CSLA Music Festival Promises to Unite Pacific Rim Composers

Somehow it's fitting that big dreams should steer an organization devoted to cultural development along the perimeter of the Pacific Ocean, the largest geographical body on Earth.

If the goals of director Byong-kon Kim go according to plan, the Pacific Contemporary Music Center will become an effective catalyst for toppling long-standing national barriers and uniting musical traditions that have remained separate for thousands of years.

"With the rapid growth of the economy of several key Pacific Rim countries, the culture is likewise growing at an exceptional rate," observed Kim, 60, in a conversation in his modest office at Cal State L.A., where he has taught composition for more than 20 years.

"And Los Angeles is the center of the Pacific Rim. We have more ethnic diversity here than anywhere else."

Kim hopes to launch a substantial part of his unifying efforts Thursday night at the university when the first Pacific Contemporary Music Festival begins.

Over the following three days, the California E.A.R. Unit will give three concerts performing the works of 16 composers--14 of them members of the contemporary music center. Half of these composers are from the United States but there will also be composers from South Korea, the Soviet Union, Taiwan and Chile.

Highlights will include performances of works by American composers William Kraft, Donald Erb, George Crumb and Elliott Carter; a performance by harpist Ruth Inglefield of Kim's "Sori for Harp"; soprano Ann Gresham performing in Stephen Albert's "To Wake the Dead" for soprano and small chamber ensemble, and seminars on current computer software and the local music scene.

But the festival this year is only an embryo, Kim says, considering that plans are being made to hold the festival in Korea next year, using orchestras in Seoul and Taegu. Future festivals will take place in different Pacific Rim cities each year.

Headed by an executive board with some of the biggest local names in music academia, the center acts as a focal point for contemporary composition around the Pacific Rim. One of its key functions is to accumulate scores submitted by members and loan them out to anyone without charge.

"Our purpose is to function as a liaison between our members and listeners," Kim explains. "The greatest problem facing today's composer is the dissemination of his or her music. There is an unprecedented number of talented composers in many countries seeking opportunities to be introduced outside their native countries.

"Here at the PCMC library at Cal State L.A., there are over 400 scores from all over the Pacific Rim. We promote the composers' music through every type of medium: performance, radio, recordings, or whatever. If someone is looking for a new piece to perform or even to examine as a musicological study, they can write to us and we'll send them a score on a trial basis.

"Of roughly 160 members in the PCMC, 60% are from the United States. The others are from all over the Pacific Rim. Because we try to take anyone who is interested, the library represents many varieties of music styles from neotonality, to more conservative styles, to the avant-garde."

Kim admits it is therefore difficult to describe what stylistically characterizes the collective music of the Pacific Rim countries. Compared to other music of the world, there isn't really anything that bonds them, other than the rapid growth and development.

Making a Pacific Rim style even harder to define, music schools in Asia have been teaching Western traditions of music throughout the 20th Century. A rediscovery of Eastern traditional music has occurred only within the last 20 years or so.

"Countries in the East tend to swing back and forth between Western influences and their own traditions of music," he observes.

"But I don't think it's good that they copy the West. Oriental musicians adapt so well to Western traditions that musicians and orchestras in Japan, Korea and China are becoming quite exceptional. And there's certainly nothing wrong with that.

"In China, there are also many older generation musicians who were trained by the Soviets. If you go to a Chinese university, there are usually older teachers there who were originally trained in the Soviet Union. And they are incredible musicians."

Instead of one particular style that composers of the Pacific Rim tend to be identified with, Kim sees the growth as more of a coming of age.

"The future is in a universal musical language, not separate national languages," he insists.

"It's interesting the way people perceive certain styles. So often, I am told that my music sounds Korean," he acknowledges, with a chuckle.

"But I have been an American citizen for 15 years and I admit that until very recently, I have known little about the traditional music of Korea where I was born."

Kim's own compositions, from small chamber works to works for full orchestra, use an atonal style with a generous use of tone clusters and different sonorities. He has conducted premieres of his own works throughout Japan, China and Korea and led the Seoul Philharmonic during its U.S. tour in 1982.

His most recent projects include "Festival Symphony," commissioned for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, and "Sinfonietta," a work for string orchestra and harpsichord commissioned by the Korea Chamber Ensemble.

Kim also notes that this year, a Cambodian composer, Chinary Ung, won the Grawemeyer Award, a stipend of $150,000 that in the past has been awarded to Gyorgy Ligeti, Harrison Birtwistle and Witold Lutoslawski. He offers this as proof that composers of the Pacific Rim are blossoming to the point where they can hold their own with the rest of the world.

He also gives high marks to the Osaka Philharmonic Orchestra, which he recently conducted in a premiere of one of his works. "They are now one of the best orchestras in the world," he claims.

"Music in Australia, South America and even the countries in the South Pacific are also improving with the growing economy," Kim concludes.

"Our center is not trying to encourage one specific style or dogma. We just see this pronounced growth as a good thing. If we stimulate it enough, I think you'll see some remarkable things happen as we head into the 21st Century."

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