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Concert to show lessons learned from musical maestros

Master composer Ung Chinary and soprano Bosba Panh are participating in a series of masterclass workshops in Siem Reap.
Master composer Ung Chinary and soprano Bosba Panh are participating in a series of masterclass workshops in Siem Reap. Nicky Sullivan

Concert to show lessons learned from musical maestros

Tomorrow evening promises an unusual concert performed by 17 world-class musicians, hand-picked by Cambodia’s most highly awarded musical composer, Ung Chinary.

The event is being held alongside two weeks of workshops in Siem Reap hosted by Chinary’s Nirmita Composers Institute and Cambodian Living Arts with the aim of fostering the creative talents of young composers in Cambodia and the region.

“We hope to help them become really mature composers, that they will understand in detail all the forms of music-making so that they have the tools and confidence they need to fill the empty vessel of a new composition with their own taste, form, sound and personality,” Chinary said.

Twelve students from Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, the US and Cambodia – all composers in the making – are receiving tuition from established composers from Cambodia, the US, Japan, Taiwan and Laos, including Chinary himself. 

Speaking on Tuesday, just the second day of the workshop, he said he was already thrilled with the way things were going. “We can’t be more pleased,” he said. “We are seeing how there is no real border between the Western sense of music-making and, for example, the Khmer one.” 

Chinary said one of his goals was to “close the gap” between Western and Khmer music and how they are both understood. One of those taking part is renowned US-based soprano Bosba Panh – Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh’s granddaughter.

For Bosba Panh, long known as Bosba to her legions of fans across Cambodia, the workshop is also a chance to help build a real framework for the transmission of Khmer culture. 

“I think it’s a real shame that I never had a real formal education in Cambodian music,” she said. “And it was all because nothing is written down. We have an oral tradition in Cambodia.

“In the West, the music of Mozart will always be Mozart’s music. Here, it can be lost because someone dies, or it gets distorted as it is passed down. In the West, it’s also accessible to anyone who wants to learn. In Cambodia, the knowledge is kept within a very small group of musicians, and that affects the question of how culture is understood, of what culture is, and whether it is fixed or dynamic.”

For Chinary “a country cannot move forward without creativity”, which is why he founded the institute, and he hopes that this concert will be an essential part of that process in Cambodia. 

The concert will be held at the Memoire Siem Reap Hotel at 7pm. Tickets are $10, and available at the door. 

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