Fang Man Wins ACO’s 2006 Underwood Emerging Composers Commission

Composer Fang Man has won the American Composers Orchestra’s 2006 Underwood Emerging Composers Commission. Selected from among the seven composers who participated this past May in this year’s annual Underwood New Music Readings, she has been awarded a $15,000 commission for a piece slated for premiere by the ACO at Carnegie Hall in 2008.

Fang, a doctoral candidate at Cornell University who also goes by the Americanization of her name, Mandy Fang, won the prize based on the ACO’s reading of the first movement of her work-in-progress, Black and White.

Roberto Sierra, with whom Fang has studied at Cornell, characterizes her writing style as “full of rhythmic vitality and interesting colors…Her treatment of the orchestral textures tends to be massive, but deftly handled.”

Color quite literally played an inspirational role in this piece, as it has elsewhere in her catalog. Quite a few of her works carry such pigment-laden titles—Big Red, Dark Blue, Pure White, Maroon, Lavender, Aqua—and Black and White belongs to this series as well. In the program notes for the piece, she highlights a spare yet powerful quote from Henri Matisse: “Black is a force.”

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Listen to an excerpt of the ACO’s reading of Fang Man’s Black and White


When it is completed, the work will consist of a relatively short main movement, “Black,” followed by a coda-like, though much longer second movement, “White.” Fang explains that “this may seem weird because usually composers identify the main part or movement of a piece by making it longer…but if you think of flowers and their much greater-numbered leaves, you may understand my point. Nature often inspires me. Last spring, a beautiful red flower unexpectedly blossomed outside my apartment. I was feeling so touched by its perfection, especially the balance and contrast between the flower and its leaves! That is where this idea came from.”

Currently a student of Steven Stucky and Roberto Sierra at Cornell, Fang is a graduate of the Central Conservatory of Music Beijing, with additional studies with composers Samuel Adler, Qigang Chen, George Crumb, Marc-André Dalbavie, Pascal Dusapin, David Felder, Aaron Jay Kernis, and Wolfgang Rihm. Her credits include invitations to the Gaudeamus Music Week, June in Buffalo, Bowdoin Festival, Minnesota Orchestra Reading, and Aspen Music Festival. She is among ten composers chosen by IRCAM for a year-long residency to compose a piece employing new technology to be premiered at Centre Pompidou, Paris in October 2007. You will find more detailed information and a collection of audio samples on her website.

Seven Questions with Fang Man

MS: Any thoughts on what you’ll be writing for the ACO commission?

FM: Some ideas have gone through my mind recently. I’ve been thinking about writing a Concerto for Orchestra. I am a big fan of my teacher Steven Stucky’s Second Concerto for Orchestra, which won him a Pulitzer Prize in 2005. In fact, the first movement of my Black and White was greatly influenced by this brilliant work of his. You may even discover that some rhythmic patterns and the ending are identical. However, he prefers concise orchestration in contrast to what I favor—dense orchestration, which results quite differently. He once joked that he could use the notes I wrote for this seven-minute piece to compose a twenty-minute work. Besides, I have admired Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra for years; it would be a great opportunity for me to compose in such a genre. I am also writing my doctoral dissertation on Magnus Lindberg’s Concerto for Orchestra at the moment, which would be a great reference and study opportunity for the commission. But I can’t promise this is the final decision.

MS: What are you after in selecting the orchestra as a medium? Are there pressures to make the music as “big” emotionally as the ensemble itself?

FM: Writing for the orchestra is indeed a hard task, but I like challenges. My favorite 20th-century composers such as Toru Takemitsu, Igor Stravinsky, Witold Lutoslawski, György Ligeti, Bela Bartók, and countless well-known composers in music history are all exceptionally skilled orchestrators. I naturally favor “big” music, which may also contribute to my giving priority to writing for the whole orchestra. And I will continue writing for the orchestra and hope to be closer to those masters whom I have admired so much in my life.

MS: I see on your site that you’re heading off to IRCAM next, right?

FM: Thank you for checking out my website! I haven’t updated it for a while. I will add the recordings of my recital soon. And yes! I will go to IRCAM to attend the one-year composition and computer music program, which is an amazing opportunity. And this program includes a final project to compose a new piece using technology to be premiered at Centre Pompidu, and I am so excited! I have been interested in computer music since 1997 while attending Centre Acanthes the first time in Avignon. One of the resident composers, Marco Stroppa, played us some of his works utilizing computer technology, which attracted me immediately. Since then, I’ve been looking into any opportunity to study computer music because I believe it would provide me a tool to discover more “colors” and enhance my writing for acoustic instruments and orchestra by analyzing the sound of electronics. I actually applied to this program a couple of times before and was rejected every time. I was about to give up. So, when I eventually got the offer, I cried and couldn’t sleep well for days. Afterwards, I told myself that I have to hang in there and do my best as I know this coming year at IRCAM should be another difficult period of my life—new language, new environment, difficult courses (I am in fact not familiar with any of the IRCAM software). But, on the other hand, it should be another fruitful and influential period in my artistic career.

MS: You’ve lived and studied all over the world. How has your experience in America impacted your musical thoughts and ideas?

FM: The most important lesson I have learned here is how to study. It sounds easy, but it is definitely not. Thanks to the great educational system in this country, I have learned so much! I myself believe in the importance of emotion in music, although many people don’t nowadays. My feelings are directly reflected in my music, and my feelings are strong and complex. Just like any other foreigner, loneliness and anger often alternate with happiness and excitement, which have become treasured expressions for my writing.

MS: What discs are in heavy rotation this summer in your music player of choice?

FM: Recently, I am very interested in Bartók’s three stage works: the opera Duke Bluebeard’s Castle; and two ballets, The Wooden Prince and The Miraculous Mandarin. And I regularly listen to music of the French school—Boulez, Dutilleux, Dufourt, Grisey, Murail, etc.—hoping to blend into the French culture smoothly. As well as for my dissertation, I listen to Magnus Lindberg’s Concerto for Orchestra almost everyday alongside other composers who composed for the genre—Hindemith, Piston, Kodály, Lutoslawski, Tippett, Carter, Sessions, Bernstein, Higdon, and Stucky.

MS: What’s a point that you have disagreed with a teacher on?

FM: This is a hard question. I don’t usually like to disagree with my teacher, especially when my teacher is so far more knowledgeable than me. I remember that I disagreed sometimes with Stucky when I didn’t know much, and it always turned out that I was wrong. I can comfortably rely on almost any of his advice. Many of my colleagues at Cornell will probably tell you the same.

MS: If you could change one thing about the “composer’s life,” especially when it comes to the orchestra, what would it be?

FM: Only one thing? There are so many things that need to be improved! I would want to have more rehearsal time, especially with the orchestra. When can we have unlimited rehearsal time with the orchestra? I’ll probably wake up laughing everyday!