The New York Times has called his music “alluring” and “wildly inventive” and his compositions have already been featured in concerts at Carnegie Hall and the Lincoln Center. We sit down with our newest Composer-in-Residence Viet Cuong to talk marching band, his compositional style, and connections to former Young American Composers-in-Residence Chris Theofanidis, Kevin Puts, and Katherine Balch.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
My parents immigrated here from Vietnam in the 70s, and they both worked in the sciences. My brother is an engineer in the Bay Area, so that makes me the only musician in our family. I grew up in Marietta, Georgia and played percussion and clarinet in my high school band. I’ve since lived in Baltimore, Princeton, and Philadelphia, and I actually just moved to a lovely place in Washington D.C. called Dumbarton Oaks, where I’ll be the musician-in-residence through the summer. (I’ve known of Stravinsky’s piece “Dumbarton Oaks” for a number of years now, but it was only recently that I learned it was a place in D.C.!)
Even among this year’s large field of composer applicants, Viet was the clear front-runner. I am extremely excited to share three new pieces by this talented composer with our Bay Area audiences over the coming three years.” – Donato Cabrera
Your website mentions that you were a member of the Lassiter High School marching and concert bands in Marietta, GA, and you grew up playing piano, percussion and clarinet. How do you think that background has influenced your composing style?
I look back on my experiences in high school band so fondly. It was where I really fell in love with making music, and where I found a sense of community and belonging. They say you can take a kid out of the band room, but you can’t take the band room out of the kid…well, no one actually says that, but I do love to write music that feels big, bold, and dramatic. I think my background with marching band in particular has colored my compositional style in this way.
You’ve already crossed paths with at least three former California Symphony resident composers. Can you talk a little about your associations with Chris Theofanidis (1994-96), Kevin Puts (1996-99) and current resident composer Katherine Balch (2017-2020)?
Our composer community is quite small, and I’m grateful to have met many composers along the way, including Chris, Kevin, and Katie. Near the end of high school I came across one of Chris’s pieces called “Rainbow Body,” and I was floored. Since then I’ve been a fan of his, and six years ago I was fortunate to spend three weeks with Chris and seven other composers at an artist residency program in Florida called the Atlantic Center for the Arts. And Kevin was my very first composition teacher. (My first lesson with him was over a decade ago—crazy!) My music improved dramatically in the three years that I studied with Kevin, and this was in large part due to his inspiring teaching style and warm personality. He and his work have inspired me time and time again over the past 10 years. Lastly, I met Katie almost three years ago at the American Music Festival, where the Albany Symphony was premiering pieces of ours and a bunch of other composers. It’s been great to see all the incredible work Katie has done since then, including during her residency with the California Symphony. I’m honored to be following in her footsteps!
This couldn’t be a better choice… His works are vibrant and dazzling, crafted with as much care and confidence as anything being written these days. Congratulations to Viet and I know he will produce great things for the California Symphony!” – Kevin Puts
What is it about the California Symphony residency that you’re most excited about?
I still feel pretty green to orchestral writing, so I’d say I’m most excited to have opportunities to workshop my ideas and then fine-tune them with each new piece. It’s really as close to a dream scenario as you can get with an orchestra, and I’m so, so thankful for it.
Anything else you’d like to say to our patrons and supporters?
I’m looking forward to being a part of your community over the next three years, and I hope to meet you all very soon!
Read the official press release announcement about Viet Cuong’s appointment here.