Malaysian leading Composer Dr. CHONG Kee Yong, the winner of multiple composition awards and one of Malaysia’s leading contemporary music composers, possesses one of the most exciting voices in new music today. Few composers succeed in fashioning a truly individual sound from the range of experimental techniques currently available, and Chong is one of the few who can turn a melange of exquisite timbres into a compelling piece of music that, most importantly, still bears a signature style. Indeed, his work has been hailed as “imaginative and poetic” by leading conductor-composer Peter Eötvös, and as “very inventive and artistically pure” by composer Jonathan Harvey. Belgian pianists Jan Michiels and Inge Spinette describe his as a “very personal voice, very deep and convincing.”
Dr. Chong Kee Yong was born into a farming family in the small town of Kluang in the heart of Johor, a palm oil plantation state in the south of Malaysia. Growing up in a rustic environment left an indelible mark on his artistic outlook, with the sounds and phenomena of nature providing endless sources of musical inspiration. Chong’s initial musical training at the Malaysian Institute of Arts introduced him to the more cosmopolitan city life of Kuala Lumpur, and his formative studies further afield at the Xian Conservatory in China, with Professors Rao Yuyan and Zhang Dalong, brought him full circle to his Chinese heritage. Chong pursued his final studies at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Brussels (Flemish and French sections) under the guidance of Professors Jan Van Landeghem and Daniel Capelletti. In 2001, the Conservatory unanimously awarded him the “Meester in Muziek” with highest honours. During his time in Brussels, Chong acquired and developed the tools to create the compositional style that he is best known for today: an engaging balance between cutting-edge, modern technique and a profoundly soulful, poetic beauty. Chong’s post-graduation studies included master classes with composers such as Brian Ferneyhough, Daan Manneke, Peter Eötvös, Salvatore Sciarrino, Henri Pousseur, Hanspeter Kyburz, and many others.
In his compositional style, Chong embraces a vivid and constantly expanding palette of instrumental colours, while at the same time he is unafraid to explore the traditions of the past and incorporate aspects of tonality, lyricism, and rhythmic vitality into his austere contemporary language. This language is enriched by his multi-layered ethnic and cultural ancestry, which includes Chinese as well as multicultural Malaysian heritage. One can detect traces of Chinese opera, as well as gamelan influence, in his Monodrama (2004) for oboe, ensemble, and electronics; hints of kabuki and Asian funeral rituals in his extraordinarily moving symphonic work Tearless Moon (2006); and elements of calligraphy in his poetic I Hear The Wind Calling (2003). Connecting further with his Chinese roots, Chong also explores the sonic possibilities of traditional Chinese instruments in his Metamorphosis VI – Wind Prayer for sheng, gu zheng, pipa, and ensemble.
Chong’s distinctive style has won him an unending series of awards and commissions. His two-time success in Belgium with the Prix Marcel Hastir, awarded by Belgium’s Royal Academy of Sciences, Letters, and Fine Arts in 1999 and again in 2003, was followed in 2004 by his triumphant debut in his home country upon winning the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra International Composers’ Award (MPOICA). The return of Chong’s music to Malaysia is particularly significant, as Chong is now regarded as the leading figure in the emerging art music scene of his country, and indeed of the entire Southeast Asian region.
The list of prizes that Chong has won at various international competitions is remarkable. In addition to his two-time win of the Prix Marcel Hastir, awarded by Belgium’s Royal Academy of Sciences, Letters, and Fine Arts in 1999 and 2003, he received a top prize at the 4th International Andrzej Panufnik Competition for Young Composers in Poland (2002); the Grand Prix at the 2nd Seoul International Competition for Composers (2003), a top prize at the Max-Reger-Tage International Composition Competition in Germany (2004); the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra International Composers’ Award (2004); the 2nd Lepo Sumera International Young Composer Prize (2006); a Lutoslawski Award (2006); the BMW Award in the International Isang Yun Composition Competition in Korea (2007); 2nd Prize in the Preisträgerkonzert des Internationalen Kompositionswettbewerbes “Global Music – Contemporary Expression” in Germany; 3rd Prize in the Luxembourg International Composition Competition (2008); the highly renowned Serge Koussevitzky Music Foundation commission grant in the USA (2009); a special Giga-Hertz-Award from the Institute for Music and Acoustics Karlsruhe (ZKM) in Germany (2009); the prestigious “Outstanding Young Malaysian Award” in the Cultural Achievement category in Malaysia and the best orchestration award at the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra’s Chinese Music Without Bound International Composition Competition 2017.
Chong regularly receives commissions and grants from numerous high-profile organizations and groups, such as Ensemble Prometheus (Belgium); Spiegel Quartet (Belgium), Transit New Music Festival (Belgium); Het Collectief ensemble (Belgium); Spectra Ensemble (Belgium); Vlaaderen Symphonie Orkest (Belgium); Ars Musica Festival (Belgium); Centre Henri Pousseur (Belgium); Ensemble Modern (Germany); Akademie der Künste (Germany); Musica Viva Festival, 2007 (Germany); Ensemble Berlin PianoPercussion (Germany); Herrenhaus Edenkoben (Germany); Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra; TIMF (Korea); Music Forum Ensemble (Taiwan); HKNME (Hong Kong); Asian Cultural Council (New York); Serge Koussevitzky Music Foundation (USA); Momenta Quartet (USA); New Music Concerts (Toronto); Ju Percussion Group (Taiwan) Salihara Theatre (Indonesia) and the Ministry of Culture, Arts, and Heritage of Malaysia.
Chong’s music has been performed internationally in such venues as Belgium’s deSingel Antwerp, Brugge Concertgebouw, and Flagey in Brussels; Malaysia’s Dewan Filharmonik PETRONAS; the Konzerthaus Berlin; Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw and Muziekgebouw; Vilnius Philharmonic Hall; Esplanade Recital Hall in Singapore; Tokyo Wander Site; Korea’s Youngsan Art Hall, and many others. Chong has also been featured as a guest composer at several festivals, among them the KL Contemporary Music Festival; Thailand International Composition Festival; Manila Composers Lab; ISCM festivals; AD Evantgarde Festival 2009 in Munich; Gretna Festival (USA); “TRANSIT” Festival in Leuven; Ars Musica Festival in Brussels; Warsaw Autumn Festival; Asia Pacific Festival in New Zealand; ACL Taiwan Music Festival; Heidelberg Spring Festival; and SEP Festival of Salihara.
In addition, his music has been aired on AiFm (Malaysia); Deutschlandradio Kultur (Germany); Austria’s ORF and Taiwan Bravo FM91.3 , which both broadcasted a portrait concert of Chong’s works.
The catalogue of distinguished performers, ensembles, and orchestras who have performed Chong’s music is extensive. Among the performers stand those such as Peter Eötvös; Zsolt Nagy; Jonas Alber; Robert Aitken; Etienne Siebens, Enno Poppe, Kevin Field; Paul Chiang Ching Po, Yeh Tsung, CHEN Yun-Hung; Hsu Bor Nien; Yan Hui Chang ; Stephanie Griffin; Wibert Aerts; Jan Michiels; Inge Spinette; Wu Wei; Xu Feng-Xia; Min Xiao-Fen; Yen Jie-Min; Lin Hui Kuan; Yeh Jiuan-Reng; Wu Chung-Hsien; Huang Lung-Yi; Jocelyn Clark; Kim Hyo Young ; Tomoko Honda; Nicholas Ong, Max Riefer , Aiyun Huang, Amy Lin, Agung Gunawan & Baris Anom (Dancer), among others. Ensembles include Belgium’s Het Collectief Ensemble, Ensemble Prometheus, Ensemble Spectra, and Quatour Danel; in Holland, the Amsterdam Sinfonietta and Nieuw Ensemble; in Germany, the Kairos Quartett, Trio Jean Paul, Ensemble Aventure, Ensemble Mosaik, Ensemble Modern, Ensemble Integrale, and KNM Berlin; Switzerland’s Nouvel Ensemble Contemporain and Ensemble für Neue Musik Zurich; Korea’s SORI ensemble and TIMF ensemble; the ISCM ensemble and Music Forum ensemble, Taipei Chamber Singers; Chai Found Music Workshop and Ju Percussion group in Taiwan; Hong Kong New Music Ensemble; Israel Contemporary Players; and the United States’ Momenta Quartet. Orchestras include the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra; Melbourne Symphony Orchestra; Symfonie Orkest Vlaanderen; Estonian National Symphony Orchestra; Korean Symphony Orchestra; Spanish National Orchestra; Philharmonia Moments Musicaux Taiwan; Shanghai Symphony Orchestra; Singapore Chinese Orchestra; Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra and Taiwan National Chinese Orchestra.
Chong’s prominence in the contemporary music world is also attested to by his frequent invitations to residencies and fellowships abroad. In 2006, Peter Eötvös nominated Chong for a composer’s residency, from August to December of that year, at the Herrenhaus Edenkoben Foundation in Germany. One year later, Chong was invited by American composers Prof. Chou Wen Chung and Prof. Chinary Ung to present his music alongside theirs in a joint concert in New York; the invitation resulted in a visiting artist fellowship granted by the Asian Cultural Council in New York, where he stayed from May to October of 2007. He has been awarded the composer-in-residency with Akademie der Künste (Germany), the Center Henri Pousseur (Belgium), SWR EXPERIMENTALSTUDIO (Germany), Civitella Ranieri Foundation Fellowship 2014 (USA/Italy), National Gugak Center Fellowship 2015 (Korea), ignm-vs_forum Wallis 2017 (Switzerland) and Spring Workshop 2017. (Hong Kong)
An experienced educator, Chong is committed to drawing out the next generation of compositional voices. He has given master classes at such festivals and institutions as in China, Guangxi University of Arts; Sezhuan Conservatory of Music; Shanghai Conservatory of Music; Beijing Central Conservatory of Music; Beijing Capital Normal University; Academy of Music, Suzhou University of Science and Technology; in Taiwan, the National Music Institution; the Taipei National University of the Arts; the National Taiwan Normal University; the National Chiao Tung University; the Chinese Culture University and National Taiwan University of Arts; in USA, Rice University; in Europe, the Lübeck Academy of Music (Germany) and Huddersfield University (UK); in south east Asia, Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Raffles Institution, The School of the Arts, Singapore Chinese Orchestra’s Composer symposium, Thailand International Composition Festival, The conservatory of Music, Rangsit University, Princess Galyani Vadhana Institute of Music, The College of Music, Mahidol University, Music of College Payap University, University of Philippine’s Manila Composers lab, the 8th Arts Summit Indonesia and SEGI College.
In addition, Chong has served as adjudicator and mentor for the 2007 HSBC Young Composer Workshop 2007 in Malaysia; the 2009 KL Contemporary Music Festival in Malaysia; the 2011, 2013, 2016 Goethe Institut Young Composers Competition and Festival; the 2011 Taiwan Music Center’s International Composition Competition; the Singapore Contemporary Ensemble’s call for scores in 2011; Florence String Quartet Call for Score 2016 & 2014 (Italy); IDRS Annual Conference & composers competition 2016 (USA); Mahidol University Studio Prize Competition 2015 (Thailand) and Di Yi Composition Competition 2015 & 2012 (Singapore).
To recognize Chong’s contributions to South East Asia’s contemporary music scene, Huddersfield University (UK) awarded him a full scholarship for a special PhD by publication 2014-2016 under the guidance of Prof. Liza Lim.
Chong is the creative director of Studio C, president (2017-2019) and vice president (2011-2016) of the Society of Malaysian Contemporary Composers, and was the artistic director of the 2009 Kuala Lumpur Contemporary Music Festival and SMCC Contemporary Music Festival “SoundBridge” 2013, 2015 and 2017. 2016-2017, he was visiting professor of Shanghai Conservatory of Music and 2018 he was visiting professor of The Royal Danish Academy of Music.
Original Works for Wind
Metamorphosis IIb – Chant of snow river for flute, percussion and 2 off-stage alto saxophone (2011) 12′ | perusal score
Yuan, Liu 源。流 for flute, 2 pianos and 2 percussions (2019) 11’30”
Labyrinth II for wind quintet (1994; revised 2017) 10′ | perusal score