Kui Dong (b 1966) is a composer of remarkable imagination and ability whose work combines the resources of Western-style modernism, which she learned in the United States, with some of the musical traditions and practices of her native China.
The most recent piece included in this anthology of her work during the past ten years is Earth, Water, Wood, Metal, Fire (2001), for solo piano. It is a colorful and demanding suite of movements, evoking the five basic elements traditionally believed in China to make up the material world. She has also worked extensively with electronically generated sound, and Crossing (1999-2000) is a recent example. Written for radio, this twenty-two minute work transforms ambient sounds from both East and West and blends them to create, as composer Charles Amirkhanian puts it, "stories in sound which draw the listener in with sure, original gestures, not with formulaic clichés."
If there is an overriding consistency to these pieces, it is not only in the contrast of East and West, as expressed by the Chinese instruments of Three Voices (1998), and the style of dissonant, disjunct, Western modernism they are playing, or by the jarringly opposed sounds in the last two movements of Crossing. It is also in the nature of Kui Dong's ensemble writing, as heard in the three chamber works－Pangu's Song (1998), Blue Melody (1993), and Three Voices.
She shows great sensitivity to the way the instruments interact, presenting the listener with a fluid, eventful texture open to many possibilities. There is a richness of ornament and a spontaneity of detail in her music that are often surprising and delightful to hear. She also has a way of bringing out idiomatic nuances of timbre and instrumental technique, especially for the flute and the trio of Chinese instruments, that seems to capture their essential natures. Indeed, her sense of color is one of her great strengths.
Like several of her fellow expatriates, Kui Dong has brought a fresh and welcome perspective to contemporary music in the United States. Ethnic and popular music from around the world have long been part of the national mix, but art music in this country has traditionally looked inward or toward Europe for new impulses and ideas. The influx of gifted, well-trained composers from other cultures is just beginning to change that perception, and the present recording may help to broaden it a little bit further.