(First published in January, 2020.) One of today’s most wide-ranging composers, Vivian Fung’s inspirations range from ancient gamelon music to ideas for preparing pot roast (for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, no less!)
In her piece, Dust Devils, composer Vivian Fung mines the colors in the orchestra. Music swirls like specs of dust in a beam of light. "Some are soft, some are more brash, some use the brass, some use the woodwinds…. It’s exploring colors and different combinations."
Her music responds to a range of experiences, sometimes revealed in her titles—whimsical and conventional—from A Child’s Dream of Toys to Yunnan Folk Songs; from Pot Roast a la RBG to her piano concerto.
She says she loves working with others and ideas come from those collaborations. "But the ideas come from a variety of things. And I consider myself a humanist in that way, that I'm giving voice musically to ideas or thoughts that would, we would have in every day. And a lot of times traveling inspires my ideas."
Her 2013 album, Dreamscapes, which garnered a JUNO award, includes music influenced by Indonesian gamelon music—percussion instruments played by ear by musicians sitting on the floor, often in a spiritual ceremony.
"One of the highest forms of [gamelon] performance is part of a temple ceremony, and it's goes from dusk until dawn, and it's not thought of as a performance per se, but as an offering, as a way to connect to a higher being. I found that really quite profound."
And that experience has influenced her approach to writing other music. "A lot of the melodies [and] the way the parts interlock inform some of my writing. I use the experience of being in a new environment or experiencing a culture and internalize it and interpret it in my own sort of way."
Schooled in the classics, Vivian Fung writes music that speaks to the experiences of 21st-century audiences. "I feel like this is my role, she says, whether composing for orchestra, or other ensembles. "It has to be of our time. "