EarShot Aguascalientes Symphony – Composer Spotlight: Jiyoun Chung

Jiyoun Chung (she/her) is a native Korean pianist and composer. Since she moved to the USA in 2008, her pieces have been performed at festivals and concerts such as the 2019 String Quartet Smackdown V, the 2019 Music by Women Festival at Mississippi University for Women, the 2019 Women Composer Festival of Hartford, the 2019 College Music Society International Conference in Brussels, Ghent, and Bruges, Belgium, the 2015 Singapore Asian Composers Festival, the 2014 Graduate Association of Music and Musician at University of Texas-Austin, and the 2014 Red Note Festival. She was a finalist in the 2014 PUBLIQ Access competition and the 2014 Birmingham New Music Festival, a semifinalist in The American Prize in 2013 and 2014, and she also received honorable mention in the Rebecca Sherburn Composition competition.

Jiyoun Chung’s piece Scissors was selected for the 
Aguascalientes Symphony Orchestra EarShot New Music Readings, which takes place August 12-14, 2019 in Aguascalientes, Mexico. Jiyoun Chung spoke to us about the readings and her piece.

Composer Jiyoun Chung. Photo by Sangyeon Choo

American Composers Orchestra: What was your reaction to finding out your piece had been selected for the Aguascalientes EarShot New Music Readings?

Jiyoun Chung: I was very excited to be part of the Aguascalientes EarShot New Music Readings! I felt truly honored and grateful.

ACO: What are you doing to prepare for the readings? Are there any changes you have made to your piece since you found out it would be performed by the Aguascalientes Symphony Orchestra?

JC: Last week, I sent parts and scores to the Aguascalientes Symphony Orchestra and American Composers orchestra. The orchestration of my piece, Scissors, was within Aguascalientes’ complement, so I did not need to change instrumentation. However, I changed the format of the parts and fixed some minor notations as Bill Holab, the copyist, suggested.

ACO: What are you looking forward to about the workshops and readings? What do you hope to learn from the experience?

JC: I am looking forward to hear my piece played by the professional orchestra. Sitting at the rehearsal will be a valuable experience. It probably is the best way to understand how the entire orchestra works in order to perform a piece. I expect to learn a lot from communicating with the conductor and feedback from the players as well.

Also talking with the mentor composer and other peers as we look at the score while listening the piece performed by the orchestra will be an amazing experience that you cannot get elsewhere.

ACO: Your bio notes that you have extensive experience as an arranger for professional orchestras and choirs, with a book of your arrangements published by Yesol. Can you talk about how your expertise in arranging helps, or perhaps gets in the way of, your compositional process?

JC: The book was written for more an educational purpose for youth orchestras. So it was more about transposing to easier keys to play in, simplifying complicated passages, using easier finger positions and rewriting music to be more fun and enjoyable for the kids.

In general, experience as an arranger did help and change my writing enormously. I learned how to write and notate easier to the performers to get the same or similar sound I wanted. When the players struggle to play the piece that is too difficult to play with a limited rehearsal time (believe me, they never have enough rehearsal times), or to play the part which is not idiomatic, they can not really enjoy performing the piece. Then, the audience feels the tension and uncomfortableness, which also keeps them from enjoying the piece. The result is simple. No one is happy. I do not get the sound I intended, the performers are not happy because they feel it was not their best, and the audience is not happy with the performance and the music. So, I started to find easier and better ways to realize my imagination and convey it to the listeners without making the performers suffer too much. I found being kind to performers makes the music much more accessible to the audience, even when the musical materials used in the piece are not that easy to understand.

I am still learning, but I am happy to learn. I can not expect the players to learn my pieces as they learn the concertos. I shouldn’t. Composers sometimes need to push players’ limits, but also need to be realistic in writing for bigger ensembles. Finding effective ways to convey music is also my job, that is what I learned from experiences as an arranger, and that is what I believe.

ACO: Can you talk about what it means, to you, to be an American composer?

JC: Well, first of all, I am a permanent resident of the USA. I am a native Korean, but musically active mostly in the USA. This country is diverse, so is the music scene. Also, there have been more and more movements in the music field to value ethnic and cultural diversity. I hope to be a part of them and contribute to the diversity.  As I wrote in the Scissors program note, I have the Korean cultural background, and I favor Western musical languages as a medium for compositions. Korean cultural influences serve as the inspiration for my compositions in many ways, and it is my passion to create works that integrate both cultures and sometimes combine both musical languages to establish my own musical voice. I think that is my musical identity as a composer, and I hope what I do as an artist helps to make the culture of this community and society richer and more diverse.  

Jiyoun Chung‘s piece Scissors will be workshopped and performed at the Aguascalientes Symphony Orchestra EarShot New Music Readings, which takes place August 12-14, 2019 in Aguascalientes, Mexico.

Learn more about Jiyoun Chung at www.jiyounchung.com

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