Selected Press Quotes
Stephen Brookes, Washington Post, Sunday, February 20, 2011
"The high point of the evening - by some margin - came at its end, with Kui Dong's "Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter Suite." It's a work of exceptional beauty and imagination, from its light-filled opening movement to the powerful and profound close, and Kui wove the sonorities of the quartet and the Chinese instruments together with a delicate, subtle touch. This is a composer to watch."
Phillip Clark, Gramophone International UK
The prepared piano was always meant to play another music. Its clattery, drumming sound world is so overwhelmingly associated with John Cage- fair enough, he did invent it - that anybody else using the instrument wanting to remain themselves is challenged to define their own degrees of separation. Beijing-born pianist and composer Kui Dong, rises to that challenge manfully on this disc of keenly heard, beautifully imagined improvisations, recorded over two sessions in 2005. The opening piece, Magician and Traveler: Ensemble, deploys the instrument to evolve a slipstream of rapid-fire rhythmic modules which are juxtaposed with fidgety, unpredictable scratches and slides. This counterpoint between control and freedom recurs throughout the disc and gives Kui Dong's improvisations a strategic motor; on the track she called In Between, her sounds fall in between everything- plucked strings morph into random scrapings, as isolated notes and percussive hits accumulate into a hybrid sonic labyrinth. The music hurtles forward with striking velocity, but each sound has been positioned with care and poise of a ballet dancer.
On Floating Stars, she gradually embellishes her sparse harmonic introduction with opulent chords. That brand of harmonic thinking probably won't have interested Cage much, and Kui Dong's liberated, in-the-moment improvisations push the basic language of prepared piano music beyond anything he could have imagined. But I'm sure he would have relished the resourcefulness and peachy freshness of this music Cage opened the door, Kui Dong has rearranged the furniture.
Kui Dong: Free-spirited Piano Preparations
Luo Ying, Beijing Evening Newspaper China Feb. 2, 2008 (translation)
"...first-ever combination of Western pipe organ and Chinese national instrument orchestra, Dong's "Wind On Earth" brought a fresh sound and approach to both instruments. The merging and interplay between the majestic sound of the pipe organ and the subtle, delicate character of Chinese instruments created a new perspective for the audience."
Xinhua Newspaper (translation) Feb. 2, 2008 China
"... the first composition for pipe organ and Chinese national instrument orchestra. [represents] a journey of communication and exchange of Western and Eastern cultures."
Roberto Diaz, Music Critic, www.canarias24horas.com, Spain (translation)
"It began the night with the spring environment of "Spring", a work for string orchestra written by Kui Dong for the Canaries Music Festival, in which tried to honor two authors as unlike as Antonio Vivaldi and John Cage. In this manner, frequent evocations could be perceived of "The Spring" vivaldiana, along with a dissolution of the sound more close to John Cage. The result was not evil, although possibly the technique was too appellant and would be able to have simplified the music occupying the half of time. Nevertheless, it showed the author as a quality creative beyond doubt, and aroused the desire to hear other things exits her hand. It was an unusual bet on the part of the festival Islands, and in this case, a complete success."
David Lewis, music critic, All Music Guide, www.allmusic.com
"...It is a challenging and charming disc in which discovery and a sense of bold experimentalism unfolds before the listener's ears...."
David Lewis, music critic, All Music Guide, www.allmusic.com
"Spring" comes from a quartet written around the theme of the seasons and is a riot of colorful patterning; ....and a dazzling one.
David Toub, music critic, Contemporary Music, Sequenza21.com
".... this music sounds nothing like any of Cage's prepared piano works. Rather, it has an individual quality all its own, to Dong's credit. At some points, Dong also seems to go the Henry Cowell route and play the strings of the piano. This is largely very meditative music, and was a pleasure to listen to. What is particularly interesting is the fact that Dong tends to approach the prepared piano less percussively, to my ears at least, than did Cage and others. In all, this is a very fine album of improvisation for the prepared piano, one that is meant to be enjoyed."
The Wire (p.74) UK 2005
"...PANGU'S SONG turns convention upside down at one point by contrasting percussive flute writing with gentle turns of phrase in the percussion Unusually fulfilling."
Guy Rickards, music critic, Tempo, Cambridge University Press issue
59-234-(p.71) UK, 2005
"Despite containing pieces entitled Pangu's Song and Three Voices, the music on New World's disc devoted Kui Dong (b. 1966) is instrumental - well, up to a point: two movements of her electronic tape/computer piece Crossing (1999-2000) feature voices (including her own in a song learnt in childhood). Like her compatriot Chen Yi, Kui Dong immigrated to the US from China to further her education and qualified from Stanford University. Her works have been performed around the world and received numerous honors and prizes. Her style is a fusion of elements from Chinese traditional and Western avant-garde music, in range covering ballet, film, orchestral, instrumental, multi-media and electronic scores. The earliest here is Blue Melody (1993), a variation-form quintet for flute, clarinet and piano trio. There is no theme as such; rather each variation takes the opening paragraph (in which the instruments only gradually enter) as a kind of thematic reservoir to evolve their own substance. The result sounds like controlled improvisation - something close to her heart -and she has used her own extemporizations as springboards for several works, as in the piano suite Earth, Water, Wood, Metal, Fire (2001). Each movement is a kind of portrait of its element, from which the ancient Chinese believed the world was constructed. Naturally, the five pieces are highly contrasted, Earth strong and solid, Water delicate and shimmering (and not unlike some of Takemitsu's rain pieces), while in Wood and Metal the composer requires pencils and triangle beaters (placed between the strings) respectively to provide a slightly 'prepared', additional range of sonorities. The work's strength is its diversity, much being drawn together in the blazing finale, Fire, before gently returning to the cycle's opening by way of close. The duo for flute (doubling on the alto) and percussion Pangu's Song (1998) won the 2001 ISCM composition competition and requires the wind player to navigate through a kaleidoscopic mosaic of textures across the entire instrumental range. Playing for around nine minutes, it possesses a succinctness which the electronic suite Crossing does not attempt to emulate. Here, maximalism is all, centering on a 'head-on culture clash' in the central movement, where pounding rhythms and industrial sounds morph gradually into a manic rock-type music with electric guitar and drums, before a bizarre Chinese-sounding coda. The final span is the most Oriental in atmosphere, evocative perhaps of the composer's childhood. The trio Three Voices (1998), however, is scored for traditional instruments: er-hu (a fiddle), zheng (a species of zither with an almost harp like sound) and di or xiao (a bamboo flute).The music, though, is quite original: Kui Dong highlights the very different kinds of sounds these instruments make in what amounts to a mesh of accompanied solos, rather than the dialogue of conventional Western chamber music. The sonorities are enchanting, nonetheless, the playing mesmeric. Indeed, the performances are all well focused and Sara Cahill's of the piano suite and Tod Brody's flute in Pangu's Song are brilliantly virtuosic. New World's recording is nicely balanced throughout and fairly homogeneous, despite the pieces having been set down in three different locations from California to New York."
Jules Langert, San Francisco Classical Voice
"...The nine-member instrumental ensemble was treated like a chamber orchestra, with four strings and three woodwinds grouped separately, the harp placed between them, and the percussion located in the rear. The composer's clean, transparent scoring brought out colors and sounds often evoking a Chinese instrumental ensemble, with new ideas and interesting timbres constantly emerging. The piece was built around changes of tempo and momentum, beginning with a jerky episode of brief, sputtering syncopations.
"Later, in a section for woodwinds, close, dissonant part writing and long-held tones fading into ornamental arabesques achieved a poignant lyrical mood. After a period of prolonged silence interrupted occasionally by a few isolated, arresting sounds, momentum gradually returned, leading to a rapid yet unhurried final section. Often tonal and even diatonic in its last moments, this piece maintained its freshness and vitality to the end."
Jules Langert, concert review, San Francisco Classical VoiceWork reviewed: Shui Diao Ge Tou and Song - for Mixed chorus, percussion and piano
"...Most remarkable of all was Chinese composer Kui Dong's Shiu Diao Ge Tou/Song, a setting of two poems, the first by eleventh-century Chinese poet Su Shi and the second by contemporary U.S. poet Denise Newman. Su Shi's poem is a lyrical fantasy expressing wonder and joyful serenity, as the poet contemplates the moon and his own place in the universe. Dong's setting is expansive and atmospheric, capturing the humor, spontaneity, and sense of mystery in the verse.
Newman's poem is a modern fantasy, built around the confusion, alienation, and corrosive materialism bedeviling its characters. Dong sets its stream-of-consciousness outpouring as a chant, softly intoned on a single note, and partly drowned out by the percussion. Its expression remains earthbound and subdued as the Chinese text rises above it, reflecting two distinct ways of being in the world, both treated sympathetically and with detachment by the composer, who somehow blends them into a larger synthesis. Dong's use of percussion is telling, especially her emphasis on the piano, which bathes the ensemble in an often sustained commentary of long held tones, wayward, sensuous arpeggios, and quick, edgy, repeated notes roaming at large over the keyboard. There are also some sharp, violent outbursts for the drums and a powerfully exciting percussion duel at a climactic point near the end. Dong, who studied in the U.S. and has lived here for fifteen years, now teaches at Dartmouth College. She views this piece as a kind of cultural amalgam of her life's experience."
Robert P. Commanday Editor of San Francisco Classical Voice
...Unintentionally, no doubt, the works by the two women composers, Ursula Mamlock and Kui (pronounced Kway) Dong, stood out, head and shoulder. For Dong's work, the cultural source is deep, natural and immediate. A Beijing native and a composer of ballet, film, and television scores in China, in "Earth, Water..." she reveals a distinctive sound and sensibility, with a particular ear for color and sonority. This is apparent differently in each movement: the machine-gun chord alternations of upper register chords in the dramatically contrastive "Earth" movement, the delicacy of the figurations, recalling Debussy, in "Water." Pencils wedged between some of the piano strings for "Wood," result in fascinating echoing harmonics as Cahill struck the keys sharply. With metal rods similarly placed for "Metal," Cahill set up a ringing clangor, the resultant sonorities suggesting Chinese music unmistakably. "Fire" ends the work forcefully, with rapid chord alternations expanding and actually developing harmonically.
S.E. Barcus, Spoleto USA Reviewer (Charleston City Paper)
Last Monday, Music in Time kicked off at the Albert Simons Center Recital Hall to a bunch of lucky, lucky ears. Pianist Sarah Cahill performed four Asian-based piano works...
The second piece was the most memorable: the world premiere of Kui Dong's Earth, Water, Wood, Metal, and Fire, five movements based on Eastern creation myths. This longer work starts with a crashing bang, fortissississississimo (to wake up any dozers). Seems these myths predate Einstein and Hubble regarding the Big Bang. "Water" featured all five of Cahill's fingers playing the same sequence of notes over and over, creating a literal stream. Later, a dreamy variety of sounds above two repeated notes, reminiscent of Mompou - but with excitingly different rhythms and harmonies.
"Wood" is where we start having fun inside the piano, exploring the possibilities of sound from the instrument, like Cowell or Cage. After inserting pencils between some strings, Cahill sat back down and smacked the keys angrily, producing - magically - a sound like someone giving a hard, quick blow into a didgeridoo. Some of the other keys become "springy," like a snare drum. The strings without pencils were, of course, "normal." By herself, Cahill became a trio for piano, wind, and percussion.
"Metal" starts with Cahill running a metal tool on the strings directly, creating more menacing thunder than before. She leaves the metal lying on topof the strings, creating a sound not unlike a sitar! Very metallic. The work ends with "Fire" and has so many quick, jumbled notes all crammed next to each other you'd swear Dong was ripping off Korsakov's bumblebee or Bartok's fly. The notes flicker like a fire, licking occasionally out of the center keys like flames to the upper and lower reaches. After the blaze, the piece ends softly, at peace, with tranquil sounds - colors similar to Debussy's afternoon with Bambi.
Jack Dressler Charleston Post and Courier Reviewer
"Earth, Water, Wood, Metal, Fire" (2001) by Kui Dong, the first of two major works on the program similarly employed well-tried technical means to achieve much in a limited compass.
This was the world premiere of the five-movement piece, Ms. Cahill giving all the care and attentiveness to its complexities that a potential masterpiece might warrant. In a closely-focused programmatic sense, rolled tone-clusters represented "earth," light, sparse tinklings suggested "water," pencils inserted in the strings dampened the sound for "wood," while metal rods and beating the strings by hand gave us "metal." In the last movement, "fire" emerged from racking trills and Webern-like crunches, then jazz-inflected chordings and percussive rhythmic patterns. The total effect was a successful meeting of 20th-century keyboard techniques and perhaps 21st-century sensibilities.
Robert Jones, Charleston.net Spoleto Festival Reviewer
"Earth, Water, Wood, Metal, Fire" (2001) by Kui Dong... was colorful music...
Charles Amirkhanian, Composer/sound poet, Executive Director of Other Minds
"...In her recent piece (Crossing), She uses an exciting new software, SuperCollider, to modify ambient sound samples. Once again, she has created stories in sound which draw the listener in with sure, original gestures, not with formulaic cliches.
"She also writes chamber music of great beauty, blending instrumental timbres and color in very inventive combinations. Her use of percussion in combination with wind instruments is particularly stimulating. I find that whatever she undertakes is done with a sure hand and with mastery that belies her youth."
Timothy Pfaff, Special guest music critic to San Francisco Examiner
"...The music of (Flying Apples) her carefully composed, arrestingly beautiful 10 minutes piece for four-channel computer tape was already done, Superbly."
"...Kui (Dong)'s program note cites " transparent, brilliant stars falling from infinity." What one hears sounds like sampled, then wondrously manipulated piano, bell and other struck percussion sounds. Although their patterns trace a rhythm of waxing and waning density and complexity, the sounds filled the darkened theater in sprays of colorful sonic droplets."
"The spatial effects the composer achieves with her exquisitely refracted music are ceaselessly compelling at the local level. But individual effects were enhanced (Thursday) by the cumulative sense that, across the span of the piece, hearing itself had been heightened. As the sound tapered and the room faded to black, the sound of my pen on paper seemed huge (and meager)"
"Elsewhere there was vastly more to listen to, and infinitely less to hear. After Kui(Dong)'s pointillist "Childhood dream," it seemed like finger painting. Finger painting can make art, and there was an unmistakable...."
Allan Ulrich, San Francisco Examiner Music critic
"... Pangu's Song stood out for (its) rigor and drama. Beijing-born Kui Dong restricts her forces to flutes and percussion and limits their pitches. Yet, the work does not want for color, melody (much of it folk-derived) and, in its surging energy and mounting excitement at the end, a feeling for musical theater. The piece communicates on an almost visceral level."
Sarah Cahill, Music critic for Express, Classical Voice Contemporary Music
"...The narrative flow of "Pangu's Song" by Kui Dong parallels a poem by Denise Newman, but the piece is itself textless. The music evolves fluidly and kept flutist Tod Brody and percussionist Daniel Kennedy constantly busy. Dong uses such a variety of extended techniques for both instruments that one could hardly believe such a spectrum of sounds could come from only two players. This young composer has already developed a distinctive, uncompromising style."
Paul Hertelendy, artssf.com (the independent observer of SF Bay Area music,
guest reviewer of San Jose Mercury News)
"...Her "Blue Melody" ...is a lively, engaging work for varied quintet, with short phrases and rivulets of sound, suggesting mystery through its lack of resolution."
Joshua Kosman, Music critic, San Francisco Chronicle
" ... The Blue melody proved to be a fascinating, all-too-short quintet by Kui Dong, born in Beijing..."
"...It is (yet) another attempt to fuse Chinese and Western musical elements, but the composer writes with particular dexterity and rhetorical flair."
"In the opening moments, she passes a spare Asian melody around the ensemble in relay fashion, with each instrument uttering a few notes before ceding to the next. At the center comes a flurry of highly charged counterpoint that casts a shadow on the piece's placid, symmetrical ending. The music was performed with more rigor than beauty by..."
Edward Green, Music critic, Professor of Music at Manhattan School of Music and
New York Aesthetic Realism Foundation
"...Her fresh approach to heterophony--is, for example, what members of a family so much are hoping for: to agree and disagree in an honest, friendly manner; to get along deeply with each other, and yet, at the very same time, be utterly individual and free."
"...In this work of Kui Dong, opposites which often are painfully at war in people's lives--the desire for quiet and the desire for excitement--are joined."
"I have heard few composers use heterophony as sensitively and powerfully as does Kui Dong in "Three Voices." And it is something new in music to hear this venerable technique, so much associated with the open resonance of Chinese pentatonicism, joined to the more conflicted tonalities of modern Western chromaticism. It is an experience!"