UCSD composer Chinary Ung to join Academy of Arts and Letters

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) — University of California San Diego composer and Distinguished Professor of Music Chinary Ung will be inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in May, the university announced Thursday.

Ung will be one of 13 people inducted into the academy, the nation’s leading honor society of architects, artists, composers and writers. Inductees are elected for life.

He will be the first faculty member in UCSD’s 60-year history to receive the honor. Ung has been a member of the Department of Music since 1995.

“It’s been a distinct privilege to have been a part of the UC San Diego faculty and to have this institution serve as my home, as I have pursued my creative projects,” he said. “Having the support of my colleagues in the Department of Music has been critical in providing a foundation from which I have been able to extend myself into areas I could not have imagined when I began my tenure here.”

The American Academy of Arts and Letters was founded in 1898 and fosters an interest in literature, music and fine arts. Membership is limited to 250 living individuals, and vacancies are filled by the votes of existing members.

UCSD Chancellor Pradeep Khosla said Ung’s induction was a testament to the composer’s hard work and talent.

“As professor Ung’s professional home for 25 years, UC San Diego has felt the direct and lasting impact of his tremendous composition and teaching career,” he said. “As our campus’s first inductee into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Ung’s recognition spotlights the strong and growing influence of our university’s arts and humanities contributions to the world.”

Ung cited the late Chinese-American composer Chou Wen-chung, Ung’s friend and mentor at Columbia University, as a vital source of inspiration.

Leaving his native Cambodia in 1964 to study clarinet performance at the Manhattan School of Music, Ung later turned his efforts toward composition.

He received the Grawemeyer Award in music composition for his orchestral piece “Inner Voices,” becoming the first American to win the award. His work has been published by C.F. Peters Corporation, including a record published this month entitled “Chinary Ung, Vol. 4: Space Between Heaven and Earth.”

Ung is also a leader in preserving Cambodian culture. During the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror in Cambodia, he stopped composing classical works and set out to preserve the folk and court musical traditions of his native country.

“There is no doubt professor Ung’s life-work in music and composition is both committed to the preservation of endangered musical languages and traditions, and incredibly innovative and forward-looking at the same time. This is a rare combination, and Chinary is so deserving of this incredible honor,” said Cristina Della Coletta, Division of Arts and Humanities dean.

“What is perhaps more important is his strong commitment to the principles of equity, diversity and inclusion. This commitment is deeply important to our campus and our students,” she said.

Ung will be formally inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters May 20 at their annual ceremony in New York City. Immediately afterward, the academy will open an exhibition of work by all new members and award recipients.

“Professionally, I’m looking forward to meeting the illustrious colleagues at the academy,” Ung said, “and to continue to honor the artistic landscape at the national level.”

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