Biography

Seung-Won Oh, a native of Korea, is an acclaimed composer who was described as "a name to remember" in the Dutch newspaper Volkskrant. Her music has been performed throughout Europe, North America and Asia, and transcends traditional boundaries. As critic Mirjam Zegers writes, "Oh connects East and West, vibrant motion and stillness, pure sound and ritual theatre, stratified structures and transparency."

The recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation at the Bellagio Center, the Goddard Lieberson Foundation through the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Barlow endowment for music composition, Oh is celebrated both in her home country and abroad: at the 3rd Seoul International Competition for Composers she received both first prize and the audience prize; in 2010 an international jury awarded her the Toonzetters Prize, given yearly for the best contemporary music composed in the Netherlands.

Oh's background is as varied as her accolades. She began her studies at Korea's Ewha Women's University. She went on to earn her PhD in the United States, at Brandeis University, before her studies led her to the Netherlands and the Royal Conservatory of The Hague. Until then, her music had been rooted in the contemporary Western tradition. It was during her time in the Netherlands that she began to explore the rich musical traditions of her own heritage.

Seung-Won Oh

Her recent work juxtaposes soloists or groups of instruments against an ensemble, creating a space for dramatic development. The conflict between the individual's will and the collective's demands is a frequent theme. In DaDeRimGil, most recently performed at the 2010 at the Bang on a Can Marathon in New York, she employed the percussive rhythms used by Korean housewives in their daily washing ritual in order to individuate a tedious yet necessary task. DaDeRimGil, originally commissioned and premiered by Slagwerk Den Haag (Percussion the Hague) in 2003, has become Oh's most widely-performed piece; its exploration of phasing effects and timbral transformation continue to engage and excite the players as well as audiences.

Percussion plays a vital role in Oh's recent work. In her 2008 music theatre work, Words and Beyond: Hwang Jin-Yi, percussionists, positioned in four corners, create the stage for a female singer and dancer. For the female singer's part in this piece, Oh employs JungGa, an ancient Korean vocal technique. Composer Louis Andriessen said of Words and Beyond: 'Seung-Won Oh's timing is sublime. The trick is not to strike too soon.'

Most recently, Oh applied and evolved these techniques in the Toonzetter-winning JungGa, Concerto for Oboe and Musette. Rather than a vocalist performing the JungGa technique, Oh wrote it into the parts for oboe. Again, percussion figures prominently in the piece and, Oh says, "is indelibly linked to the oboe part."

Oh continues to experiment with form and timbre. In her 2009 work, Fragments, motives and gestures are repeated on cue, creating an inimitable interaction between the musicians themselves and the written line. Like a play, each performance is unique.

Oh believes in the importance of staying involved in the world of young composers. She recently served on the international jury of Nieuw Ensemble's Young Chinese Composers' competition as well as the Nieuw Ensemble's Turkish Composers' Competition, and has been invited, for the second time, to act as Composer-in-Residence at Omnibus Laboratorium's international young composers workshop in Uzbekistan. She has also been invited as a resident composer by the Orkest Ereprijs for the international young composer's meeting at Apeldoorn Netherlands, where she was once a student.

Oh's music has been performed worldwide, by ensembles such as Contemporary Music Ensemble Korea, Ensemble TIMF (Tongyeong International Music Festival), Nederlands Vocaal Laboratorium, Doelen Ensemble, Ensemble Chronophonie, Atlas ensemble, Percussion Group The Hague, Nieuw Ensemble, Orkest de Volharding, Orkest de Ereprijs, Flexible Music, ensemble KLANG, Empyrean Ensemble and New York New Music Ensemble among others. Festivals and venues that have featured her work include: Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ, Concertgebouw Amsterdam, Schauspielhaus Wien (AT), Seoul Arts Center (KR), Bang On A Can Festival (US), Music of Our Age Contemporary Music Festival (HU), Gaudeamus International Music Week (NL), Alicante Contemporary Music Festival(ES), Ultima Oslo Contemporary Music Festival (NO), Huddersfield Music Festival(UK), Transit Festival (BE), November Music(NL), Aspen Music Festival(US), Tanglewood Music Festival (US), and Tong Yeong International Music festival (KR).

Since 2005, Oh has taught at Brandeis University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Florida and the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. In fall 2011, she joined the faculty of DePaul University as Assistant Professor of Composition.


(Updated in September 2011)