October 14, 2019
by Allan J. Cronin
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This disc was this reviewer’s first hearing of music by the Chinese American composer Du Yun and OMG, as they say. Just WOW on so many levels. The ten tracks contain music written between 1999 and 2015.
It is truly a tour de force on many levels. No surprise that this artist has received so many accolades. This sampling of her work by the always interesting International Contemporary Ensemble released by the increasingly vital New Focus recordings (on their TUNDRA imprint). There are no fewer than ten works on ten tracks.
This has been one of those “How could I have missed this…” experiences. There is a wealth of music here ranging in style from free jazz to modernism (think Darmstadt perhaps) to world music and they blend well the style of this major Chinese-American composer.
She is the recipient of numerous prizes (including a Pulitzer for her opera Angel’s Bone in 2017). She is the regular recipient of commissions from the Fromm Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, Opera America, and the Asian Cultural Council among others. She is also a Guggenheim fellow.
The poetic, sometimes cryptic titles of her works and the liner notes are brief but succinct. The serious listener will want to know more about the composer and her wide ranging talents. She writes for every genre and ensemble from opera to solo work and from intensely personal music to clever collaborations.
Add to this the fact that the performers are from the wonderful International Contemporary Ensemble (also known as “ICE”). Anything they do is worth the adventurous listener’s attention and this album supports that contention most successfully. The irony of that acronym is hard to miss in the composer’s grant from the Carnegie Foundation’s “Great Immigrants” program. Perhaps that can rescue the association of said acronym to art rather than regressive politics.
As usual with New Focus (the parent label of this TUNDRA release) the recording is lucid and does justice to the music. The cover design alone is a striking portrait of the composer (another reason to lament the 12 x 12 format of LPs as a size standard).
It took this listener several listens to begin to grasp this music. It is varied and sometimes complex but it is always compelling and seems to have depth and substance. If you don’t know this composer this is a fine place to start and if you already know her work you will want to add this fine recording to your collection.