In performance: Chinary Ung
Spotlight on Ung shows arresting composer
by Joe Banno
Composer Chinary Ung's career has been a study in cross-cultural synthesis, weaving timbres and tonalities of music from his native Cambodia into a Western style of classical writing. The Da Capo Chamber Players' all-Ung program at the Freer Gallery on Thursday was a telling showcase of his music's evolution, from Asian-scented Americana to thornier explorations of Asian music that happen to use Western instrumentation.
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"Child Song," from 1985, sounded like a bent-pitch version of Copland in its writing for flute, violin, cello and plucked, strummed and muted piano strings. In "Luminous Spirals," a 1997 piece for flute, cello and classical guitar, the melodies were more angular and fragmented, the guitar used as much for percussive effect as for color. Ung employed a larger ensemble - including clarinet, percussion and amplified singer - in his take on Buddhist funeral rites, " . . . still life after death" (1996). Soprano Lucy Shelton was very affecting in a part that asked her to whisper, whine, bark, stutter and sing her way through English and Cambodian syllables, as Ung himself (also miked) intoned a deep-voiced benediction over her.
The 2007 solo viola work, "Spiral XI: Mother and Child," composed for and performed (superbly) by Ung's wife, Susan, sounded like a microtonal deconstruction of unaccompanied Bach, paralleled by the violist's own Southeast Asian vocalizations. And his 2004 "Oracle," with a large, percussion-heavy ensemble playing, singing and chattering away (under Michael Adelson's adept baton) was a riot of exotic color that made one long to hear an opera by this arresting composer.
-- Joe Banno
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