Dr. Stella Sung (MFA ‘84) was recently informed that her composition Peace Corps, from her larger overall work Rockwell Reflections, has been programmed for holiday performances by the Cincinnati Pops and National Symphony Orchestras. These performances, scheduled for the Fourth of July and Labor Day, respectively, are a significant milestone in Sung’s career as a composer.
Excited to hear the news that her piece was programmed for these performances, Sung said that the development was “Like being in the Fortune 100 of orchestras.”
Rockwell Reflections was originally composed and performed in 2007 as a commission for the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra. It contains five pieces, of which the Peace Corps movement was the last. These pieces were all inspired by Norman Rockwell paintings that were featured in an ongoing exhibition traveling throughout the US at the time; the set was part of a multimedia performance in which images of the paintings used as inspiration for the individual pieces were displayed on several monitors in front of the audience.
Though Rockwell Reflections received much critical acclaim, the selection of the Peace Corps movement by the Cincinnati Pops and National Symphony Orchestras was not, however, an easy or straightforward process. It was only through close friend Aaron Goldman, principal flute player in the National Symphony, that the piece even reached director John Russell (of both ensembles) in the first place, Sung said.
The National Symphony was interested in featuring the piece for a JFK centennial performance, but never ended up getting programmed for it. Sung was later informed that it was scheduled not only for the Cincinnati Pops’ Fourth of July concert, but also for the National Symphony’s Labor Day concert.
“It always boils down to what the artistic administrators want to do, so pieces are usually vetted first, especially contemporary pieces,” Sung said, regarding the whole process.
Interestingly, all of this would not have come to fruition were it not for the time she spent pursuing her master’s in composition at UF. Trained as a classical pianist, she originally received a degree in piano performance. Sung never thought that she would end up composing at a professional level, and was going for that degree from a mostly exploratory angle.
In fact, Sung speculated that her professors at UF at the time were of a similar mindset, and that because of this they took a more hands-off approach to her. Academic composers would, back then, sometimes become overly-involved and officious in the way they instructed, so Sung saw this as a positive.
Already being published by major publisher Southern Music Company while still studying at UF, Sung realized that professional composition was a very viable career option and is now world-renowned for her work as a composer.
Sung has several other new works and performances of her compositions on the horizon. Some of these include the premiere of a piece commissioned by the Orlando Philharmonic for their 25th anniversary concert on January 13, 2018 and a new piece scheduled for performance in summer of 2018 by the Boston Landmark Orchestra. The piece will have a strong message of marine conservancy, and is being developed in consultation with two renowned marine biologists from Cornell and Purdue Universities; they will be providing audio of marine wildlife and ambient marine sounds, which Sung intends to incorporate into an audio track. Sung also wants to add a virtual reality component to the performance, but that has not as yet been formally arranged.
Asked if she had any bit of advice for aspiring composers, Sung replied, “Persevere, that’s the first thing. Love your art, love your craft, and do your best, because you never know what’s around the corner.”