On Tuesday evening March 22 Composers, Inc. will present the annual Diane Cymer-Greenberg concert. We began the season with our first-ever orchestral concert; this will be our first-ever concert employing dance. Wax and Wire by the young Princeton graduate student Viet Cuong will be presented twice on the concert, first as a concert piece, then again with dance added. All of us in Composers, Inc. look forward to comparing the two experiences.
And so does the composer, who will be present Tuesday night. Wax and Wire, which won the 2015 Suzanne and Lee Ettelson Composer’s Award, is a vigorous, up-tempo piece for mixed quartet that takes its title and its conception from the visual arts. Artist Michael Gard creates eloquent wire sculptures by wrapping wire around a wax form, then melting the wax so that only the wire remains. The composer was inspired both by the sculptures and the process, which led him to create a piece of chamber music where musical material that is initially “harsh” (the composer’s own term) returns at the end in a clarified form, the extraneous elements having melted away.
Some composers claim they never involve anything extramusical in their process. Not so with Viet Cuong. He explains that when creating a new piece the title is there at the beginning, along with a unique concept for each piece. These derive from many sources, ranging from the newly perfected technique of melting diamonds to a quote from Goethe, and from an obscure term in physics—“pulse train,” a special wave form—to the more familiar figure of the moth and the flame. “When I was younger I would write pieces and attach a title to them afterward,” he said. “But those pieces turned out to be less focused.”
In Viet’s early years he learned piano and later took up the clarinet. Playing in the college marching band was formative. A fellow composer recently asked him how he manages to compose music that goes on so long in a brisk tempo. He answered that in the band you just keep marching and playing for ten minutes at a stretch.
At one point he discovered that he could play his marching band music on the piano, and would spend hours getting it right. He still makes use of the piano while composing, but also uses the clarinet and various computer tools for layering a texture. He often gets on the phone to ask fellow musicians about the fine points of the instruments they play. (We hear the result of that in Wax and Wire, which is a compendium of advanced clarinet techniques.)
He credits music theory classes with helping him learn to “step back from the canvas” and plan where a piece is going. But formal instruction seems to be only a small part of what feeds this very rich imagination and compels him to create his lively and varied works of music. You can listen to many of them at www.vietcuongmusic.com.
Student outreach tickets HERE: http://goo.gl/forms/04uHk05YrS