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Ung Chinary Charms Washington Audience

Smithsonian Sackler Gallery, located in Washington DC.
Smithsonian Sackler Gallery, located in Washington DC.

The thrilling sound of a flute mingled with piano, violin and guitar, all to the tune of Cambodian-American composer Ung Chinary, thrilling the audience who had come to hear for the first time a rare classical concert in Washington.

Held last week at the Sackler Gallery, the concert was performed by the Da Capo Chamber Players as part of the “Gods of Angkor” exhibit, which includes rare bronzes from the National Museum of Cambodia.

Five of Ung Chinary’s songs were featured, including “Child Song,” “Luminous Spiral,” “Life After Death,” “Mother and Child,” and “Oracle.”

“These are all related to Khmer culture and music,” Ung Chinary told VOA Khmer later. “I sometimes use words from Pali, Sanskrit and Khmer to mix with musical rules I learned from the West. They mainly have mental movement to sooth the feelings and to inspire idealism and bliss.”

Ung Chinary has been widely recognized for bringing together material, concepts and sounds from the East and the West into works that appear wholly organic, despite disparate components.

“I sometimes felt sad, especially at the end, where he recited the dhama,” said concertgoer Chan Linda.

“This is definitely very new, new music,” said Beverly Hong Flincher, another member of the audience. “It’s unlike other so-called avant-garde music. So I would consider this as avant-garde.”

Voice of America music specialist Brian Silver, who also attended, said he was moved by what he discovered and that the music made his “hair stand on end” or nearly brought him to tears.

“I’ve never seen that kind of performance, of a musician functioning on two levels at once,” he said of the song “Mother and Child.” “That was just an extra-ordinary.”