I’m excited to share this blog post about commissioned composers in honor of Asian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month, May 2021. You may recall that for Women’s History Month 2019, I had compiled a list of the first women composers commissioned by each Music Division Fund. For National Hispanic Heritage Month 2019, I shared commission firsts by composers’ countries of origin. Part 1 of this two-part series included commissioned composers from North America and the Caribbean, and Part 2 included commissioned composers from Spain, Central America, and South America. Today’s post celebrates the musical contributions of composers from Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. The majority of these composers received commissions from the Koussevitzky Music Foundation, which requires a partnership with an ensemble that premieres and ensures continued performances of the work.
Composers of Japanese Heritage
The first composer of Asian or Pacific Islander heritage commissioned with Music Division funds was the Japanese composer Yoritsune Matsudaira (1907-2001), who was born and died in Tokyo, Japan. He was commissioned in 1961 by the Koussevitzky Music Foundation for the composition Suite for 10 players (in the ancient style of Gagaku). The 10 instruments are flute, oboe, two percussion, harp, piano, and string quartet. This work exemplifies his lifelong inspiration by gagaku, the ancient imperial court music of Japan. He completed the work in 1963. Matsudaira’s second commission from the Library was from the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation in 1982, and was also inspired by gagaku: Rhapsodie on a thème of gagaku for woodwind quartet, string quartet, double bass, and piano. The Music Division holds a holograph score and sketches. Thus far, Matsudaira is the only composer of Asian or Pacific Islander heritage to be commissioned by the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation.
Other composers of Japanese heritage commissioned by Music Division funds include Yoshiro Irino (1962, Koussevitzky), Toru Takemitsu (1965, 1993, Koussevitzky), and Makoto Shinohara (1984, Koussevitzky). Miya Masaoka is notable as the only woman composer of Japanese heritage commissioned thus far. She was born in Washington, DC, and her 2020 commission from the Dina Koston and Roger Shapiro Fund for New Music was part of the Boccaccio Project.
Composers of Korean Heritage
1969 was the year that California-born Korean American composer Earl Kim (1920-1998) received his commission from the Koussevitzky Music Foundation. He composed Earthlight for soprano, violin, piano, and lights. Kim completed this setting of poetry by Samuel Beckett in 1973. The Music Division holds a holograph score in ink.
Additional commissioned composers of Korean heritage include Hi Kyung Kim (2000, Koussevitzky) and Hyo-shin Na (2002, Koussevitzky). Isang Yun (1987, Koussevitzky) was born in Japanese Korea (now South Korea) in 1917 and became a German citizen in 1971.
Composers of Cambodian Heritage
Chinary Ung was born in 1942 in Takéo, Cambodia and immigrated to the United States in 1965. His first of three commissions from the Koussevitzky Music Foundation was in 1973 for the composition Mohori for mezzo-soprano, flute, oboe, percussion, guitar, harp, and piano. He completed the work in 1974, and the Music Division holds a holograph score. Ung’s 1993 commission was for Spiral No. 7 (1994), and his 2005 commission was for Spiral No. 10, “In Memoriam” (2007).
Composers of Chinese Heritage
Chinese American composer Thomas Oboe Lee was the first composer of Chinese heritage commissioned by Music Division funds. He was born in Beijing, China in 1945, and immigrated to the United States in 1966 after living for six years in São Paulo, Brazil. In 1984, he was commissioned by the Koussevitzky Music Foundation for the composition Waltzes, op. 26, for wind quintet (flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and horn). The Music Division holds a holograph score in pencil and a holograph score in ink. Thomas Oboe Lee’s website is also part of the LC Commissioned Composers Web Archive.
Jon Jang and Zhou Long are both notable as the only composers of Asian or Pacific Islander heritage commissioned by the McKim Fund – both in 1999. Zhou Long and Bright Sheng have each received three commissions from the Library! Bright Sheng’s website is also included in the LC Commissioned Composers Web Archive.
Other commissioned composers of Chinese heritage include Chen Yi (1997, Koussevitzky), Kui Dong (2001, Koussevitzky), Chou Wen-Chung (2005, Koussevitzky), Fang Man (2010, Koussevitzky), Anthony Cheung (2011, Koussevitzky), and Wang Jie (2012, Koussevitzky). Qigang Chen (2000, Koussevitzky) was born in Shanghai, China and became a French citizen in 1992.
Composers of Malaysian Heritage
Malaysian composer Kee Yong Chong (b. 1971) was commissioned in 2009 by the Koussevitzky Music Foundation for the composition Yun Yong (Clouds Surging): String Quartet No. 4. The Music Division holds holograph sketches and annotated computer printouts of this work. Chong’s website is part of the LC Commissioned Composers Web Archive.
The Music Division has commissioned more than 600 works of music since 1925, many of them premiered in the Library’s Coolidge Auditorium, including such iconic works as Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring, Samuel Barber’s Hermit Songs, and Béla Bartòk’s Fifth String Quartet. All of the original manuscripts of commissioned works are held in the Library’s collections. The composers featured in today’s blog post are vital to the richness of our collections not only during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, but in perpetuity.