no longer stain is a reference to a line in the original “America the Beautiful” poem by Katharine Lee Bates, inspired by a hike to the summit of Pikes Peak, Colorado, in 1893. In that version, Bates’ vision for America is hopeful and reverential but also critical, aiming for a dream of nationhood through communal spirituality. After several revisions, the text that we know today revels in the inherent goodness of the country and is more patriotic, leaving out lines like “Till selfish gain no longer stain, The banner of the free!” That earlier concern over wealth disparity and unchecked power becomes a call for “all success [to] be nobleness, And every gain divine!”
My variation for Min Kwon’s e pluribus unum project reflects some of those ambiguities, written in the months and weeks leading up to the tumult of the November 2020 presidential election, in the midst of a global pandemic that has been politicized and terribly mismanaged, and in the aftermath of a national reckoning on racial injustice that continues to reverberate. Traces of Samuel A. Ward’s melody anchor floating and resonant layers. Through irregular accents, the detached melody is stitched together among displaced intervals that bring on new layers, and new complexities. A rising, imitated line (“For amber waves of grain”) contrasts the obsessive opening with something more hopeful, coming full circle at the end. A high, singing line points upward, resisting against the music’s otherwise irregularly obsessive pulse. And the climactic moment (“America! America!”) rings forth with a conviction intensified by the ambivalence of its accompaniment.
Composer/pianist Anthony Cheung writes music that explores the senses, a wide palette of instrumental play and affect, improvisational traditions, reimagined musical artifacts, and multiple layers of textual meaning. His music has been commissioned and performed by leading groups such as the Ensemble Modern, Ensemble Intercontemporain, New York Philharmonic, Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra, Ensemble Musikfabrik, Scharoun Ensemble, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, and many others. From 2015-17, he was the Daniel R. Lewis
Composer Fellow with the Cleveland Orchestra. He is the recipient of a 2016 Guggenheim Fellowship, as well as a 2012 Rome Prize, and received First Prize at the 2008 Dutilleux Competition. As a co-founder of New York’s Talea Ensemble, he served as pianist and artistic director of the group. Recordings include three portrait discs: Cycles and Arrows (New Focus), Dystemporal (Wergo), and Roundabouts (Ensemble Modern Medien). He studied at Harvard and Columbia, and was a Junior Fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows. He taught at the University of Chicago from 2013-20, and is currently Associate Professor of Music at Brown University.
As the artistic director of Center for Musical Excellence, I am always on the look out for new and undiscovered talents. They come to me, sometimes, by my colleagues’ recommendations and other times through young artists’ own research about our organization. Tyson Davis and Andrew Bambridge are currently on our roster of CME Young Artists, whom we mentor. Patricio Molina is a CME alumnus. Theo Chandler, Ji-Young Ko, and Daniel Newman-Lessler applied for our Grant program, and I got to know their work through that process. I decide on young artists when I notice a deep passion and drive within them, plus a certain kind of sparkle in the personality and lots of humility. In addition to musical talents, I believe these are the qualities that will take the young artists far. CME’s motto is "Moving Musicians Forward". I’ve chosen our Discovery Composers based on these qualities, whom we felt we could easily move forward.
- Min Kwon