Composer Viet Cuong

Sound and Smoke is a highlight of our winter 2018 program.  Both the title and concept of Sound and Smoke were derived from a line from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s play Faust, when Faust equates words to “mere sound and smoke” and declares that “feeling is everything.”

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Read the program notes for Sound and Smoke here.

Called “alluring” and “wildly inventive” by The New York Times, Viet Cuong’s music has been performed on six continents by a number of leading soloists and ensembles including the PRISM Saxophone Quartet, Sō Percussion, JACK Quartet, Cabrillo Festival Orchestra, Jacksonville Symphony, Albany Symphony, Gregory Oakes, and Mimi Stillman, in venues such as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Aspen Music Festival, International Double Reed Society Conference, US Navy Band International Saxophone Symposium, Midwest Clinic, and CBDNA conferences. Viet’s awards include the ASCAP Morton Gould Award, Suzanne and Lee Ettelson Award, Theodore Presser Foundation Music Award, Cortona Prize, Walter Beeler Memorial Prize, Boston Guitarfest Competition, Dolce Suono Ensemble Competition, and Prix d’Été Competition. He also received honorable mentions in the Harvey Gaul Memorial Competition and two consecutive ASCAP/CBDNA Frederick Fennell Prizes. Viet has held artist residencies at Yaddo, Ucross, and the Atlantic Center for the Arts, and was a scholarship student at the Eighth Blackbird Creative Lab, Copland House’s CULTIVATE Institute, and the Aspen and Bowdoin music festivals. Currently a Diploma student at the Curtis Institute and a Naumburg and Roger Sessions Doctoral Fellow at Princeton, he holds Bachelors and Masters degrees from the Peabody Conservatory.


We contacted Mr. Cuong and asked him to share with us his thoughts on his journey in music, his musical influences and inspirations and words of advice that he has for young musicians.

Please tell us a bit about your journey in music and in life.  There aren’t any musicians in my family that I know of—my mom and brother are engineers and my dad is a scientist. However, my mother thought it would be good for me to start piano when I was quite young, I think around 5. She read somewhere that learning classical music could make me better at math later on in life! I never really enjoyed practicing, so I stopped lessons after about a year. But I thankfully didn’t write off music completely—when I got to middle school I joined band as a percussionist and miraculously remembered how to read music. Around this time I decided to try piano lessons again, and (surprise, surprise) still didn’t like to practice, but I did discover that I really enjoyed making my own music from scratch. One day I downloaded Finale Notepad and began to actually write down my piano improvisations, as well as some of my early attempts to imitate music we played in band. Since I was a percussionist, I was often counting rests and observing how composers wrote for the ensemble; in many ways, this is how I originally taught myself to write for winds. All throughout high school I played percussion and clarinet in the band program, and composing was something I enjoyed doing on the side. I never really had a composition teacher until I went to the Peabody Conservatory for college and majored in music composition. After Peabody I did graduate work at Princeton and right now I’m now at the Curtis Institute pursuing an AD.

What have been some of your musical influences?  Stravinsky, John Adams, Ravel, Ligeti, Bach, and lots of pop music. All of my teachers and their wonderful music have really influential on me as well.

Please share a bit about your favorite musical memory?  I’ve had so many great experiences with music, and it’s really hard to choose…I did recently have a premiere of a percussion quartet concerto with Sandbox Percussion and the Albany Symphony that was a blast!

Which composer/musician – past or present – would you most like to meet for a coffee and why? Beethoven. If his music is any indication, it would be a complex and amusing conversation. They also say he was a big fan of coffee!

What inspires you? Listening to the music of other composers and musicians is always inspiring to me. I’m also inspired by the idea of pushing myself with every new piece to try something I haven’t done before.

Do you have any advice for young musicians? Every so often encourage yourself to listen, perform, or write a piece that you would have originally thought to be unenjoyable.

Please share any thoughts that you may have about the Northshore Concert Band. I’ve been a fan of Northshore for years, and I’m so excited to be a part of this concert. Thank you so much!

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Viet Cuong and Mallory Thompson at The Midwest Clinic, Chicago, 2017

A special thank you to Mr. Cuong for speaking with us and giving permission to reproduce this material.  Please visit his website at www.vietcuongmusic.com to learn more about this notable American composer.


Truly Wonderful The Mind of a Child Is…

Sunday, February 18, 2018, 3:00 pm

Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, Northwestern University

50 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston, Illinois


Learn more about the Northshore Concert Band at www.northshoreband.org

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