Composer Viet Cuong says that he is very impatient, but you’d never know it upon meeting him. His outward persona is relaxed, warm, and friendly, and at the same time he is bristling with enthusiasm and refreshing ideas about music. When challenged on this self-characterization, he laughs and says, “Maybe I’m just so impatient in my music that I can’t be impatient anywhere else.”
Although Cuong’s compositional output began with works for wind ensemble, he has branched out into numerous other mediums including chamber and orchestral music. One of his most recent works, Re(new)al, is a concerto for percussion quartet originally commissioned by the Albany Symphony and General Electric (GE) Renewable Energy. The original version was written for Sandbox Percussion and Albany Symphony’s Dogs of Desire, and the piece has since taken on multiple forms with versions for percussion quartet and full orchestra, and for band. Re(new)al is an ideal example of the playful-yet-substantive character of Cuong’s music that incorporates refreshingly imaginative ideas that fit effortlessly into the music without being gimmicky. He is currently at work on a piece for Eighth Blackbird with The United States Navy Band, saying, “To bring these two groups together is going to be a beautiful thing.”
We chatted inside the lovely orangery (the small greenhouse where plants and small trees are kept over the winter) of Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C., where Cuong is serving as the Early Career Musician in Residence. He talked about growing up as a “band geek“ and the importance of band music in his life, his work bringing together different musical worlds, the nuts and bolts of incorporating extended techniques into his music, the realities of self-publishing, and more.