and pianist. Tan’s Prayer and Blessing is his initial response to the pandemic, composed in early 2020. Li’s Awakening Light, concerto for guzheng and orchestra, was commissioned by the festival to be performed by the winner of the 2019 Bard Conservatory Concerto Competition, Yixin Wang. Gong’s A Chinese in New York is a raw description of the experience of a Chinese student confronting cultural differences in America.
The second half of the concert will feature several moving episodes from composer Huang Ruo’s 2014 opera, An American Soldier. The opera tells the powerful and haunting true story of the death of US Army Private Danny Chen, who was born and raised in New York's Chinatown and died in Afghanistan in 2001 after being subjected to relentless hazing and racial maltreatment by his superiors. The episodes presented here will be introduced by the opera’s librettist, Tony award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang.
On Sunday, October 17 at 5pm, the festival will offer a free livestream of American Stories, American Music: a Symphonic Concert Online. The program begins with the Del Sol Quartet and China Now Festival Chorus performance of a preview of excerpts from Angel Island: Oratorio for Voices and String Quartet. The concert will also feature the previous day’s live performance of selected episodes from An American Soldier, with The Orchestra Now, soloists, and live narration by librettist David Henry Hwang, along with other pieces previously recorded at Bard’s Fisher Center. This concert will be broadcast in partnership with The Violin Channel.
An online panel discussion and performance, Asian American Voices: Artists Confronting Society, on Thursday, October 14 at 8pm will bring together some of the major voices in the 2021 China Now Music Festival. Featured composer Huang Ruo, Tony award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang, artistic director of the China Now Music Festival Jindong Cai, violist Charlton Lee of the Del Sol Quartet, and others will discuss their experience as Asian American artists and reflect on how this particular moment in history has shaped their creative process and their views on the role of the artist in society. Following the panel discussion, the Del Sol Quartet will offer an excerpt of their new recording of Huang Ruo’s meditation on the pandemic, A Dust in Time.
For more information about the China Now Music Festival and for full programming details, visit barduschinamusic.org/asian-american-voices.
Tickets for October 12 and 13 have a suggested donation of $15 or $20. Tickets for October 16 are $25, $30, $35, and $40. To purchase tickets for the Fisher Center concerts, visit fishercenter.bard.edu, call 845-758-7900 (Mon-Fri 10am-5pm), or email [email protected].
NOTE: Due to unforeseen events, the concert originally scheduled to take place at Jazz at Lincoln Center on October 17 will now be presented online. Online Festival events are presented free to the public. Registration links can be found on the Festival website at barduschinamusic.org/asian-american-voices.
About the Artists
Composer Huang Ruo has been lauded by The New York Times for having “a distinctive style.” His vibrant and inventive musical voice draws equal inspiration from Chinese ancient and folk music, Western avant-garde, experimental, noise, natural and processed sound, rock, and jazz to create a seamless, organic integration using a compositional technique he calls “Dimensionalism.” Huang Ruo’s diverse compositional works span from orchestra, chamber music, opera, theater, and dance, to cross-genre, sound installation, architectural installation, multi-media, experimental improvisation, folk rock, and film. His music has been performed by the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Netherlands Radio Philharmonic, Santa Fe Opera, Washington National Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Asko/Schoenberg, Ensemble Modern, London Sinfonietta. He has written eight operas including M. Butterfly, Paradise Interrupted, and An American Soldier, which was named one of the best classical music events in 2018 by the New York Times. He served as the first composer-in-residence for Het Concertgebouw Amsterdam. Huang Ruo was born in Hainan Island, China in 1976, the year the Chinese Cultural Revolution ended. Growing up in the 1980s and 1990s when China was opening its gate to the Western world, his education expanded from Bach, Mozart, Stravinsky, and Lutoslawski, to include the Beatles, rock and roll, heavy metal, and jazz. He earned a BM degree from the Oberlin College, and MM and DMA degrees from the Juilliard School. Huang Ruo is a composition faculty at the Mannes School of Music. Huang Ruo’s music is published by Ricordi. huangruo.com
David Henry Hwang’s stage works includes the plays M. Butterfly, Yellow Face, Chinglish, Kung Fu, Golden Child, The Dance and the Railroad, and FOB, as well as the Broadway musicals Elton John & Tim Rice’s Aida (co-author), Flower Drum Song (2002 revival) and Disney’s Tarzan. Hwang is a Tony Award winner and three-time nominee, a three-time OBIE Award winner, a Grammy Award winner who has been twice nominated, and a three-time Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. Called America’s most-produced living opera librettist by Opera News, he has written five works with composer Philip Glass and is a 2006 Grammy Award winner for Ainadamar, with music by Osvaldo Golijov. Hwang has also worked with composers Bright Sheng, Unsuk Chin, and Howard Shore. His upcoming opera with composer Huang Ruo, The Rift, will premiere in spring 2022 at Washington National Opera in D.C.
Hwang co-wrote the Gold Record “Solo” with the late pop icon Prince and was a Writer/Consulting Producer for the Golden Globe-winning television series The Affair from 2015-2019. He is currently creating a TV series for Netflix and penning the live-action musical feature film The Hunchback of Notre Dame for Disney Studios as well as a movie to star actress Gemma Chan. Hwang serves as Head of Playwriting at Columbia University School of the Arts and sits on the Board of the American Theatre Wing, where he recently completed a term as Chair. His latest work, Soft Power, written with composer Jeanine Tesori, premiered at Los Angeles’ Ahmanson Theatre, where it won six 2018 Ovation Awards. Its subsequent run at the Public Theatre in NYC received four 2020 Outer Critics Honors, a 2020 Grammy nomination for Best Musical Theatre Album and was a Finalist for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize in Drama.
Conductor Jindong Cai is the director of the US-China Music Institute, professor of music and arts at Bard College, and associate conductor of Bard’s The Orchestra Now. Before coming to Bard, Cai was a professor of performance at Stanford University. Over the 30 years of his career in the United States, Cai has established himself as an active and dynamic conductor, scholar of Western classical music in China, and leading advocate of music from across Asia. At Bard, Cai founded the annual China Now Music Festival. In its first three seasons, China Now presented new works by some of the most important Chinese composers of our time, with major concerts performed by The Orchestra Now at Bard’s Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, and Stanford University. In 2019, the festival premiered a major new work by Pulitzer Prize–winning composer Zhou Long, Men of Iron and the Golden Spike—a symphonic oratorio, in commemoration of the Chinese railroad workers of North America on the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad.
Jin Hi Kim, a Guggenheim composer fellow and innovative komungo performer, codesigned the world’s only electric komungo with custom designed computer programs. Her work reflects the duality of her ancient Korean roots and contemporary American society with interdisciplinary works merging Asian mythology and advanced Western technology. The Washington Post wrote, “Her unique vision blends science fiction images, state-of-the-art technology, ancient mythology and timeless music and dance traditions. No other artist is doing work quite like this, and she does it with superb style.” In recent years she has created works with deep concerns about political, environmental, and social issues impacting our lives. Responding to American wars in Asia, she has composed “One Sky II” for Orchestra, dedicated to the reunification of Korea (2018) and “Child of War” for Chorus, dedicated to Kim Phuc who is known as ‘the girl in the picture’ during the Vietnam War (2014). She created “Sound Calendar of the Year 2018” documenting sounds and mix of the year’s environmental catastrophes, and “A Ritual for Covid-19” attempting to heal the epochal year of 2020. Kim has received Award from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts and won the Wolff Ebermann Prize at the International Theater Institute, Germany. She was Fulbright Specialist to Vietnam, and McKnight Visiting Composer with the American Composers Forum. She is a recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts, American Composers Orchestra fellowship as well as fellowships from the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center, Italy, Asian Cultural Council, and Freeman Artist-In-Residence at Cornell University. She is Adjunct Professor of Music at Wesleyan University.
The Del Sol Quartet began as a thought on the night shift at Fermilab. Charlton Lee loved the cutting edge of physics research – always looking for the next discovery, pushing boundaries. But he missed the way music connected people, building community by communicating in ways physics never would. What if he could bring that scientific passion for exploration to a string quartet? Twenty-six years later, Del Sol is still sharing music that brings out the endorphins. Music that asks why not? Fascinated by the feedback loop between social change, technology, and artistic innovation, the San Francisco-based ensemble is a leading force in 21st century chamber music - whether introducing Ben Johnston’s microtonal Americana at the Library of Congress, taking Aeryn Santillan’s gun-violence memorial to the streets of the Mission District, exploring Andean soundscapes with Gabriela Lena Frank and traditional musicians, or collaborating with Huang Ruo and the anonymous poets who carved their words into the walls of the Angel Island Immigration Station during the years of the Chinese Exclusion Act. The current Del Sol lineup, marked by the arrival of violinist Sam Weiser alongside mainstays Kathryn Bates and Ben Kreith, bring a fresh energy, freedom, and precision to the group. Recognized as a “vigorous champion of living composers”, Del Sol has premiered hundreds of works by composers including Terry Riley, Gabriela Lena Frank, Frederic Rzewski, Ben Johnston, Chinary Ung, Mason Bates, Tania León, Erberk Eryilmaz, Theresa Wong, Reza Vali, Mohammed Fairouz and Peter Sculthorpe. Many of these works are included on Del Sol’s nine critically-acclaimed albums. PopMatters praised Del Sol’s “unfettered mastery” on Terry Riley’s Dark Queen Mantra (2017, Sono Luminus). Scrapyard Exotica (2015) elicited this rave in the New York Times. “I could be wrong, but I’m guessing it’s been a while since you’ve rocked out to a string quartet recording. See if your foot can stay still once you put on this funky disc of rhythmically infectious (if often warped) music played by the adventurous Del Sol String Quartet.” With its deep commitment to education, Del Sol has reached thousands of K-12 students through inventive school performances, workshops, coaching, and residencies. The Quartet members also have worked closely with student composers, musicians and faculty artists at universities across the country.
The Orchestra Now (TŌN) is a group of vibrant young musicians from across the globe who are making orchestral music relevant to 21st-century audiences. They are lifting the curtain on the musicians’ experience and sharing their unique personal insights in a welcoming environment. Conductor, educator, and music historian Leon Botstein founded TŌN in 2015 as a master’s degree program at Bard College, where he also serves as president. The orchestra is in residence at Bard’s Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, presenting multiple concerts there each season as well as taking part in the annual Bard Music Festival. It also performs regularly at the finest venues in New York and beyond, including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and elsewhere. The orchestra has performed with many distinguished conductors, including Fabio Luisi, Neeme Järvi, Gerard Schwarz, and JoAnn Falletta. theorchestranow.org
About the China Now Music Festival
The China Now Music Festival is an annual series of events produced by the US-China Music Institute of the Bard College Conservatory of Music. Dedicated to promoting an understanding and appreciation of classical music from contemporary China, each year’s festival explores a singular theme. The inaugural festival in 2018, Facing the Past, Looking to the Future: Chinese Composers in the 21st Century, presented US and world premieres of orchestral works by 11 living Chinese composers in concerts at Bard College, Carnegie Hall, and Lincoln Center. The following year, the festival presented China and America: Unity in Music at Bard College, Carnegie Hall, and Stanford University, and featured the world premiere of the symphonic oratorio Men of Iron and the Golden Spike, a major new work by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Zhou Long honoring the Chinese railroad workers of the American West on the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad. Last season’s theme, China and Beethoven, explored the many ways that China has embraced, interpreted, and enthusiastically appreciated the man and his work with a series of musical and scholarly online events, coinciding with the week of Beethoven’s birth in 1770.
About the US-China Music Institute
The US-China Music Institute was founded in 2017 by conductor Jindong Cai and Robert Martin, founding director of the Bard College Conservatory of Music, with the mission to promote the study, performance, and appreciation of music from contemporary China and to support musical exchange between the United States and China. In partnership with the prestigious Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, the Institute has embarked on several groundbreaking projects including the first degree-granting program in Chinese instrument performance in a U.S. conservatory. barduschinamusic.org
About Bard College
Founded in 1860, Bard College is a four-year, residential college of the liberal arts and sciences located 90 miles north of New York City. With the addition of the Montgomery Place estate, Bard’s campus consists of nearly 1,000 parklike acres in the Hudson River Valley. It offers bachelor of arts, bachelor of science, and bachelor of music degrees, with majors in more than 40 academic programs; graduate degrees in 11 programs; nine early colleges; and numerous dual-degree programs nationally and internationally. Building on its 161-year history as a competitive and innovative undergraduate institution, Bard College has expanded its mission as a private institution acting in the public interest across the country and around the world to meet broader student needs and increase access to liberal arts education. The undergraduate program at our main campus in upstate New York has a reputation for scholarly excellence, a focus on the arts, and civic engagement. Bard is committed to enriching culture, public life, and democratic discourse by training tomorrow’s thought leaders. For more information about Bard College, visit bard.edu.
CAPTION INFO: Huang Ruo. Photo by Wenjun Miakoda Liang.