It took a global pandemic to finally provide Alexandra Nguyen the chance to perform a piece of music that she’d been carrying around since the age of 18.
In 2020, Nguyen found herself searching for new modes of performance and expression in the wake of sudden transformations wrought by COVID-19. As an educator specializing in collaborative performance, the new limitations on crowds and gatherings forced her to reimagine her approach to teaching and to making music.
It was in these circumstances that she decided to finally perform “Scenes from a Jade Terrace” by accomplished Canadian composer Alexina Louie. Nguyen interviewed Louie to capture her own words as part of the videos Nguyen played between pieces on her program’s livestream, thereby leveraging—rather than feeling limited by—available technologies. That ultimately led to the discovery of shared experiences and an exciting residency bound for the College of Music this month, Feb. 12-19.
“It turned out we have a lot in common,” recalls Nguyen, associate professor of collaborative piano. “We had these really fascinating conversations about what it means for first-, second- and third-generation immigrants to establish our identity in a new culture while respecting and including our heritage.”
She adds, “On a daily basis, the Asian community is faced with microaggressions. We’re perceived as a model minority, yet we’re often overlooked and we’ve seen an outbreak of violence in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. I felt it’s time to bring our voices to the table through someone who looks like me, and someone who shares the same experiences in this realm of classical music.”
Louie’s upcoming residency—broadly themed “Navigating Asian Identity in Western Classical Music”—will include working with the College of Music’s Philharmonia Orchestra and Treble Chorus, as well as instruction with composition students and the college’s piano pedagogy class. As well, the residency will offer students, faculty and community members the opportunity to explore some of the themes that arose in those first conversations between Nguyen and Louie.
“I’m hoping that our community will be interested in exploring and getting to know this accomplished artist, and to actively engage in open-mindedness, listening and conversation,” concludes Nguyen.
Indeed, the residency offers the College of Music community to interact with and learn from a composer whose accomplishments range from major orchestral works to widely recognized pedagogical scores to music for TV comic operas. It also offers the chance to tackle questions of equity, access and culture that have long been overlooked in the realm of Western classical music.
Free + open to the public:
- Monday, Feb. 13, 7:30 p.m., Grusin Music Hall
Philharmonia Orchestra concert, including a performance of Louie’s “O Magnum Mysterium: In Memoriam Glenn Gould”
- Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2 p.m., Grusin Music Hall
Piano master class featuring Louie’s “Scenes from a Jade Terrace”
- Friday, Feb. 17, 5 p.m., Chamber Hall (S102)
Moderated talk + dialogue with composer Alexina Louie: Navigating Asian Identity in Western Classical Music
- Saturday, Feb. 18, 7:30 pm, Grusin Music Hall
This final concert will showcase Louie’s works, with faculty and student performers.
Louie’s residency is funded by a Roser Grant, as well as the College of Music’s keyboard and composition departments.