Bach Aria Soloists recently sat down with Narong Prangcharoen, composer of Dialogue (which will have its world premiere on February 7) to find out what inspired him to write this piece, why he chose to move to Kansas City, and more!
When did you begin writing this piece?
I started composing this piece last summer, 2014. I listened to Bach’s music. The tritones that I use in my piece, Bach used. Bach always breaks the rules.
What was it about the Capriccio that inspired you?
Bach wrote millions of works. This Capriccio is about his brother, about the war. The music has a lot of tension. I picked this piece because I think it’s an unusual topic for Bach.
Did you begin as a pianist?
No, when I began music, I started with trumpet. There were two very important teachers in Thailand for me, Kit Young, my first piano teacher and Bennett Lerner. I studied with both of them in my 20’s. Kit introduced me to my first composition teacher in Thailand.
How did you get to the US?
Steve Taylor, composer, looked at my music and asked, “What are you doing with this stuff?” He was teaching composition at Illinois State University. He offered me a full scholarship to study composition for my Masters.
Why did you move to KC?
I moved to KC because of Chen Yi. Everyone said I should study with Chen Yi bc her music was in the same direction as mine. When I listened to her music, I thought, “Ok, YES, this is my teacher!”
How would you describe Narong’s style of composing?
My music, in general, has a certain sound. Certain harmonic progressions. There’s a certain melodic movement that I use. You can feel a little reference to Asia and Bach in my new piece. I don’t just use Asian harmonies anymore. The world is much smaller now. When I first started, the world was bigger, people didn’t know Javanese things, but now, people notice, so you don’t have to shout it any longer. People will feel the Thai element.
The Thai element?
People thought since I’m Thai, I should have a lot of Thai elements in my music, but nowadays, I go past that, and focus more on what I want to do.
Composing is like having a kid, you can’t worry too much about your kids. Once it’s done, it’s out of your hands. With this piece, I told Elizabeth, I want to write a solo violin movement for you. I knew she was a wonderful violinist, but I never had the chance to compose for her before now.
I love living in KC. It feels like home. I just bought a condo here, I left for a few years awhile ago, I came back and it feels like home. I write more music when I’m here, I become more productive when I’m home. This is the place where I’m supposed to be.
What are you busy doing in addition to the Bach Aria Soloists’ composition?
I won the Barlow Prize, so I just finished a composition that I wrote for the US Marine Band, I will go to DC for their concert.
I have not had my music done here in KC. So, this is a great opportunity, I would love to work with local artists. Art should connect with the community. To play a concert that will speak to the audience, it’s really exciting that the BAS has asked me!
It’s really hard to write a piece, to follow Bach, and I have to write music that will sit with his, it’s really difficult, quite stressful. But, I’ve learned a lot more about Bach. I learned how wonderful Bach was as a composer, he really inspires me. It’s a Dialogue between me and Bach. He says something in his language, and I say something to respond in my language. It’s a really good challenge, really good learning experience as a composer.
Most of the music I write is for orchestra, because that’s how the commissions have gone. The Berlin Philharmonic just commissioned me to compose for them. So, when I get this opportunity, it’s a blessing, to deal with only 4 people, it is totally different than 55 or 70–for that many, you can hide many things under the carpet. For only 4 people, everything becomes foreground, everything becomes clear.
Did their 15th Anniversary inform your piece?
Yes, that BAS is solid and meaningful in the community, for 15 years, it’s a serious group. It goes both ways–musicians-artists and community. The piece that I wrote is 23 minutes long, quite substantial for chamber music. The piece, Capriccio, having a brother going off to war, is scary.
In my piece, the first movement is called “Bach”; I took his name, I want to start talking to him, like making a phonecall, you start talking to him first, then, you hear my voice.