Sounds of spring: Composer creates a Pan-Asian music festival

Sounds of spring: Composer creates a Pan-Asian music festival
Jill Steinberg

She’s leading the Revolution.

A Pulitzer-winning composer will bring female and Asian voices to the front of the annual Spring Revolution Festival of music, starting on March 2 at National Sawdust in Williamsburg. Musician and festival co-curator Du Yun has programmed a line-up of performances from all over Asia that she hopes will make people examine their ideas about culture on that continent.

“When they approached me do this festival I had the idea of doing something like a Pan-Asian festival — to investigate ‘What is Asia?’ and also challenge the status quo within that as well,” said Du Yun, who won a Pulitzer for her 2017 opera “Angel’s Bone.”

Du Yun, born and raised in Shanghai, China before immigrating to the United States at age 20, said that she chose performers who will convey the richness of Asian cultures as more than a collection of tourist destinations and exotic locales.

“I especially want to focus on new works — because in my mind, new cultures cannot exist without new works — because otherwise it’s just tourist culture,” she said. “I’m hoping to really challenge people’s idea of what it means to be Asian. If you really care what we’re thinking and doing, you can come in and get an immense body of work and practices, that serves as window to what we thinking and it’s sort of like a more poignant understanding.”

The evening titled “The Shanghai You Don’t Know,” on March 10, will feature a screening of the documentary “Lotus Ferry,” about a neighborhood in Shanghai, followed by three performances of distinctively Shanghai theater, dance, and music styles. Other evenings will feature the Balinese music and dance ensemble Gamelan Dharma Swara, and Bhutanese, Japanese, and Indian musicians.

Du Yun will also take the stage on March 9, playing piano and singing with her band OK Miss. The four-piece, which also includes a drummer, saxophonist, and a clarinetist, will play funk, pop, and rock and roll music, along with traditional music from China and Mongolia. Du Yun said the eclectic set-list will give the audience a taste of her versatility as a performer.

“I wanted to showcase not only being a performer but also the different type of music sensibilities that I can do as well,” she said. “And I’m going to be covering a Mongolian folk song, and morph that into something psychedelic.”

Every night of the festival features female curators and female artists, but Du Yun said that adding Asian culture complicates the discussion of women’s empowerment in a necessary way.

“I’m a woman, and I’m also Chinese. If you were to ask any woman who they really are, the answer will be chaotic, not orderly, and layered,” said Du Yun. “I think in society everything is so rigid and black and white, and I want my art to breathe through that. I want to have art and music to shatter that.”

“Spring Revolution Festival” at National Sawdust [80 N. Sixth St. at Wythe Avenue in Williamsburg, (646) 779–8455, www.nationalsawdust.org]. March 2–11 at various times.

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at asimon@cnglocal.com.
Bali-wood: The Balinese music-and-dance ensemble Gamelan Dharma Swara will perform on March 9 as part of the Spring Revolution festival at National Sawdust.
Gordon R. Wenzel