Subverting instruments, inventing sounds
Music Research Seminar: Tonia Ko (Royal Holloway, University of London)
Tonia Ko’s creative evolution is largely guided by three conceptual pillars: texture, physical movement, and the relationship between melody and memory. These ideas permeate her recent works across a variety of media—from instrumental solos and large ensemble pieces, to paintings and sound installations. No matter how traditional or experimental the medium, Ko's work reveals a core that is at once whimsical, questioning, and lyrical.
Recipient of a 2018 Guggenheim Fellowship, Ko’s music has been lauded by The New York Times for its “captivating” details and “vivid orchestral palette.” She has been commissioned by leading soloists and ensembles, and performed at venues such as Walt Disney Concert Hall, Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center, and the Tanglewood Music Center, Aspen Music Festival, and the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. Internationally, her work has been featured at the Royaumont Académie Voix Nouvelles, Shanghai Conservatory New Music Week, Young Composers Meeting at Apeldoorn, and Thailand International Composition Festival, where she was awarded the 2014 Rapee Sagarik Prize. Ko has received grants and awards from the Harvard University's Fromm Music Foundation, Chamber Music America, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) as well as residencies at the MacDowell Colony, Copland House, Kimmel Harding Nelson Center, and Djerassi Resident Artist Program. She served as the 2015-17 Composer-in-Residence for Young Concert Artists.
Presenters of her work encompass a broad range of the music scene, including the Minnesota Orchestra, New York Youth Symphony, Los Angeles-based collective Wild Up, percussion/ cello duo New Morse Code, oboist Olivier Stankiewicz, and the Da Capo Chamber Players. Recent and upcoming projects include Plain, Air, a large-scale piece for the Spektral Quartet in conjunction with Openlands Lakeshore Preserve, Simple Fuel for the Chicago-based Grossman Ensemble, a collaboration with violist/composer Kurt Rohde, as well as a project with noted choreographer Antonia Franceschi.
In the attempt to follow aural, visual, and tactile instincts in a holistic way, Ko increasingly mediates between the identities of composer, sound artist, and visual artist. This has sparked interdisciplinary connections— most prominently Breath, Contained, an ongoing project using bubble wrap as a canvas for both art and sound. In 2015, she co-curated an event under Cornell's iconic Sibley Hall Dome, featuring Sandbox Percussion performing on bubble wrap with live electronics. Her visual and installation work has been further supported by a residency at the Studios at MASS MoCA in the summer of 2017. Beyond the concert hall, she has collaborated with the Perry Chiu Experimental Theatre in Hong Kong and the Periapsis Music & Dance in Brooklyn.
Ko was born in Hong Kong in 1988 and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. She earned a BM with Highest Distinction from the Eastman School of Music and an MM from Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. At IU, she served as Associate Instructor of Music Theory and was awarded the Georgina Joshi Commission Prize. She holds a DMA from Cornell University, where she studied with Steven Stucky and Kevin Ernste. She was the 2018-19 Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Chicago’s Center for Contemporary Composition and was appointed Lecturer in Composition at Royal Holloway, University of London in 2020.
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