Future will additionally include Louise Farrenc’s “Symphony No. 1,” Igor Stravinsky’s suite from the ballet Pulcinella, and Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Overture to the Creatures of Prometheus.” As a special treat, the Houston Youth Symphony will make a cameo. Conductor Michelle Merrill will lead the orchestra.
Fung, the Juno award-winner whose work was commissioned by ROCO for this weekend, took a moment from her busy schedule to explain what makes this piece so special.
“My son was participating in the Lunar New Year Parade, and this was during the pandemic. People were isolated and everybody was feeling quite alone, and suddenly, you have all this energy from the parade,” Fung said. “The San Francisco parade is a huge affair. Hundreds of people come out, and it was the first time in a long time that I had been in a group setting like that. The energy of people coming together was very emotional for me.”
Named one of the top ten parades in the world by International Festivals & Events Association, the Lunar New Year Parade (also known as the Chinese New Year Parade) in San Francisco is the biggest parade celebrating the lunar new year outside of Asia.
When Fung got the call from ROCO’s artistic director, Alecia Lawyer, about composing a piece for this program, she knew this experience at the parade would be the catalyst for the commission.
“This piece takes a journey from the idea of being alone and going through various iterations of using a phrase,” she describes. She create moments of clashing or playing the same song simultaneously with different tempos to dial up the drama of the parade experience. “But it really culminates in something very joyous and quite euphoric for the orchestra.”
This isn’t her first time dabbling in the theme of isolation. A previous piece, “Prayer,” also centered on this idea.
“They both share some things in common because they’re both inspired by a Hildegard von Bingen chant,” she said. “During times of uncertainty, I turn to ideas of faith, and she is really my champion for that.”
“Parade” is an appropriate punctuation mark to round out ROCO’s season theme, grateful, especially considering the piece’s connection to COVID-19.
Lawyer told the Houston Press at the beginning of this season, “I wanted to lean into gratefulness because we’ve come out of COVID-19 almost like we’ve gone through an asteroid field. We’re back in the game and realizing that everything is intact, and for that, we’re grateful. When you’re in that state of gratefulness, there’s a really invitational way that you can approach people to join the musical journey.”
For someone lauded as a relevant contemporary composer, Fung’s knack for music making originated from an unexpected place.
“I was about seven or eight when I started writing music, but it wasn’t really anything that was too precocious. It was really because I didn’t want to practice. I had a mom who really was very strict, and so I started improvising. She wasn’t a musician, so she couldn’t really tell the difference,” she said.
As they say, necessity is the mother of invention.
Over time, her prowess as a creator developed, and her talent caught the
eyes ears of her industry peers. Fung has received numerous awards and grants, including the 2015 Jan V. Matejcek New Classical Music Award for achievement in new music from the Society of Composers, Authors, and Music Publishers of Canada, a Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship and the New York Foundation for the Arts’ Gregory Millard Fellowship. She is an associate composer of the Canadian Music Centre and served on the board of the American Composers Forum.
As composing music became her focus over the years…it has also became her superpower, which audiences can experience for themselves this weekend.
“I grew up in Edmonton, Canada. There was really nothing to do, and composition became my creative outlet,” she said. “To this day, I feel like I can solve the world’s problems through music. I can find a voice for myself that is not expressed through words. I find that powerful and, in a lot of ways, spiritual.”
ROCO’s Future, including the premiere of Parade, takes place at 5 p.m., April 29 at The Church of St. John the Divine, 2450 River Oaks Boulevard. For tickets or information, call 713-665-2700 or visit ROCO.org. Tickets are “pay what you wish,” with a suggested price of $35. This performance will also be livestreamed free at ROCO.org, Facebook, YouTube, and A440.live.