Composer Spotlight | Kui Dong

Kui Dong Photo CR

“…keenly heard, beautifully imagined…” Gramophone International UK 

The music of Kui Dong (董夔) spans across diverse genres and styles and include ballet, orchestral and chamber works, chorus, electro-acoustic music, film scores, and multi-media art and free improvisation. Her works written in the US increasingly show a unique synthesis of influences from avant-garde experimental, jazz, electro-acoustic, and other ethnic music, and at the same time maintain profound respect to Western classical music and a deep cultural connection with her roots. She sometimes incorporates theatre, as well as Chinese and non-western instruments and musical concepts, into contemporary settings.

Featured Instrumental Work

Earth, Water, Wood, Metal and Fire , for piano solo (2000-2001), ca. 20′

Composed and Commissioned for Sarah Cahill

This composition is named after the Chinese traditional cosmology of the universe and life. The musical concept of each movement reflects the five-element abstractly and some concretely. The piece opens with “Earth”, a vivid movement, followed by “Water”, an open-spaced, meditative movement. The third and fourth movements (“Wood” and “Metal”) work with inside piano playing, where pencils, metal beaters are placed on the strings to create sound textures that resonate with their titles. The finale, “Fire”, brings the entire piece to a climax with a sense of closure and a new beginning of the cycle: The piece ends with the same pattern and the same note (note E) as it does in the opening phrase of “Earth”. This design allows the performer to play the piece as many times as he/she wishes.

Featured Chamber Works

A Night at Tanglewood, for string quartet, glasses and musicbox (2017), 16′

Commissioned by Tanglewood Music Center for the 2017 Festival of Contemporary Music

The instrumentation of this work includes 21 glasses/glass bowls, DIY music boxes, and a string quartet. The piece examines resonance and collaboration within the context of the string quartet and water-filled glasses tuned to a microtonal scale through the concept of crossing in time, space, instrumentation, structure, performance, gesture, and movement. The texture of long, high, gently interfering sounds is the heart of the piece as it evolves—but never resolves. The players move from one side of the stage to the other, from non-conventional custom-made instruments (glasses/glass bowls, DIY music boxes) to a string quartet. The visual aspect of the work is crucial yet not intrusive, providing the narratives of the structure of the piece.

Scattered Ladder, for two marimbas and four percussionists (2009), ca. 19′

Commissioned by Slawerkgroep Den Haag for “Peking Express” new works tour

Scattered Ladder is inspired by the shape and sound of the marimba. “I have always been attracted to the idea of a percussion ensemble, for its diverse array of sounds and for the utmost viscerally, gracefully choreographed dance movements performed by the percussionists in a piece of music. When composer/director Peter Andriaansz invited me to write a piece for Slawerkgroep Den Haag, he gave me a set of “parameters” for this commission, that it must not be a big setup and perhaps that it is to think deeper for what we normally perceive as a percussion ensemble piece. Having those requests and my own interests in mind, I came up with the concept of “moving marimbas”, which portraits how sound travels and changes hands as it is being played spatially and theatrically. While I was writing it, I had a few dreams about the marimba; the most memorable one is that the wooden bars jump up and down, and sometimes slide like waves.” —Kui Dong

Differences within Oneness, for string quartet (2008–2009), ca. 17′

Commissioned by Arditti Quartet and funded by Fromm Music Foundation Commissioning award, MA (Harvard University) 
“I have been attracted to the intriguing beauty of heterophony, which I would describe as the concept of “difference within oneness,” or complexity growing out of similarity. In the beginning of Difference within Oneness, for example, the string quartet acts as if it is one gigantic instrument that later splits and evolves into four individuals. Imagine what sound is like resonating in the air that a giant string instrument floating above the ocean or above the summit of a mountain? This piece has 10-nonstop movement that builds on a burst of energy as it evolves and transforms.” —Kui Dong

Featured Opera

Hutong, an opera in progress, for 5 singers and trio, Duration TBD

Set in Beijing, Hutong is a comic/fantasy chamber opera that features an array of international characters, like a blind Norwegian sailor, a migrant worker, a private detective, the Beijing police department, assorted international architects, some children, a frog, and the Fenghuang (phoenix). Through 15 interconnected scenes, the story, bridging fantasy and reality, explores the nature of the interaction between an eclectic group of international characters and a Chinese phoenix, the Feng Huang. In essence, Hutong is a contemporary opera that investigates the ways in which architecture influences human relationships and shifts destinies because of social, cultural, and technological change.

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