Canadian Composers Interview Series with Vivian Fung

In our new blog series, Canadian Composers Interview with ACNMP board member and organist Matthew Boutda, we endeavour to illuminate the artistic process of select working composers from across Canada.

JUNO Award-winning composer Vivian Fung has a unique talent for combining idiosyncratic textures and styles into large-scale works, reflecting her multicultural background. NPR calls her “[o]ne of today’s most eclectic composers.” This is supported by many of her latest works, including Humanoid for solo cello and prerecorded electronics; Frenetic Memories, a reflection on her travels to visit minority groups in China’s Yunnan province; and The Ice Is Talking for solo percussion and electronics, commissioned by the Banff Centre, using three ice blocks to illustrate the beauty and fragility of our environment.

Many distinguished artists and ensembles around the world have embraced Fung’s music as part of their core repertoire, including the American Opera Projects, Chicago Sinfonietta, San Francisco Symphony, Shanghai Quartet, Staatskapelle Karlsruhe, Suwon Chorale of South Korea, and Ying Quartet, to name a few. Conductors with whom she has collaborated include Long Yu, Andrew Cyr, Rei Hotoda, Peter Oundjian, Edwin Outwater, Steven Schick, and Bramwell Tovey.

Born in Edmonton, Canada, Fung began her composition studies with composer Violet Archer and received her doctorate from The Juilliard School in New York. She currently lives in California with her husband Charles Boudreau, their son Julian, and their shiba inu Mulan, and is on the faculty of Santa Clara University.

Matthew: Would you mind sharing a few words about your personal and musical background?

Vivian: I was born and raised in Edmonton. I began playing the piano very early and my first piano teacher, who also happened to be a composer, encouraged me to compose and notate. As a young kid, I didn’t like to practice so I started to compose instead. I wrote my first pieces when I was seven or eight. These were very basic pieces that expressed stories and my imaginations. I think these early days in Edmonton were very important because it shaped the idea of cultivating imagination in me.

Matthew: How often are you composing now? Are you currently working on a new composition?

Vivian: My compositional process goes in spurts! This past month was busy with travelling and preparing for performances. Next, I will concentrate on new projects – an orchestral piece for the Winnipeg New Music Festival and a double violin concerto for the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra.

Matthew: What advice do you have for beginner composers?

Vivian: I would encourage young musicians to experience creating a piece. It really isn’t about the end result but about the process of creating. I encourage everyone to also be curious listeners; listen to pieces you might not know or listen to what others, not only in Canada but around the world, are creating.

Matthew: If you had to choose just one, what is your fondest musical memory?

Vivian: Hearing The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky when I was growing up! It got me excited about new music and discovering more about using different chords and clusters! Not having to rely on tertiary harmonies and the possibility of incorporating other orchestral instruments.

Vivian is currently putting the finishing touches on a new orchestral work to be premiered at the Winnipeg New Music Festival next month.  Listen to her work “The Ice is Talking” premiered by percussionist Aiyun Huang at the Banff Centre this past summer.