New Music reBlog: Narong Prangcharoen CD release"
July 20, 2009
It has been three months since my last post and a year since I left Thailand. Time flies, and though I regularly come up with posts for this blog in my head, they never seem to get published (most of my blogging energy is spent at work). Life is good, it's just busy, so I probably won't comment on that great article (Bertil Lintner's "Battle for Thailand" in the July/August Foreign Affairs) or spectacular performance (Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Mahler's 8th in June). However I do have to note that composer Narong Prangcharoen's first CD has at last come out on Albany Records. I first wrote about Narong back in January 2008, and here's an excerpt from my paper that looks at his work, including a few pieces featured on Phenomenon, the new CD:
Narong Prangcharoen might called the leader of this young generation of Western Thai composers. He was the only artist consistently referred to by other Thai composers as someone I should speak to, and he founded and organizes the annual Thailand Composition Festival. Prangcharoen has acquired a slew of accolades in his short career, including positive reviews in the US and several international commissions. He grew up in Uttaradit Province, was never trained in Thai classical music, and played trumpet in his high school marching band. It was in high school in Bangkok that he discovered Western classical music and made the decision to pursue music in college. He studied Western composition in Thailand with Narongrit Dhamabutra, another pioneer in mixing Thai and Western sonorities, and he is currently finishing his doctoral studies in the United States with composer Chen Yi at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
Listening to Prangcharoen’s piece "Far from Home" for solo cello, one can hear idiomatic techniques and sounds of the saw-ou and other Thai stringed instruments. The haunting work Sattha was composed in memory of victims of the 2004 tsunami. It features a recurring pentatonic melody and Thai sounds are scattered throughout the piece because it is emotionally based in Thailand. The relationship that Prangcharoen says exists between his music and Thai classical music, however, is complicated and requires a brief explanation. Many Thai classical melodies are composed in foreign accents (samniang). Lao, Mon, Cambodian (Khamen), and Malayasian/Indian (Khaek) are the most commonly used; Burmese (Phamah), Chinese (Chin), Vietnamese (Yuan), Japanese (Yipun), and Western (Farang) are found less frequently. One can determine an accent from a piece's key (Thai is commonly F, Lao is C, Mon is B-flat, for example), but the title also usually helps (Khaek borathet thao, Lao siang tian, Khamen sai yoke, etc.). Though many Thai classical pieces are labeled as having been composed in these foreign modes, they were still composed by Thais according to Thai practices. In few cases does the accent indicate that a foreign melody, instrument, or compositional style has been borrowed; mostly the accents are of Thai invention, loosely rooted in the impression of another culture's music. A Malaysian musician would recognize a piece in Khaek accent as Thai, not Malaysian sounding.
To describe his compositional relationship with Thai classical music, Prangcharoen says it is like he is working in a "Thai accent" (personal interview). He is using Western instruments, notation, and techniques. The composers who have most influenced him are first and foremost his current teacher Chen Yi, and then John Corigliano, John Adams, Magnus Lindberg, Zhou Long, Christopher Rouse, and John Mackey. His music would not be recognizable as "Thai" to most Thais. However, like the Thai classical music system of accents, there is a foreign influence nonetheless, even if that influence never reveals itself in a full, unambiguous representation. Prangcharoen's music reflects his impressions of Thai music with the Western tools of his education.
As far as I know, this is the first American release devoted entirely to a Thai composer. I can't find any reviews for Phenomenon and I have yet to purchase the record myself, but having heard much of this music already I can confidently recommend picking up a copy. Andrew Patner's endorsement doesn't hurt either. After hearing Narong's orchestral tone poem Phenomenon in 2007, he wrote"I absolutely want to hear anything else by this talented young man." Sample music and scores at Narong's website.