Concert III - heroes and anti-heroes


Donald Sur

Donald Young Sur (1 February 1935 – 24 May 1999) was a Korean American composer and musicologist. Although he is best known for his large-scale oratorio, Slavery Documents, most of his works were composed for small chamber ensembles. Sur was born in Honolulu and moved with his family to Los Angeles after World War II. He studied at the University of California and Princeton before spending four years in Korea researching ancient Korean court music. After receiving his doctorate from Harvard in 1972, he settled in Boston, Massachusetts, where many of his works were premiered and where he taught at several local universities, including Harvard, MIT, and Tufts.

Life and career:
Donald Sur was born in Honolulu in 1935 to parents of Korean descent. His paternal grandfather had emigrated to Hawaii in 1903 to work in the sugarcane plantations. His mother was a Korean picture bride.  The first instrument he learned to play as a child was the ukulele; the second was the mandolin, which remained his favorite instrument throughout his life and figures in several of his scores. Sur's family moved to the mainland United States in 1951 and eventually settled in Los Angeles.

He studied ethnomusicology for a year at UCLA as an undergraduate before transferring to Berkeley and studying with Andrew Imbrie, Seymour Shifrin, and Colin McPhee, who taught him Balinese composition techniques. Following post-graduate work at Princeton with Roger Sessions and Earl Kim, he spent four years in Korea (1964–68) doing research on Korean court music. On his return from Korea, he continued his post-graduate studies at Harvard University where he received a PhD in composition in 1972 with The Sleepwalker's Ballad, "an accompanied recitative for soprano and chamber ensemble."

After graduating from Harvard, he remained based in the Boston area for the rest of his life, combining his career as a composer with teaching at Harvard, MIT, Tufts, Wellesley and Boston University, and for a while running a small publishing company for composers of new music as well as organizing concerts of their works with John Harbison. March 1990 saw the world premiere at Symphony Hall, Boston of Sur's most famous work, Slavery Documents, an oratorio for 80 voices with a libretto by the composer.

Sur's last works were Berceuse, a lullaby for violin and piano, which premiered at the Library of Congress in February 1999, and an a cappella setting of Shakespeare's Sonnet 97, which premiered at Boston's Jordan Hall in May 1999, three weeks before his death from cancer at the age of 64.

In 2008, John Harbison, who described his friend as having "a unique ear for the incantatory power of percussion instruments,” composed Cortège for six percussionists: In memoriam Donald Sur as a tribute to him.

Style and compositions:
Sur's musical style has been described as uniquely personal, "eclectic", and "unpredictable", and ranged from atonal and minimalist to neo-tonal. He sometimes used unconventional instruments in his scores such as banjos, bongo drums, Korean trumpets and even a skillet, conch shell, and bullwhip. His later music often incorporated musical references to a variety of styles and periods, including Baroque, Impressionist, popular dance tunes, and traditional Korean music.

Two of Sur's works were on explicitly Korean themes: his 1991 Lacrimosa dies illa (Day of Tears) for chamber orchestra commemorating the March 1919 Korean uprising against Japanese rule; and his 1993 Kumdori Tansaeng (Birth of the Dream-Elf) for solo violin, chorus, and orchestra, commissioned by the Taejon International Exposition for Korean American violinist Sarah Chang. Sur also composed the score for Dai Sil Kim-Gibson's 1999 film Silence Broken, a documentary about the Korean "comfort women" of World War II.

Slavery Documents:
Slavery Documents, an oratorio in two parts for 80-voice chorus, five soloists, and large orchestra (including an organ), is Sur's only large-scale work, and the one for which he is most remembered. A commission from the Cantata Singers and Ensemble, it premiered at Symphony Hall, Boston, on 23 March 1990, conducted by David Hoose. Sur wrote the libretto himself based on a variety of texts and documents relating to slavery, including passages from the Bible, Cotton Mather's The Negro Christianised, the 1831 confessions of Nat Turner, descriptions of slave punishments published by the American abolitionist Theodore Weld in American Slavery As It Is, pre-Civil War advertisements for runaway slaves, Negro spirituals, and Stephen Foster's sentimental ballad "Old Folks at Home."

The eclectic score, which Sur worked on for three years, was completed in December 1998 and marked a departure from his earlier predominantly atonal style. For the premiere, the 40-member (all-white) chorus of the Cantata Singers was supplemented with 40 African American singers from the Boston area. The soloists were Jane Bryden, soprano; Bonita Hyman, mezzo-soprano; Rockland Osgood, tenor; Gary Burgess, tenor (as Nat Turner); and David Arnold, baritone. Sur received a standing ovation from the audience at the premiere, but the critical reception was mixed. Boston Globe critic Richard Dyer noted "some peculiar and unconvincing stresses in the setting of the text, some music that sounds merely bombastic, and some unidiomatic writing for the soloists in difficult registers," but found the piece emotionally powerful and concluded that "the flaws are not important in the context of an overwhelming achievement." John Rockwell, writing in The New York Times, was more critical, describing both the score and the libretto as artistically unconvincing. He echoed Dyer's comments about the setting of the music for the soloists but also found that Sur's "attempts to incorporate vernacular idioms and historical styles failed to resonate: they were just stuck onto the score, ornamentally, without development or conviction."

As part of the country's annual Liberation Day celebrations, Slavery Documents received its Korean premiere in August 1990 at the Seoul Arts Center, performed by the Korean Broadcasting System orchestra conducted by David Hoose and a chorus of 100 Korean singers.[11] Sur amassed far more texts for his libretto than he was able to use, and at the time of his death in 1999 was working on a sequel that would incorporate some of them. As a memorial to Sur, the Cantata Singers commissioned his friend T. J. Anderson to compose a companion oratorio, Slavery Documents 2. Its libretto was based on texts from Loren Schweininger's collection The Southern Debate Over Slavery but incorporated one of the original sentences from Sur's work. The oratorios by Sur and Anderson were performed together by the Cantata Singers on 17 March 2002 at Boston's Symphony Hall. Part I of Sur's Slavery Documents received another performance in 2010 by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and the combined glee clubs of Morehouse College and Spelman College in a concert (also broadcast on National Public Radio) for Atlanta's Martin Luther King Day celebrations.

Other principal compositions:
Catena I, II, and III, for small ensemble (1961; Catena I revised 1970, Catena II revised 1962, Catena III revised 1976). Also known as The Book of Catenas, they were performed together for the first time by Collage New Music.

Sleepwalker's Ballad, for soprano and chamber ensemble (1972). Composed for Sur's doctoral dissertation at Harvard and set to a text by Federico García Lorca, the work was premiered by soprano Bethany Beardslee and the Speculum Musicae ensemble conducted by Charles Wuorinen.

Red Dust, for 29 percussionists (1967; revised for Western percussion in 1976). The work is based on classical Korean percussion and although lasting only 13 minutes, is divided into 20 movements.

Il Tango di Trastevere, for four contrabasses (1977). Commissioned by the National Endowment of the Arts and dedicated to Donald Palma, the work premiered in Minneapolis, Minnesota played by the Times Square Basstet. It was later revised by Sur for a small orchestra of low-pitched instruments.

A Neo-Plastic Epistrophe While Crossing Times Square, for piano trio and clarinet (1980). Premiered by Collage New Music, the work is sometimes performed together with his 1984 Satori on Park Avenue under the title New Yorker Sketches.

The Unicorn and the Lady, for narrator and small ensemble (1981). The work was inspired by 18th-century hunting calls and The Hunt of the Unicorn tapestry series in The Cloisters museum. The narrator's text was written by American poet Barry Spacks. Each of the 12 movements is scored for a different combination of instruments.

Satori on Park Avenue, for small ensemble (1984). Commissioned by the National Endowment of the Arts for Speculum Musicae and San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, the work is dedicated to Sur's longtime friend John Harbison.

Sonnet 97, for a cappella chorus (1999). A setting of Shakespeare's Sonnet 97, the work was premiered by the Cantata Singers in Boston's Jordan Hall on 7 May 1999.

Berceuse (Lullaby), for violin and piano (1999). This was the last work Sur completed. He attended its world premiere at the Library of Congress on 19 February 1999, three months before his death. The music was inspired by Walt Whitman's poem "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking."

Collage New Music Plays Donald Sur – Collage New Music, ensemble; David Hoose & Frank Epstein, conductors. Label: Albany Records.

  • This recording is available for purchase from

Released in 2009, this was the first (and as of 2011) only commercial recording of Sur's music. It contains Red Dust; Catena I, II, and III; The Unicorn and the Lady;Berceuse; Satori on Park Avenue; and A Neo-Plastic Epistrophe While Crossing Times Square.

To learn more about Donald Sur, please click here to visit his Wikipedia page.

Eric Chasalow

Eric Chasalow,  composer   Photograph by Mike Lovett

Eric Chasalow, composer

Photograph by Mike Lovett

Eric Chasalow (USA 1955) is widely recognized as a composer equally at home with electroacoustic music as with music for traditional instrumental ensembles. He is especially well known for works that combine traditional instruments with electronic sound. In 2003, with the release of his second CD on New World Records, Left to His Own Devices, ARRAY, the journal of the International Computer Music Association, wrote that his music…“clearly establishes him as one of the leaders of our times…offer(ing) a wondrous fusion between distinct styles and mediums, …” Since then, he has composed numerous chamber works for prominent performers, electroacoustic pieces, and several large-scale orchestral works. In 2007 he completed a one-hour multimedia opera, The Puzzle Master that was premiered in Boston, with two initial performances followed by five more on tour. Two new CD compilations as well as a library edition of the scores for his complete works for instrument and electronics are planned for release between 2013 and 2015, in time for the composer’s 60th birthday.

Eric Chasalow’s music is programmed throughout the world, with recent performances in Berlin, Boston, La Paz, Los Angeles, Milan, New York, Rome, and San Francisco. The 2011- 12 season was an especially active one for the composer. In October, Are You Radioactive, Pal? for alto saxophone and electronics had its European premiere, by Enzo Filipetti as part of the EMUFest in Rome. In January his Horn Concerto was premiered and recorded by Lucerne Festival Orchestra solo horn, Bruno Schneider with Boston Modern Orchestra Project in Jordan Hall in Boston and at the Southwestern Horn Conference in Phoenix Arizona. The season also included the world premieres of two newly commissioned large-scale works for chamber ensemble and electronics. Incident and Scatter, a Barlow Endowment commission, was premiered by The Talea Ensemble on March 9th at the Tenri Institute in New York City. Then, on April 16th, The New York New Music Ensemble performed the premiere of the Chamber Music America commission, On That Swirl of Ending Dust at New York’s Merkin Hall. On April 30th, the Lydian String Quartet premiered their commission, I’m Just Sayin’, for string quartet and electronics, at the Rose Museum in honor of newly inaugurated President of Brandeis University, Fredrick Lawrence. Happily, much of Chasalow’s catalog of virtuosic pieces for soloist and electronics continues to be performed with great regularity. Deborah Norin-Kuehn performed The Furies, from 1984, a setting of four poems of Anne Sexton for soprano and tape, on a concert by San Francisco’s Composers Inc., also last April. Similarly, Over the Edge (flute and tape 1986), In a Manner of Speaking (bass clarinet and tape 2000) and many others are newly discovered by young performers who enjoy the challenge each year and added to their repertoire.

Since 2001, Chasalow has produced the BEAMS Electronic Music Marathon, hosting carefully selected performances of work by composers and performers from around the world, as part of the Boston Cyberarts Festival. He was a founding member of the Music Committee for the Festival and served as an advisor for many years. He has long been associated with The Composers Conference at Wellesley College, an almost seventy-year-old organization that aids in early stages of their careers, and in 2012, became President of the board of directors.

In 1996, along with his wife, Barbara Cassidy, he established the The Video Archive of Electroacoustic Music an oral history project chronicling the pioneer electronic music composers and engineers from 1950 to the present. Short excerpted videos of interviewees including Bebe Baron, Milton Babbitt, Mario Davidovsky, Max Matthews, Morton Subotnick and others are currently available online. Plans are underway to stream interviews in their entirety online and the source materials will be contributed to the recently established Eric Chasalow collection in the Library of Congress.

Eric Chasalow is the Irving G. Fine Professor of Music at Brandeis University, and Director of BEAMS, the Brandeis Electro-Acoustic Music Studio where he has taught since 1990. A product of the famed Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, he holds the D.M.A. from Columbia University where his principal teacher was Mario Davidovsky and where he studied flute with Harvey Sollberger. Other teachers included Elliott Schwartz, William T. McKinley, George Edwards, and Jack Beeson. Among his honors are awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, Koussevitzky Music Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Fromm Foundation at Harvard University (two commissions), New York Foundation for the Arts, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters (awards in 1986 and 2003). His music is available from Suspicious Motives Music, G. Schirmer, McGinnis & Marx (New York) and Edition Bim (Switzerland) and on CDs from New World Records, ICMC, Intersound Net Records, SEAMUS, Suspicious Motioves Records, and RRRecords.

To learn more about Eric Chasalow, please click here to visit his website.

Yi Yiing Chen

Yi Yiing Chen, composer

Yi Yiing Chen, composer

Born in Taiwan, Yi Yiing Chen’s music has been described as “very different, showing the composer’s versatility and breadth of range and influence” and “an exciting amalgam of eastern and western styles.” Her works have been performed at the Tanglewood Music Festival, the Women Composers Festival of Hartford, and the Primrose International Viola Competition & Festival. Received awards include the Tanglewood Music Center's Elliott Carter Memorial Composer Fellowship, the LungShan Temple Scholarship, the NEC Honors Ensemble composition, the NEC Symphony Composition Competition and the NTNU Presidential Scholarship. 

Besides writing music, she is also an active pianist. She presented a solo piano recital in Taiwan and currently is an affiliated artist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She served as a piano accompanist of the NEC Concert Choir and performed at the New England Chinese Professionals Lunar New Year Gala and the Primrose International Viola Competition & Festival. Yi Yiing also plays flute, Chinese bamboo flute and Dulcimer.

Yi Yiing has studied or worked with many other talented musicians, including John Harbison, Oliver Knussen, Bright Sheng and Dimitri Murrath. Currently she is a doctoral student at the New England Conservatory studying with Prof. John Heiss and Prof. Michael Gandolfi funded by NEC's Francis Judd Cooke Scholarship. She also teaches at her school (NEC), MIT, Yamaha Music School of Boston and Children's Music Center of J.P.. She previously received her M.M. from the Manhattan School of Music and B.A. from the National Taiwan Normal University, where her mentors included Richard Danielpour, Mao-Shuan Chen, Gordon Chin, Kris Falk, Nils Vigeland, Reiko Füting and Richard Sussman.

To learn more about Yi Yiing Chen, please click here to visit her website.

Peter Child

Peter Child,  composer   Photograph by Jon Sachs

Peter Child, composer

Photograph by Jon Sachs

Peter Child is the Class of 1949 Professor of Music and a Margaret MacVicar Faculty Fellow at MIT, where he currently chairs the department of Music and Theater Arts. He joined Reed College in 1973 through an exchange scholarship from Keele University in England and received his B.A. in music from Reed in 1975. After studying Karnatic music in Madras (modern Chennai) for a year through a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship (1975-76), he entered the graduate program at Brandeis University and earned his Ph.D. in musical composition in 1981. He first took composition lessons at age 12 with Bernard Barrell in England; his later teachers include William Albright, Arthur Berger, Martin Boykan, Jacob Druckman, and Seymour Shifrin. 

Child was American Symphony Orchestra League-Meet the Composer "Music Alive" composer in residence with the Albany Symphony Orchestra in 2005-08 and was composer in residence with the New England Philharmonic 2005-11. His compositions won the 2001 Music of Changes award, which culminated in a commission and a concert in Los Angeles devoted to his music. He was a recipient of a 2000 commission from the Harvard Musical Association and a 1998 commission from the Fromm Foundation at Harvard University. In 1994 the Council for the Arts at MIT awarded Peter Child the Gyorgy Kepes Fellowship Prize. He has been honored by two Composition Fellowships from the Massachusetts Artists Foundation in 1986 and 1989, as well as fellowships to the MacDowell Colony and the Composers' Conference. The Massachusetts Council on the Arts and Humanities awarded him four 'New Works' commissions in conjunction with the Boston Musica Viva, the New England Conservatory Contemporary Ensemble, the MIT Experimental Music Studio, and the Cantata Singers. His compositions have also been awarded prizes from Tanglewood (Margaret Grant Memorial Prize, 1978), East and West Artists (First Prize, 1979), WGBH Radio (Recording Prize, 1980), New England Conservatory ('New Works' Prize, 1983), and League-ISCM, Boston (New England Composers Prize, 1983). Recordings of some of Child's music have been recorded on Lorelt, New World, Naxos, Albany, Innova, CRI, Neuma, Rivoalto and Centaur compact discs. In addition to his compositional work, Child has published papers concerning music by Shostakovich and Bartok in Music Analysis and College Music Symposium. He won the 2004 Levitan Award in the Humanities at MIT to support his work in musical analysis. 

Peter Child has written music in many different genres, including music for orchestra, chorus, computer synthesis, voice, and a wide variety of chamber groups. Child's music has been prominently featured on the Lontano Festival of American Music in London (2006, 2008) and performed by United Berlin (Germany), Ensemble Lontano and the BBC Singers (UK), Interensemble (Italy), Speak Percussion (Australia), the National Symphony Orchestras of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, and by new music ensembles throughout the US.

To learn more about Peter Child, please click here to visit his website.

eric moe

Eric Moe,  composer

Eric Moe, composer

Eric Moe (b. 1954), composer of what the NY Times has called “music of winning exuberance,” has received numerous grants and awards for his work, including the Lakond Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and a Guggenheim Fellowship; commissions from the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Fromm Foundation, the Koussevitzky Foundation, the Barlow Endowment, Meet-the-Composer USA, and New Music USA; fellowships from the Wellesley Composer's Conference and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts; and residencies at the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, Bellagio, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the UCross Foundation, the Camargo Foundation, the Aaron Copland House, the Millay Colony, the Ragdale Foundation, the Montana Artists Refuge, the Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians, the Hambidge Center, and the American Dance Festival, among others.

Tri-Stan, his sit-trag/one-woman opera on a text by David Foster Wallace, premiered by Sequitur in 2005, was hailed by the New York Times as “a blockbuster” and “a tour de force,” a work of “inspired weight” that “subversively inscribes classical music into pop culture.” In its review of the piece, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette concluded, “it is one of those rare works that transcends the cultural divide while still being rooted in both sides.” The work is available on a Koch International Classics compact disc. Strange Exclaiming Music, a CD featuring Moe’s recent chamber music, was released by Naxos in July 2009 as part of their American Classics series; Fanfare magazine described it as “wonderfully inventive, often joyful, occasionally melancholy, highly rhythmic, frequently irreverent, absolutely eclectic, and always high-octane music.” Kick & Ride, on the bmop/sound label, was picked by WQXR for album of the week: “…it’s completely easy to succumb to the beats and rhythms that come out of Moe’s fantastical imaginarium, a headspace that ties together the free-flowing atonality of Alban Berg with the guttural rumblings of Samuel Barber’s Medea, adding in a healthy dose of superhuman strength.” Other all-Moe CDs are available on New World Records (Meanwhile Back At The Ranch), Albany Records (Kicking and Screaming, Up & At ‘Em, Siren Songs), and Centaur (On the Tip of My Tongue). The Sienese Shredder, a fine arts journal, includes an all-Moe CD as part of its third issue.

As a pianist and keyboardist, Moe has premiered and performed works by a wide variety of composers. His playing can be heard on the Koch, CRI, Mode, Albany, New World Records and Innova labels in the music of John Cage, Roger Zahab, Marc-Antonio Consoli, Mathew Rosenblum, Jay Reise, Ezra Sims, David Keberle, Felix Draeseke, and many others in addition to his own. His solo recording The Waltz Project Revisited - New Waltzes for Piano, a CD of waltzes for piano by two generations of American composers, was released in 2004 on Albany. Gramophone magazine said of the CD, “Moe’s command of the varied styles is nothing short of remarkable.” A founding member of the San Francisco-based EARPLAY ensemble, he currently co-directs the Music on the Edge new music concert series in Pittsburgh.

Moe studied composition at Princeton University (A.B.) and at the University of California at Berkeley (M.A., Ph.D.). He is currently the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Composition and Theory at the University of Pittsburgh and has held visiting professorships at Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania. More information is available at his website,

To learn more about Eric Moe, please click here to visit his website.