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A new work for cello and piano that redefines cultural identity through the individual's experience


Science tells us it is human nature to categorize the people we meet, yet we know there is so much more to every person than meets the eye. Our increasingly globalized and transnational society has blurred the lines of cultural identity beyond recognition, but our incessant cataloging and labelling regularly erases parts of us that are integral to who we are, limiting us to the most simplified characteristics of our identities. At no point in history has there been a more urgent need to redefine what we think of as “culture,” to destroy the boundaries and restrictions that inform our identities.

Irene, Nicky and I met during our graduate studies in the U.S., and bonded over the fragmented, multicultural backgrounds we all shared. We have all lived in the U.S. for more than eight years, and often yearn for the places we once called home. But our memories of home today are blurred vestiges of our childhoods, and increasingly unfamiliar the longer we live elsewhere. Immigrant? Indian? Korean? French? Somehow we are all of those, and yet none. We keep trying to give coherence to our lives, worried that by not fitting into any labelled category we don’t exist at all.

As diasporic musicians, we want to navigate our feelings of in-betweenness by redefining culture through our music. By refocusing discussions of culture around the individual, we can create a space where disparate cultural influences can be recognized and respected, and find threads that draw us together as a community. More than any generation before us, we are truly cultural amalgamations that resist definition.

Our purpose in this project is to start a conversation about redefining culture through the creation, recording, and performance of a new work for cello and piano that draws upon our individual experiences. The work will exist alongside a collection of five filmed interviews. Three will be our own personal “origin stories,” and two more of friends and colleagues who faced similar experiences. To foreground each individual’s narrative, the musical work will be a multi-movement piece, with a movement dedicated to each story.

This piece is the first part of a larger project that will result in the creation of 4-5 new works by Asian-American composers, culminating in an album that gives voice to their individual cultural identities. We plan for it to take shape over the next three years, as we commission additional composers who can add their unique voices to this conversation. New music as an art form is constantly shaped by each individual work, and is thus an ideal medium for redefining culture. We believe this project carries an urgent, compelling, and relatable message, with just as much power for those who feel their identity resists categorization as for those who might not. Given the extensive interrogations of similar themes being carried out by Asian-American artists across mediums, we hope to be able to program it in interdisciplinary settings alongside similar work, allowing us to reach wider and more diverse audiences.


Project Media

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Features: Chelsea de Souza

1. Promenade
2. Mardi Gras
3. Childhood Memory
4. From the Underground
5. Night

Richard Danielpour: “This set of preludes for solo piano was inspired by my dream-life: the juxtaposition of and contrast between my experience of subconscious dreams and conscious reality. In a sense, this work is “a garden of the mind.” The Enchanted Garden was commissioned by The Louisiana School for its annual piano festival in Natchitoches, Louisiana. The complete cycle was premiered by Christopher O’Riley on July 4, 1992 at the Aspen Music Festival.”

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Features: Nicky Sohn

Commissioned by the Stuttgart Ballet, “Even in the Oddest Times” is a piece dedicated to the choreographer, Fabio Adorisio. Through moments of clarity and calm in a persistently entropic, calamitous turbulence, this work illustrates the sense of direction and purpose one seeks in a personal odyssey. Elements such as extreme dynamism, irregular pulse changes, and varied texture are manipulated to capture the arbitrary, unforeseeable flow of emotions and events, whether it is absolute tranquility or utter chaos.

Stabat Mater for Violoncello and six pre recorded violoncellos (2019)- Carlos Bandera
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Features: Irène Han

Stabat Mater for violoncello and six spatialized, pre-recorded violoncellos, explores the text of the Stabat Mater, particularly its use of perspective.

Start and End Dates



Houston, Texas

Project Created By

Houston, Texas
Chelsea de Souza is a Steinway Young Artist from Mumbai, India. A musician of varied interests, both solo and collaborative, Chelsea toured with the Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble, and was part of Oberlin’s Performance and Improvisation Series for two years, including a Young Artist residency with the Detroit String and Wind Society in 2015. She…

In Collaboration With

Baltimore, Maryland
houston, Texas


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