R e v i e w s
(in chronological order --earliest first)
Paris 1987 : "...Each movement presents players with opportunities to develop skills necessary in the performance of twentieth-century music...challenging and exciting." Ricky Duhaime, NACWPI JOURNAL, Summer, 1990. Journal for the National Association of College Wind and Percussion Instructors.
"Paris 1987 is a collage of French wind music of the last century. Colorful in the French style, it is a worthy addition to the repertoire." Kevin Schempf, The Clarinet, Sept. 1999, vol.26, no. 4.
Toccata : "... a genuine 'touch' piece...brilliant composition... a remarkable achievement. A bright and challenging program 'ender.'" David Burge, NOTES, Sept. 1991. Journal for the Music Library Association.
Fanfare : " The highlight was the premiere of Stella Sung's witty Fanfare, a muscular yet lyrical miniature during which the brass section did themselves proud." Mark Stryker, Dayton Daily News, Dayton, OH, October 9, 1993.
Fanfare : " The opening Fanfare for brass by Florida composer Stella Sung set the tone for the entire concert. Bright, upbeat, and modern, Ms. Sung's recently premiered piece will likely find a place in the repertoire of many brass ensembles."
Vero Beach Press-Journal, Vero Beach, FL., Jan. 27, 1994.
Chameleon Dances : "A dynamic and expressive work." Speyerer Rundschau, Speyer, Germany, Oct. 5, 1995.
Mobiles: " Stella Sung's Mobiles ... an extended, modulated drone is followed by very slowly spelled out half-notes which gradually gain momentum and are replaced by smaller rhythmic values...this is clearly Sung's intention and indeed the resulting sense of control serves to focus the listeners attention...the overall effect is really quite nice and a fitting conclusion to this interesting selection of pieces." Frederick Moore, SEAMUS Journal (Journal for the Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States), Vol. XI No. 1, April 1996.
Moods of the Pacific : " Sung's work was by far the most richly scored, with some wonderful bassoon and oboe cantillations over rolling piano arpeggios, and the voice riding the crest of the instrumental waves in a way which actually suggested many of the words in the poem." Herman Trotter, The Buffalo News, Buffalo, NY, April 4, 1998.
Rhapsody : "A bracing, vivid piece after a diaphanous opening, it turned fast, bold and rhythmic...sonorousness galore."
Steven Brown, The Orlando Sentinel, Orlando FL, April 27, 1999.
Night Bloom : "Its [Night Bloom] musical ideas passed gracefully among the voices of an ensemble of three string players and a clarinet. Amy Zolotos clarinet was like an elusive light hidden in the forest to glimpse every now and then, and follow where it led. Lovely." Ann Hyman, Times Union, Jacksonville, FL, February 28, 2000.
Dance of the White Lotus Under the Silver Moon
"Dance of the White Lotus Under the Silver Moon, an aphoristically poetic lead piece on this offering is Impressionistic in ways that would have made Debussy smile. This is real music that demands and deserves active listening, and that will reward those efforts at least tenfold. " William Zagorski, Fanfare, July/August 2000.
Three Dances : "Three Dances by contemporary composer Stella Sung was a real discovery! The opening Andante and the Adagio, quasi improvisatory, tempo rubato that follows show the lyrical influence of Samuel Barber. Yet this shimmering music is the work of a composer with an original, personal voice. The final Allegretto is a light French pastry (a la Poulenc and Milhaud with spicier seasoning) that delights the listener. Sung's music embraces the past but could only have been composed in the 21st century! The audience gave this atmospheric score an ovation. A splendid work in a spectacular performance! Stella Sung's marvelous score symbolizes this fascinating concerts thematic purpose. Chameleon Musicians introduced the work of a brilliant creative artist and revived intoxicating scores by path breaking female composers. " Lawrence Budman, Coral Gables Gazette, Coral Gables, FL, March 18, 2004.
M.C. Escher exhibit : "University of Central Florida professor Stella Sung composed ambient music that settles in the exhibitions quieter corners. The atmosphere is just right to clear the clichés around Escher and contemplate his deeply philosophical work anew." Philip Bishop, Orlando Sentinel, Aug. 20, 2005.
"For the traveling exhibit ( M.C Escher exhibit, Orlando Museum of Art), Stella Sung, a music professor at the University of Central Florida, used computer and digital technology to weave together a cool, New-Agey soundscape, the perfect backdrop to Escher's mind-benders." Miami Herald, Aug. 21, 2005.
Rockwell Reflections : "The new composition by Sung, Rockwell Reflections, was commissioned to coincide with the touring exhibition of works by the iconic American illustrator Norman Rockwell, which opened at the Orlando Museum of Art, also on Saturday. Sung chose five of Rockwell's illustrations from the exhibition, and these were projected on a pair of screens above the orchestra. She then provided a separate musical response to each. As directly communicative as Rockwell's drawings can be, the combined effect of his visuals with her music was at times truly stunning. The images were gradually revealed through slow focusing and pulling back, allowing the music to "establish the mood for the image and not vice versa. The all-American program, conducted by Music Director Christopher Wilkins, also included Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man and Billy the Kid suite, Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, and Ives's Three Places in New England. "In short, the Orlando Philharmonic should be commended for a well-planned and executed concert that put the spotlight on this country's music, both past and present."
Scott Warfield, Orlando Sentinel, March 5, 2008
"In a salute to the Norman Rockwell exhibit that will open next month at the Chrylser Museum of Art, the orchestra performed Stella Sung's Rockwell Reflections. The inspirations for the five movements were projected on screens above the orchestra.
Sung's score reminded one of other music meant to accompany visual experiences. Aaron Copland's clean sonorities and John Williams popular tunes both came to mind.
After three fairly simple movements, more depth was found in the movements inspired by two paintings from the 1960sthe painful image of the murder of civil rights workers in Mississippi, and the uplifting tribute to John F. Kennedy's Peace Corps. Familiar melodies were effectively woven into an orchestral texture colored by a rich harmonic palette for a stronger musical experience. " Lee Teply, Virginia Pilot, Oct. 27, 2008.
" The Copland Fanfare was a wonderful prelude to Stella Sung's Rockwell Reflections. An evocative musical narrative inspired by five paintings by Norman Rockwell, the beautiful soundscape was accompanied by projections on screens suspended above the orchestra. Like a good film score, this piece readily conjured feelings and emotions in the listener with lush string sounds, soaring horns and an engaging variety of orchestral textures. The orchestra did the score great justice and the audience warmly received the performance. The fourth movement, Murder in Mississippi, was especially powerful." David Baxter, The Wichita Eagle, March 15, 2010.
The Circle Closes: "Whatever the somewhat nebulous title for this concert, Color Cathedral, implied, the point of it was the impressive premiere of The Circle Closes by Composer-in-Residence Stella Sung. As Sung said in her own program note, it is completely abstract. Despite her disclaimer, Sungs music conveys a strong sense of motion that implies a connection with the physical world, and one could imagine this music as the score to a succession of epic scenes in a motion picture.
The first half of the work was a continual series of small climaxes, each built out of shifting modular units. Wide-spaced melodies in the strings rose over quasi-minimalist ostinati and competed for attention against liberal outbursts in the percussion. Below, long held bas notes served as tonal anchors and also marked the shifts into succeeding sections that repeated sections that repeated the process with slightly varied materials.
Midway through the piece, the mood lightened considerably and the percussion feel silent. Instead one soon heard a vague sustained tone that came from two crystal singing bowls of a type frequently used in meditation and healing. Later, the two bowls on stage were joined by two others in the side balconies....each emitted a fairly strong consistent tone that, as Sung intended, lent an other-worldy quality to the work, and again suggested some extramusical meaning of this piece...a memorable premiere."
Scott Warfield, Orlando Sentinel, April 19, 2010.
Voices of Time: (CD review, Voices of Time, Matitiahu Braun, MSR 1336): "At the other end of the spectrum are the virtuosic Prelude and Four Caprices by Ruben Varga, and the noble Voices of Time, inspired by composer Stella Sung's visit to Auschwitz. Braun responds with vigour and intelligence to their different challenges." Howard Goldstein, BBC Magazine, Sept. 2010 issue.
"Stella Sung's somber and haunting Voices of Time, a work of some nine and a half minutes, reflects, according to the notes, her feeling for the victims of Auschwitz. Ranging far beyond the tonal in its harmonic layout, it offers in this performance a sort of bleak meditation, and Braun captures its intensity and ferocity so effectively that the beginning of Bachs Second Partita comes almost as a benediction....Matitiahu Braun's recital offers two new works of considerable interest and creditable performances of some of the most important works in the standard repertoire of the violin and viola. " Robert Maxham, Fanfare, Issue 43:1, Sept./Oct. 2010.
The Phoenix Rising: "Stella Sung's The Phoenix Rising began with a Big Bang representing the conflagration of the bird, leading to dramatic tunes and quasi-martial music with xylophone accents, tapering off into string music with little comments from the winds. A lyrical section with strings and horns featuring touching melodies led to another climax and a denouement. This was an effective and evocative, colorfully scored piece that made its point in less than ten minutes. " Daniel Hathaway, clevelandclassical.com, July 18, 2011.
"Dance of the White Lotus Under the Silver Moon (1998), by Stella Sung, is the longest work on the program and is an exceptionally effective opener. It is oozing with mood, color, hypnotic calmness, lyricism, elegant melismas, and above all --magic! The listener is transported to an oriental space more akin to Zen. Time is suspended, and one feels an expanse of the moment. The duo communicates with the listener with much sensitivity, in an acoustic space that is clear and rich without artifice. Keebles sound is infinitely flexible, with many subtle colors, and the lines he draws with his sound can be stunningly poignant."
Brooks de Wetter-Smith, The Flutist Quarterly. Vol. XXXV, No. 1, Winter 2011.
“…..Audiences frequently ask me, ‘Is there any good women’s music?’ and, ‘Where do we go to hear it?’ Harpist Susan Robinson said Sunday, ‘This festival aims to highlight a few of the extensive stores of never-performed women’s compositions languishing on library shelves.’
The afternoon event highlighted some fascinating compositions in a first-class performance aided by the church’s perfect acoustics. Flutist Adria Sternstein Foster and Robinson opened with a finely wrought version of Stella Sung’s “Dance of the White Lotus under the Silver Moon,” a panoply of boldly contrasting colors and textures tinged with swirling Asian microtones.” Cecelia Porter, Washington Post, Feb. 27. 2012.
Rockwell Reflections: "The concert opened with the New England premiere of Stella Sung’s Rockwell Variations (sic). The five tone poems that make up this work take as their cue paintings by that most American of artists, Norman Rockwell.
Sung’s music is warm, richly tonal, and filled with sweeping melody that could fit any American Experience documentary. That was particularly true of the first and last movements, which had buoyant energy and calming nostalgia, made clear through quotations of “God Bless America” and “America the Beautiful” to accompany Rockwell’s portrait JFK’s Bold Legacy.
"Checkers,” the subject of the third movement, is a study in musical humor. Various percussion knocks, whistles, slides, and rattles accompany a circus-like theme spread about the ensemble. Most haunting was the fourth movement, an eerie, frightening portrayal of Rockwell’s "Southern Justice," depicting the murder of three civil rights activists in Mississippi. Throughout, Wilkins led the Landmarks Orchestra in a colorful and evocative account of this affecting piece." Aaron Keebough, Boston Classical Review, July 21, 2016.
Rockwell Reflections: "Can readers credit that this reviewer had never heard a Boston Landmarks Orchestra concert before the one at the Hatch Shell Wednesday? I’m kicking myself for not having gone sooner. Polished musicianship, brilliant programming, plus extras like video images and, oh, perfect weather enhanced the evening.
"Pictures at an Exhibition” was the theme, so of course the Mussorgsky/Ravel was featured, but the other works also focused on visual art. Collaborations with other area organizations being part of the Landmarks Orchestra’s ongoing success, two art museums were involved in this concert: The Norman Rockwell Museum (of Stockbridge) and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
Rockwell Reflections, a 2007 work by Stella Sung commissioned by the Rockwell Museum (sic) for a successful travelling show, opened the program. Each of its five movements evokes a different Rockwell work. In videos crafted by students working with Sung, the images appeared on the large screen above the performers. “Artist facing Blank Canvas (The Deadline),” was spritely and energetic, with a soaring, inviting theme. “Outward Bound (The Stay-at-homes)” started slowly and with restraint and gradually expanded with majestic sonorities; the image started with just a cloud-filled sky, but slowly moved out to reveal an older man and a boy watching sailboats go out to sea. After a shanty-like passage, the majestic sounds return tinged with percussion, and as the music faded, we could imagine the boats disappearing on the horizon. “Scherzo – Checkers” featured a small group of circus performers, backstage, puzzling over a checker game, while the circus is in full swing, as we hear from the riotously playful music. The panoply of percussion instruments employed are introduced in this preview video; some of Sung’s music can be heard as well. I was floored by the next movement, “Murder in Mississippi (Southern Justice).” Illustrating the 1964 murder of three young civil rights workers by the KKK, this journeyed far from the jovial Norman Rockwell I thought I knew. Sung began with eerie string harmonies over a hushed drumbeat. Again, the screened image only gradually revealed itself, starting with a dark corner and moving to the three figures, one dead, one dying in the arms of his standing colleague, the next to be attacked; the assailants are seen only as shadows. A trumpet drew out a sorrowful, lamenting melody based on Negro Spiritual; ominous percussion outbursts came intermittently. The spine-chilling effect also served to underscore events of recent weeks, showing that issues of civil rights remain unresolved. Reflectionsconcluded with “The Peace Corps (JFK’s Bold Legacy),” which offered a sense of resolution and much-needed hope; Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” was woven in, but not overbearingingly.
In my first opportunity to hear music by Stella Sung I was completely moved by her vivid creation. Afterwards Artistic Director Christopher Wilkins announced that the Landmarks Orchestra is joining with the New England Aquarium to commission Sung’s “Sounds of the Sea,” for next season. Definitely something to look forward to!" Liane Curtis, Boston Music Intelligencer, July 23, 2016.
The Book Collector:" IN 2012, the Dayton Opera, Dayton Philharmonic, and Dayton Ballet merged to become the Dayton Performing Arts Alliance. One of goals of the group was the creation of new works involving all three partner organization. That goal was splendidly realized on May 20 with the premiere of Stella Sung’s The Book Collector, a one-act opera designed to be paired with Carmina Burana. Thus, the opera uses the same three soloists as Orff’s scenic cantata, as well as the same orchestra (with an added harp).
Sung and her librettist Ernest Hilbert have imagined a scenario explaining how the manuscript that Orff used for his texts came to be in the monastery at Benediktbeuren. Set in 1826, the new opera shows Baron Otto von Scott (baritone Andrew Garland) unsuccessfully competing with bookseller Franz Bierman (tenor Andrew Owens) for the manuscript. After the baron sends his daughter Anna (soprano Angela Mortellaro) to sprinkle a drug on the manuscript, the hallucinations that ensue cause Bierman to give the book to a monk in hopes of absolution. Eventually the deranged baron kills the bookseller.
The Book Collector is an effective piece of musical theater and goes well with its intended companion piece. A good deal of the orchestral writing consists of repeated rhythmic figures, rather in the manner of Orff, but less insistent. Over that dynamic underpinning, the vocal writing is natural, speech-based declamation, with numerous sustained lyrical episodes (such as the baron’s monologue after failing to obtain the manuscript, a quasi love scene between the bookseller and Anna, and a prayer for Anna near the end of the opera). In addition, Sung incorporates four pieces of music by Bach. The second prelude from The Well-Tempered Clavier drives the opening auction scene, much as the chord sequence of the D Minor chaconne gives shape to the final trio. The subject of The Art of the Fugue is incongruously (and delightfully) paired with a Bavarian dance in the hallucination scene. Most striking of all is the adaptation of the twenty-second WTC prelude for Anna’s prayer. Then, toward the end of the action, both the text and the music begin to foreshadow Carmina Burana.
In this production, The Book Collector was more than just a companion piece to Orff’s work. Director Gary Briggle and choreographer (and Artistic Director of the Dayton Ballet) Karen Russo Burke devised a scenario that allowed the three soloists to retain their operatic identities in the fully staged and danced version of Carmina Burana. The second half of the program opened with a brief a cappella choral introduction (“Fortune’s Gifts”) by Sung and Hilbert that showed Anna taking up the drug-sprinkled manuscript and entering into the world of Orff’s musical making, where she continued to interact with her father and Bierman.
Performances were uniformly excellent. As the baron, Garland showed an unexpected strength in the lower register as well as a strong top, and he was also equal to the more extreme demands of Orff’s music. A fine actor, he was especially amusing in Carmina. Owens made an appealing Bierman and was unfazed by the ridiculous tessitura of Orff’s roasted swan. Perhaps most impressive of all was Mortellaro, whose surprisingly powerful lyric soprano carried excitingly through the house. Jeff Sams was an imposing presence as the silent monk. There was fine work from the Dayton Philharmonic, the Dayton Philharmonic Chorus, the Dayton Opera Chorus, and the Kettering Children’s Choir, all under the direction of Neil Gittleman. If the murder of Bierman relied a bit too much on staggering and cape swirling, Briggle’s direction was otherwise fresh and inventive. Simple but elegant costumes by B. Bartlett Blair added to the visual appeal. Kudos to the untiring members of the Dayton Ballet for their realization of Burke’s choreography, which was by turn athletic and charming, especially Nathaly Prieto, Carl Backman, and Case Bodamer, who danced Anna, the baron, and Bierman, respectively, in Carmina.
Finally, the rear-projected digital scenery, created by Ninjaneer Studios, LLC, was highly effective, providing a range of interior and exterior settings suggested by the text, as well as some unsettling hallucinatory transformations." Joe Law , Opera News ( August, 2016).
The Book Collector (2014):
New article in Opera America magazine:
Oceana: "In the spring of 2016, conductor Christopher Wilkins and composer Stella Sung attended a lecture at the New England Aquarium. There, marine biologists Scott Kraus and Christopher Clark discussed the problems of noise pollution brought about by shipping and ocean industry upon marine wildlife. Sung was inspired and set to work on a composition that reflected this environmental threat.
From an ecological standpoint, her resulting Oceana, which was commissioned by the Boston Landmarks Orchestra and heard in its world premiere at the Hatch Shell Wednesday night, projects a hopeful vision of a serene natural world led and protected by human efforts.
As concert music, it is consistently engaging. Lush and brimming with melody, Sung’s music has the broad sweep and direct emotional appeal of a film score. Like her Rockwell Reflections, which Wilkins and the Landmarks Orchestra performed in July 2016, Oceana is a multimedia experience. Haunting images of whales, darting fish, and littered beaches prepared by filmmaker Annie Crawley provide a visual narrative to a score rife with tension and release. The three interconnected sections of Oceana, which together run to 13 minutes, unfold from prerecorded whale songs. Sung’s melodic fragments gradually harmonize these sounds, as if to give hope to the idea that humans and marine animals can coexist.
But noises gradually interrupt the balance. Hammer strokes fill the air, and horns and trumpets blare out blistering dissonances. Yet Oceana concludes on a note of optimism. The whale songs return and are complemented by shimmering orchestral lines, a subtle call for humans to develop new ways to protect endangered marine life. Crawley’s final images, which continue after the final chord is sounded, drive the point home: whales and fish are photographed alongside human divers, who watch from a friendly, though cautious, distance.
Wilkins and the Landmarks Orchestra offered a vivid rendering of this intriguing mix of music, science, and activism to make Sung and Crawley’s environmentalist message ring clearly without being preachy." Aaron Keebough, Boston Classical Review, August 16, 2018.
Oceana: "After a remarkable and enchanting performance of And God Created Great Whales by Alan Hovhaness, we heard the the West Coast premiere of Stella Sung’s,Oceana, a work chosen so recently that it wasn’t even mentioned in the printed program. In Sung’s score, innovative orchestral sounds blend with pre-recorded whale songs and project the hope that humans and marine wildlife can coexist peacefully for many generations to come."Lyn Bronson, Penisula Reviews, Carmel, CA , March 17, 2019.
Oceana: "Hovhanne's Great Whales was premiered in 1970, well before we knew what today’s scientists and oceanographers know about climate change and the degradation of the oceans. To that end, Pak invited John Ryan of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) to the stage for a short interview about oceanic pollution, specifically noise pollution that, because it travels faster and much farther in water than in air, disorients marine life that depends on sonic communications for everything from feeding to reproduction.
That set up the next piece, Stella Sung’s Oceana, a personally forceful tone poem in crystal clear musical language of unequivocal defiance against the industrial, commercial and military sonic ‘abuses’ of life in the oceans. Of the music, there could be no doubt. Yet that was utterly reinforced by a video, made after the fact but with equal aggression, by Annie Crawley, obviously dialed in to the same. Images of whales, fish, underwater explosions, vast tracts of floating oceanic garbage and plastics and both wildlife and human life suffering the consequences. The point was clear."
Scott MacClelland, Performing Arts Monterey Bay News, March 18, 2019.