Seung-Won Oh

Seung-Won Oh, a native of Korea, is an acclaimed composer who was described as "a name to remember" in the Dutch newspaper Volkskrant. Her music has been performed throughout Europe, North America and Asia, and transcends traditional boundaries. As critic Mirjam Zegers writes, "Oh connects East and West, vibrant motion and stillness, pure sound and ritual theatre, stratified structures and transparency."

The recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation at the Bellagio Center, the Goddard Lieberson Fellowship through the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Barlow Endowment for music composition, Oh is celebrated both in her home country and abroad: at the 3rd Seoul International Competition for Composers she received both first prize and the audience prize; in 2007 the third prize of the Lutoslawski Award in Poland; in 2010 an international jury awarded her the Toonzetters Prize, given yearly for the best contemporary music composed in the Netherlands.

Oh's background is as varied as her accolades. She began her studies at Korea's Ewha Women's University. She went on to earn her PhD in the United States, at Brandeis University, before her studies led her to the Netherlands and the Royal Conservatory of The Hague. Until then, her music had been rooted in the contemporary Western tradition. It was during her time in the Netherlands that she began to explore the rich musical traditions of her own heritage.

Her recent work juxtaposes soloists or groups of instruments against an ensemble, creating a space for dramatic development. The conflict between the individual's will and the collective's demands is a frequent theme. In DaDeRimGil, performed at the 2010 at the Bang on a Can Marathon in New York, she employed the percussive rhythms used by Korean housewives in their daily ironing ritual in order to individuate a tedious yet necessary task. DaDeRimGil, originally commissioned and premiered by Slagwerk Den Haag (Percussion the Hague) in 2003, has become Oh's most widely-performed piece; its exploration of phasing effects and timbral transformation continue to engage and excite the players as well as audiences.

Percussion plays a vital role in Oh's music. In her 2008 music theatre work, Words and Beyond: Hwang Jin-Yi, percussionists, positioned in four corners, create the stage for a female singer and dancer. For the female singer's part in this piece, Oh employs JungGa, an ancient Korean vocal technique. Composer Louis Andriessen said of Words and Beyond: 'Seung-Ah Oh's timing is sublime. The trick is not to strike too soon.'

Oh applied and evolved these techniques in the Toonzetter-winning JungGa, Concerto for Oboe and Musette. Rather than a vocalist performing the JungGa technique, Oh wrote it into the parts for oboe. Again, percussion figures prominently in the piece and, Oh says, "is indelibly linked to the oboe part."

In recent years a rapidly growing interest in theater, space, movement and interaction with the audience has been generating projects that require close collaboration with the performers. She continues to experiment with form, texture, timbre and space. In her 2018 work, Mixtures II, written for a nontraditional stage such as a museum or a gallery, she experiments with the spatial commodity of the sound experience itself, using the homogeneous timbre of four violins surrounding the audience. The use of amplification is minimal – often simply magnifying delicate sounds. Unlike the more conventional idea of dual speakers, however, each violin is heard through only one individual speaker that stands next to the paired violin. In this way the spatial sensation and constant drive towards a heterophonic texture are compositionally curated in the score.

Oh's music has been performed worldwide, by ensembles such as Asko|Schönberg Ensemble, Contemporary Music Ensemble Korea, ensemble MoVE, Ensemble TIMF (Tongyeong International Music Festival), Nederlands Vocaal Laboratorium(Sibersee), Doelen Ensemble, Ensemble Chronophonie, Atlas ensemble, Percussion Group The Hague, Nieuw Ensemble, Orkest de Volharding, Orkest de Ereprijs, Flexible Music, ensemble KLANG, Empyrean Ensemble and New York New Music Ensemble among others. Festivals and venues that have featured her work include: Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ, Concertgebouw Amsterdam, Schauspielhaus Wien (AT), Seoul Arts Center (KR), Bang On A Can Festival (US), Music of Our Age Contemporary Music Festival (HU), Gaudeamus International Music Week (NL), Alicante Contemporary Music Festival (ES), Ultima Oslo Contemporary Music Festival (NO), Huddersfield Music Festival(UK), Transit Festival (BE), November Music(NL), Aspen Music Festival(US), Tanglewood Music Festival (US), and Tong Yeong International Music festival (KR).

Since 2005, Oh has taught at Brandeis University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Florida, the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and DePaul University.

Seung-Won Oh is guest teacher at the Royal Conservatoire until June 2020.

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