Cambodian-American Composer Wins Prestigious Music Award

Cambodian-American composer Chinary Ung has been awarded this year’s John D. Rockefeller 3rd Award, an annual prize worth $50,000 given by the New York-based Asian Cultural Council.

The annual award, announced on Monday, is usually given to a single artist for an individual’s contribution to the visual or performing arts of Asia. To mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Asian Cultural Council, the prize was awarded to three recipients this year.

Mr. Ung, 70, shared the honors with Thai choreographer and dancer Pichet Klunchen and Indonesian arts administrator Amna Kusumo. All three honorees will each receive the $50,000 prize.

“Each of the 2013-14 honorees has made a radical difference in their particular field,” Asian Cultural Council chief Wendy O’Neill said in a statement. “Through their work, sometimes in very challenging situations, each has widened and deepened the appreciation of Asian culture and art.”

Mr. Ung has already received numerous accolades for his music, which blends Eastern and Western musical traditions and often incorporates traditional Cambodian instruments or themes.

The composer celebrated his 70th birthday last year with a concert dedicated to his work performed in New York during the Season of Cambodia festival, which was organized by the Phnom Penh-based arts NGO Cambodia Living Arts.

Mr. Ung was born in Takeo pro­vince before leaving in 1964 to study in the U.S., where he is currently a professor of music composition at the University of California in San Diego. In 1989, he was the first American citizen to receive the Grawemeyer Award—often re­ferred to as music’s Nobel Prize.

Most recently, he was commissioned by Harvard University’s Fromm Music Foundation in December to produce a new piece on the marimba, a wooden percussion instrument closely related to the roneat-ek, or Khmer xylophone, which is Mr. Ung’s Cam­bodian instrument of choice.

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