This Year’s Theme, Asian American Voices, Focuses on Moving Society Forward Through Music

ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON — The US-China Music Institute of the Bard College Conservatory of Music announces the fourth season of the China Now Music Festival, from October 12 to 17. The festival’s concerts will take place at The Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College and Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City. Through an annual series of concerts and academic activities, the China Now Music Festival is dedicated to promoting an understanding and appreciation of music from contemporary China. This year’s theme broadens the festival’s scope to include the voices of a wide array of Asian American composers, with the aim of exploring their importance in contemporary American music and society. “Asian American voices are American voices, and Asian American music is American music. We should always cherish the cultural diversity in American society,” says China Now Music Festival Artistic Director Jindong Cai.

The fourth annual China Now Music Festival, Asian American Voices, arrives in the midst of a particularly challenging time, shadowed by the global pandemic and recent rise in anti-Asian discrimination and violence. The repertoire thus reflects how Asian American composers have responded to this particular moment, as well as to the historical reception of Asians in America.

“Music is not just an art form but should help move society forward,” says Huang Ruo, the festival’s composer-in-residence.

The festival features three important works by New York–based composer, Huang Ruo. Born in China in 1976 and based in the United States, Huang has established a career as a major figure in classical music today. Spanning many genres and traditions, Huang’s work often aims to integrate Chinese and Western influences into multidimensional soundscapes. Key festival performances include a preview of excerpts from his latest composition, Angel Island; A Dust in Time, a piece he composed in response to the pandemic; and selections from his opera An American Solider, with libretto by David Henry Hwang. The festival programming also showcases new works by a range of Asian American composers. These works delve into the Asian American experience stretching back 100 years to today.

“The recent spike in anti-AAPI hate reminds us that Asian Americans must lift up our voices and show the world who we are, in all our strength, complexity, and humanity,” says playwright David Henry Hwang.

On Tuesday, October 12 at 8 p.m., the festival’s opening concert, Asian American Voices: Composing for History, music of Huang Ruo, conducted by China Now Artistic Director Jindong Cai, will be held at the Fisher Center for Performing Arts. The Orchestra Now will perform Huang’s 2020 meditation on the pandemic, A Dust in Time: A Passacaglia for Strings, which mirrors a Tibetan sand mandala in its musical structure. The festival’s ensemble–in-residence, the San Francisco-based Del Sol Quartet, will also present a preview of excerpts from Huang’s latest work, Angel Island: Oratorio for Voices and String Quartet. Angel Island sets to music the haunting Chinese poetry, more than 200 poems, inscribed on the walls of the Angel Island immigration center in San Francisco by detained immigrants during the early 20th century.

On Wednesday, October 13 at 8 p.m., Asian American Voices: Undercurrents in Contemporary American Music, a multimedia chamber concert, will be held at the Fisher Center at Bard College. Korean-American composer Jin Hi Kim presents the world-premiere of A Ritual for COVID-19, a multimedia composition inspired by the Korean shamanistic ‘ssitkimkut’ ritual for purifying the spirits of the dead. The Del Sol Quartet will perform new compositions by Erberk Eryilmaz, Takuma Itoh, Vijay Iyer, Erika Oba, and Jungyoon Wie, representing many diverse voices to reflect various aspects of Asian American society and history, from the early years of Japanese immigration—with Itoh’s piece Picture Brides—to selections from the quartet’s ‘Joy Project’—an effort to respond to current social and political change, technology, and artistic innovation.

On Saturday, October 16 at 3 p.m., Asian American Voices: Symphonic Portraits, with The Orchestra Now, a festival concert, will be held at the Fisher Center for Performing Arts. Jindong Cai will lead The Orchestra Now to showcase three symphonic works by the composers Tan Dun, dean of the Bard Conservatory; Xinyan Li, Bard Conservatory faculty member; and Peng-Peng Gong, Shanghai-based composer and pianist. Tan’s Prayer and Blessing is his initial response to the pandemic, composed in early 2020. Li’s Awakening Light, concerto for guzheng and orchestra, was commissioned by the festival to be performed by the winner of the 2019 Bard Conservatory Concerto Competition, Yixin Wang. Gong’s A Chinese in New York is a raw description of the experience of a Chinese student confronting cultural differences in America.

The second half of the concert will feature several moving episodes from composer Huang Ruo’s 2014 opera, An American Soldier. The opera tells the powerful and haunting true story of the death of US Army Private Danny Chen, who was born and raised in New York’s Chinatown and died in Afghanistan in 2001 after being subjected to relentless hazing and racial maltreatment by his superiors. The episodes presented here will be introduced by the opera’s librettist, Tony award–winning playwright David Henry Hwang.

On Sunday, October 17 at 3 p.m., the festival’s closing concert, Asian American Voices: Angel Island Oratorio and An American Soldier, music of Huang Ruo, conducted by Jindong Cai, will be held in the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City. The program begins with the Del Sol Quartet and China Now Festival Chorus performing a preview of excerpts from Angel Island: Oratorio for Voices and String Quartet. The concert will also feature a second performance of selected episodes from An American Soldier, with The Orchestra Now, soloists, and live narration by librettist David Henry Hwang.

An online panel discussion and performance, Asian American Voices: Artists Confronting Society, on Thursday, October 14 at 8pm will bring together some of the major voices in the 2021 China Now Music Festival. Featured composer Huang Ruo, Tony award–winning playwright David Henry Hwang, artistic director of the China Now Music Festival Jindong Cai, violist Charlton Lee of the Del Sol Quartet, and others will discuss their experience as Asian American artists and reflect on how this particular moment in history has shaped their creative process and their views on the role of the artist in society. Following the panel discussion, the Del Sol Quartet will offer an excerpt of their new recording of Huang Ruo’s meditation on the pandemic, A Dust in Time.

For more information about the China Now Music Festival and for full programming details, visit

Tickets for October 12 and 13 have a suggested donation of $15 or $20. Tickets for October 16 are $25, $30, $35, and $40. To purchase tickets for the Fisher Center concerts, visit, call 845-758-7900 (Mon-Fri 10am-5pm), or email

Tickets for October 17 are $25, $35, and $50. To purchase tickets for the Jazz at Lincoln Center concert visit the Jazz at Lincoln Center Box Office, Broadway at 60th Street, Ground Floor, (Monday-Saturday 10am–6pm, Sunday 12 pm–6pm) or online at, or call CenterCharge at 212-721-6500.

CAPTION INFO: Huang Ruo. Photo by Wenjun Miakoda Liang.

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