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Faculty Concert: Cuong Vu, trumpet; Cristina Valdés, piano

Monday, February 12, 2024 - 7:30pm
$20 general; $15 UW Affiliate (employee, retiree, UWAA member); $10 students and seniors.
Cristina Valdés and Cuong Vu (Photo: Marcia Davis)
Cristina Valdés and Cuong Vu (Photo: Marcia Davis)

Dynamic duo Cuong Vu and Cristina Valdés straddle the worlds of contemporary classical music and free improvisation, premiering works for trumpet and piano by Oliver Schneller, Wang Lu, and Skúli Sverrisson, and performing music by Huck Hodge and Eva-Maria Houben


for C and C (2024)* - Wang Lu (b. 1982)

Mirage* (2023) - Skúli Sverrisson (b. 1966)

Rays* (2023) - Oliver Schneller (b. 1966)

janela. ein fenster – für zwei (var.)  (2012) - Eva-Maria Houben (b. 1955)

Passeggiata (2011)
for trumpet, piano and live-electronics - Huck Hodge (b. 1977)

*world premiere

Program Notes

for C and C - Wang Lu

C and C is written for Cristina and Cuong. I was heart-warmed when talking to them and hearing their love stories from the days they spent together as music students in Boston. How they grew as kindred spirits through exploring various musical styles and practice with friends, and how the house was filled with laughter and melodious or jarring music were so vivid. It resonated with my youth at music school in China.

This piece is an invitation for the two players to showcase their intimate, virtuosic and intuitive playing with each other through both noted and improvised materials.  Parts of the score are tightly written rhythmically and harmonically while other places are open for one to create surprises by jumping and dropping in and out. composing this work makes me think about the meaning of “staying together” in music and life.

Wang Lu writes music that reflects urban environmental sounds, linguistic intonation and contours, traditional Chinese music, and freely improvised practices. She is an Associate Professor of Music at Brown University. Her works have been performed internationally, by ensembles including the Ensemble Modern, the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, Boston Lyric Opera among others. She received the Berlin Prize in Music Composition from the American Academy in Berlin, Wladimir and Rhoda Lakond Award in Music from American Academy of Arts and Letters, Koussevitzky Award from the Library of Congress, Fromm Commission from Harvard University and was a 2014 Guggenheim Fellow. Wang Lu’s portrait albums Urban Inventory (2018), and An Atlas of Time (2020) were released to critical acclaim.

Mirage -  Skúli Sverrisson

I was very pleased when Cristina Valdés and Coung Vu approached me to write a new piece for them. I had collaborated with Coung for a number of years during a time when we were both developing our language as improvisers. I decided to approach Mirage in a way where both instruments would be playing singular lines instead of the piano accompanying the trumpet. The tonal material consists of chromatic cells that move towards tonal centers, blurring the line between the two, weaving into an underlying pulse that goes on throughout the piece although tempo is constantly changing.

Skúli Sverrisson has built a unique career as a composer, producer and improviser with a broad spectrum of artists. As an instrumentalist he has worked with Wadada Leo Smith, Arto Lindsay, Blonde Redhead and Allan Holdsworth to name a few. Skúli was a close collaborator of Laurie Anderson for over a decade. Skúli has composed music for Víkingur Ólafsson, Icelandic Symphony Orchestra and Erna Ómarsdóttir. Skúli is known for his duo work with Ólöf Arnalds, Bára Gísladóttir and Bill Frisell. In the world of film Skúli has contributed to the scores of Hildur Guðnadóttir, Jóhann Jóhannsson and Ryuichi Sakamoto.

Rays Oliver Schneller

Rays was composed for the two master musicians Cristina and Cuong, who are also old and dear friends from the time we all studied together at New England Conservatory in Boston in the mid-nineties. This time was a formative period for me: I had originally been set to study composition in Hamburg, Germany, but then changed course on short notice, to attend NEC instead. At this school, I encountered an atmosphere of openness and cross-genre contact, that I had never encountered before (and have, in fact, never encountered again). Gunther Schuller's and Ran Blake's project of creating a "Third Stream" in contemporary music, in which modern approaches in concert composition and Jazz were to meet in a common curricular context was deeply meaningful to me, who had studied composition in Europe, while keeping up my activities as a Jazz saxophonist with various combos and Big Bands. Composition and Jazz improvisation in Europe at the time were different departments. By contrast, at NEC, faculty members encouraged students to be active and learn in both areas equally. It was a very special time, and now, almost 30 years after my studies at NEC, these two areas of musical practice still play an essential role in my compositional work as well as in my teaching. 

It is in this spirit, that I wrote Rays. The title derives from and resonates with the definition of rays found in physics: a focused transmission of energy, which can swiftly produce a complex web of reflections. While the part of the piano is strictly notated, the trumpet part "bounces off" from the piano, leaving great constructive liberty to the player in creating responsorial "vectors".

Rays is respectfully and affectionately dedicated to Cristina and Cuong. 

Oliver Schneller (b. 1966 in Cologne) grew up in North Africa, Europe and Asia and studied in Germany and the USA. After completing a MA in musicology, history and political  science at the University of Bonn he worked for the Goethe Institute in Kathmandu, Nepal (1990-91) on a project to support and sustain local forms of traditional musical practice. In 1994 he moved to the USA, first studying composition at the New England Conservatory in Boston, then at Columbia University New York as a student of Tristan Murail, where he received his doctoral degree in composition (2002) with a thesis on music and space. At the City University of New York he developed and expanded the CUNY Computer Music Studio. From 2000-01 he lived in Paris as a participant of the cursus annuel de composition et d'informatique at IRCAM/Centre Pompidou. As an assistant to Tristan Murail he taught composition and computer music at Columbia, and organized the "Lachenmann in New York" Festival in 2001. Throughout his studies, masterclasses with Salvatore Sciarrino, Jonathan Harvey, Brian Ferneyhough, George Benjamin and Vinko Globokar provided important orientations.

Oliver Schneller's music has been performed at international festivals including Festival Agora Paris, Ars Musica Bruxelles, Donaueschinger Musiktage, Beijing Modern, Musica Strasbourg, Festival Présences Paris, Maerzmusik Berlin, Witten Tage für Neue Kammermusik, Ultraschall, Tremplins Paris, Les Musiques Marseille, musique action Nancy, Wintermusic Berlin, Karnatic Lab Amsterdam, Alternativa Moscow, the International Computer Music Conferences(ICMC) in Singapore and Göteborg, Musicaaoustica Beijing, Indaba South Africa, Aspen, Tanglewood Music Festival, "Frankfurt 2000" and the "Millenium Stage Series" at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC. His works have been performed by Ensemble modern, Ensemble Intercontemporain, MusikFabrik, Ictus, Percussions de Strasbourg, Speculum Musicae, Court Circuit, Ensemble Mosaik, Kammerensemble Neue Musik Berlin, Ensemble Courage, Antares, the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra, and St. Luke's Chamber Ensemble. From 2002 to 2004 he was a compositeur en recherche at Ircam working on "Jardin des fleuves" a work for ensemble and live-electronic spatial processing.

Eva-Maria Houben (born 1955) studied Music Education at Folkwang-Musikhochschule Essen and the organ with Gisbert Schneider. Following her exams she taught both German and Music Education at Secondary School. She received her doctorate and postdoctoral lecturing qualification in musicology and was called for lectures at Gerhard-Mercator-Universität Duisburg and Robert-Schumann-Hochschule Düsseldorf. Since 1993 Professor Houben has been lecturing at Dortmund University`s “Institut für Musik und Musikwissenschaft”, with both music theory and contemporary music as her focus. Her period of service at Dortmund University concluded with February 28, 2021. Up to now many books were published, concerning contemporary music, contemporary composers and traditional music, listened to with ‘new ears’.

Eva-Maria Houben has been performing works for the organ for more than 30 years. As she is related to the “wandelweiser-group” of composers, her compositions are published by “edition wandelweiser”, Haan. Her list of compositions up to now includes works for the organ, piano, clarinet, trombone, violoncello and other solo instruments, works for voice and piano, for wind and chamber ensembles, for orchestra and for voice and orchestra, for works for choir, electroacoustic music ( She publishes on subjects of contemporary music (Steiner, Stuttgart; PFAU, Saarbrücken; Edition Howeg, Zürich; bis-label, Oldenburg; Edition Wandelweiser, Haan; transcript, Bielefeld).

Passeggiata - Huck Hodge

Passeggiata just means “a walk”, as in going for one. Why did I use an Italian title for this structured improv? Well, Cuong and I premiered it about 13 years ago when he visited me in Rome. I’m very happy that Cristina can join us this time around. It’s always illuminating to revisit a piece written at an earlier point in life and to reshape it through the lens of the intervening years. 

Here’s what Guy Debord, Situationist warrior-mage, has to say about walk-taking, which he calls dérive: it’s “a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances. Dérives involve playful constructive behavior and awareness of psycho-geographical effects, and are thus quite different from the classic notions of journey or stroll.” I guess this just means that the destination is irrelevant; the movement’s what matters, both in space and in the mind.

This piece is an invitation to dérive with us through musical spaces, through memories of life, through a consideration of history, transcending mere cause and effect, mere chronology; let’s explore the associative affinities between eras, ideas, sounds and spaces. We will hear whispered tones echoing off the cobblestones of the via Appia, the tumult of various street scenes, the confluence of musical and historical epochs in the expanse of St. Peter’s Square, all blended into a visceral sonic tapestry.

Huck Hodge is a composer of “harmonically fresh work", "full of both sparkle and thunder” (New York Times). His music has been performed at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and at numerous major festivals: the New York Philharmonic Biennial, Berliner Festspiele, Gaudeamus Muziekweek, Shanghai New Music Week, ISCM World Music Days, and many others in over twenty countries on six continents. Other performances include those by members of the Berlin Philharmonic and Ensemble Modern, the ASKO / Schönberg Ensemble, the Seattle Symphony, and the Orchestra of the League of Composers. His chamber music has been premiered, performed and recorded by a long list of ensembles such as the Daedalus, JACK, Mivos, and Pacifica string quartets, and the Adapter, Aleph, Argento, Dal Niente, Divertimento, Insomnio, SurPlus and Talea ensembles. His major awards include the Charles Ives Living from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Rome Prize, the Gaudeamus Prize as well as fellowships and commissions from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Koussevitzky Foundation in the Library of Congress, the Fromm Foundation at Harvard University, MATA, the Siemens Musikstiftung and the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst. 


Cristina Valdés, piano

Pianist Cristina Valdés presents innovative concerts of standard and experimental repertoire, and is known to “play a mean piano.” A fierce advocate for new music, she has premiered countless works, including many written for her. She has performed across four continents and in venues such as Lincoln Center, Le Poisson Rouge, Miller Theatre, Jordan Hall, and the Kennedy Center. Ms. Valdés has appeared both as a soloist and chamber musician at festivals worldwide including New Music in Miami, the Foro Internacional de Música Nueva in Mexico City, Brisbane Arts Festival, the Festival of Contemporary Music in El Salvador, Havana Contemporary Music Festival, and the Singapore Arts Festival. 

An avid chamber musician and collaborator, Ms. Valdés has toured extensively with the Bang On a Can “All Stars”, and has performed with the Seattle Chamber Players, the Mabou Mines Theater Company, the Parsons Dance Company, and Antares. Her performances on both the Seattle Symphony’s Chamber Series and [UNTITLED] concerts have garnered critical acclaim, including her “knockout” (Seattle Times) performance of Bartok’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion, and her “arrestingly eloquent performance” of Dutilleux’s Trois Preludes (Bernard Jacobson/MusicWeb International).

Ms. Valdés has appeared as concerto soloist with the Seattle Symphony, Seattle Philharmonic, the Lake Union Civic Orchestra, Johns Hopkins Symphony Orchestra, the Binghamton Philharmonic, NOCCO, Philharmonia Northwest, the Eastman BroadBand, and the Stony Brook Symphony Orchestra, amongst others. In 2015 she performed the piano solo part of the Ives 4th Symphony with the Seattle Symphony under the direction of Ludovic Morlot, which was later released on CD to critical acclaim and made Gramophone’s list of Top 10 Ives Recordings. Other recent recordings include Orlando Garcia’s “From Darkness to Luminosity” with the Málaga Philharmonic on the Toccata Classics label, and the world premiere recording of Kotoka Suzuki’s “Shimmer, Tree | In Memoriam Jonathan Harvey”. She can also be heard on the Albany, Newport Classics, Urtext, and Ideologic Organ labels.

In recent seasons she gave performances of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3, Bartok’s Piano Concerto No. 3, the world-premiere performance of Carlos Sanchez-Guttierez’s “Short Stories” for piano and string orchestra with the Orquesta de Cámara de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, and the U.S. Premiere of “Under Construction” for solo piano and tape playback by Heiner Goebbels at Benaroya Hall. Last season she was the featured soloist with the Seattle Symphony on two of their “[untitled]” new music series concerts.

Ms. Valdés received a Bachelor of Music from the New England Conservatory of Music, and a Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts from SUNY Stony Brook. She currently lives in Seattle where she founded the SLAM Festival, a new music festival dedicated to the music of Latin-American composers, and performs regularly as a member of the Seattle Modern Orchestra. She is an Artist-in-Residence at the University of Washington, and is the Director of the UW Modern Music Ensemble. 

Cuong Vu is widely recognized by jazz critics as a leader of a generation of innovative musicians. A truly unique musical voice, Cuong has lent his trumpet playing to a wide range of artists such as Pat Metheny, Laurie Anderson, and David Bowie.

As a youngster, Cuong's intense dedication and love for music led him to a full scholarship at the New England Conservatory of Music where he received his Bachelor of Music in Jazz studies with a distinction in performance. Transitioning from his studies in Boston, he moved to New York in 1994 and began his career actively leading various groups while touring extensively throughout the world. As a leader, Cuong has released eight recordings, each making critics’ lists of the 10 best recordings of their respective years and has received rave reviews from notable publications such as the New York Times, The New Yorker, Harper’s, the Guardian, BBC Music Magazine, JazzTimes and Downbeat. Each record displays how he has carved out a distinctive sonic territory as a trumpet player, blurring all stylistic borders while developing his own compositional aesthetic and sound world.

Awards and honors that Cuong has garnered include grants from the Royalty Research Foundation, the Donald E. Petersen Professorship, ArtistTrust, 4Culture, CityArts and the Colbert Award for Excellence.  Cuong is currently associate professor and chair of Jazz Studies at the University of Washington and was awarded the University of Washington's prestigious Distinguished Teacher Award in his third year on faculty. In 2002 and 2006, Cuong was a recipient of the Grammy for Best Contemporary Jazz Album as a member of the Pat Metheny Group. He’s been recognized as one of the top 50 Jazz Artists in an article called “The New Masters” from the British magazine, “Classic CD” and in 2006 was named the Best International Jazz Artist by the Italian Jazz Critics’ Society. Amazon listed Vu’s “Come Play With Me” on their “The 100 Greatest Jazz Albums of All Time.”