Cambodian composer Him Sophy’s monumental Bangsokol: A Requiem for Cambodia, had its American premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on December 15. Mr. Him, who received a six-month ACC fellowship in 2001, credited the Asian Cultural Council.  "Without ACC," he said, "there would be no Bangsokol."

Mr. Him’s fellowship program was split into two parts: ACC arranged for him to spend three months with legendary Cambodian American composer Chinary Ung (ACC Multiple Grants, 1970-2016, 2013 JDR 3rd Awardee) at the University of California, San Diego, followed by three months in New York City. In a recent conversation with Cecily Cook, who worked closely with Mr. Him during his fellowship, Mr. Him remembered how exceptional it was for him to have the chance to explore the rich artistic landscape of New York, frequently attending performances at the Metropolitan Opera, Lincoln Center, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. During this time ACC introduced Mr. Him to John Burt, co-founder and trustee of Cambodian Living Arts, the producer of Bangsokol. Mr. Burt was looking for a Cambodian composer to work on a musical theater production, and ACC arranged for the two to meet. Mr. Him was commissioned to write the score, and the work, Where Elephants Weep, premiered in Lowell, Massachusetts (home to one of the largest Cambodian diaspora communities in the world) in 2007 with partial support from ACC.

Bangsokol - A Requiem for Cambodia (commissioned by Cambodian Living Arts) from Cambodian Living Arts on Vimeo.

In addition to regularly receiving commissions for dance and film projects in Cambodia, Mr. Him operates a music school he founded upon returning home after his ACC grant. He is in close contact with Chinary Ung and has presented his groundbreaking work at the concert hall at his school.

Performance of Bangsokol: A Requiem for Cambodia; composer Sophy Him; composer Keo Sophy; performance of Bangsokol: A Requiem for Cambodia. Photo© Tey Tat Keng & Zan Wimberly.

Bangsokol is performed with a mixture of Western and traditional Cambodian instruments and incorporates Cambodian traditional singing and a choir from Taiwan. Performing in Bangsokol are classical dancer Sodhachivy Chumvan (ACC 2007, 2008) and composer/musician Keo Sophy, who received an ACC fellowship in 2017. Mr. Keo, who was identified by Chinary Ung as the next great composing talent in Cambodia, will begin his fellowship in January 2018, spending six months as an artist-in-residence at the University of California, San Diego, and working intensively with Mr. Ung. 

ACC’s commitment to supporting individuals and organizations that nurture creativity in Cambodia includes its investments in Mr. Him, Mr. Ung and his Nirmita Institute (ACC 2016), and Mr. Keo, as well as grants to dancer/choreographers, visual artists, playwrights, technical theater specialists, and arts administrators. Altogether, these concerted efforts have had a remarkable impact on the country, which now ranks as one of the most artistically dynamic and exciting in Southeast Asia.

Read The New York Times article on Bangsokol, one of the first symphonic works to reckon with the Khmer Rouge era.

Photo Below ©Tey Tat Keng.