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Bangsokol Brings a Cambodian Requiem to New York

FILE: Eight panelists sitting on the stage during a press conference of Bangsokol at the National Museum, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, July 13, 2017. (Rithy Kimheng/ VOA Khmer)

It is the first major symphonic work to remember the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians under the rule of the Khmer Rouge regime between 1975 and 1979.

​A new Cambodian musical arts production will be performed in New York city in mid ​December after a successful debut in Australia earlier in the year.

The performance, “Bangsokol: A Requiem for Cambodia”, will be performed on December 15 and 16 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music at the Howard Gilman Opera House.

Bangsokol is a combination of traditional music and modern art performance that includes music singing and movement.

It is the first major symphonic work to remember the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians under the rule of the Khmer Rouge regime between 1975 and 1979.

The performances were commissioned by Cambodian Living Arts, a non-profit group that works to support the revival of traditional art forms.

The term Bangsokol in the Khmer language refers to a Buddhist ceremony that accompanies Cambodian funeral rites, which people believe will allow the spirits of the dead passage to the next life.

Bangsokol made its international debut in Melbourne, Australia, in October and received positive reviews. After the performance in New York the group will travel to Boston for performances on December 19 and 20, to Paris in May 2018 and then to Cambodia in 2019.

The performance is also the first collaboration between two of Cambodia’s most accomplished artists and survivors of the Khmer Rouge: Sophy Him and filmmaker Rithy Panh.

Born in the southeastern province on Prey Veng, Him earned a Ph.D in Western Classical Composition from the Moscow Conservatory of Music Institute, where he won a scholarship in 1985. He returned to Cambodia in 1998 and opened the Him Sophy School of Music in 2013.

His previous projects include the rock opera “Where Elephants Weep”, which debuted in Lowell, Massachusetts, in April 2007. The tale fused traditional Khmer music and Western orchestra with rock and rap.

Him also composed Bangsokol’s score by combining traditional Khmer instruments and vocals with a Western orchestra and chorus.

While the performance focuses on the cruelty of the Khmer Rouge, Bangsokol is not intended to leave audiences saddened, Him said.

Him told VOA Khmer in an interview in July that “it is not only dedicated to the dead, but also to encourage the survivors to keep having hope.”

Panh was born in Phnom Penh and later moved to Paris, France, after the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979. He returned to Cambodia in 1990 and often travels back and forth between Paris and Phnom Penh.

His film, “The Missing Picture”, was the first Cambodian film to be nominated for an Oscar, in 2013. He also co-produced the internationally acclaimed movie “First They Killed My Father”, a film directed by Hollywood star Angelina Jolie.

In Bangsokol, Panh uses archive footage and abstract imagery to delve into Cambodian culture and history.

He told VOA in July that the performance does not end on a sad note. “We do not end Bangsokol with a sad plot, but with the optimistic message to the next generations that asks them not to keep moaning, but always to believe that there is always something new for them.”