top of page

VIVAN FUNG (b.1975)

Violin Concerto No.1 (2010-11)

JUNO Award-winning composer Vivian Fung has a unique talent for combining idiosyncratic textures and styles into large-scale works, reflecting her multicultural background.  NPR calls her “one of today’s most eclectic composers.”


Highlights of upcoming performances include the world premiere of two operatic scenes with librettist Royce Vavrek, part of Edmonton Opera’s The Wild Rose Opera Project; a UK tour of new work with the Tangram Collective; the premiere of Fung’s fifth String Quartet in Canada; the French premiere of Earworms; and the UK premiere of String Sinfonietta. Mary Elizabeth Bowden tours her Trumpet Concerto and records it for future release on Çedille Records. Fung is currently at work on a new project about identity with soprano Andrea Nunez and Royce Vavrek, an expanded version of her Flute Concerto, and upcoming percussion works for Katie Rife and also for Ensemble for These Times


Recent season highlights include the world premiere of new flute concerto, Storm Within, by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and principal flutist Christie Reside; the UK premiere of Birdsong, performed by violinist Midori at Kings Place in London; the world premiere of a new trumpet concerto with trumpeter Mary Elizabeth Bowden and the Erie Philharmonic; and the world premiere of String Quartet No. 4 “Insects and Machines,” performed by the American String Quartet. In July 2020, the CBC and Toronto Symphony’s Virtual Orchestra gave the world premiere of Fung’s Prayer, a work recorded in isolation during the pandemic for an online performance led by conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin. 


With a deep interest in exploring different cultures, Fung has traveled to Cambodia, Southwest China, North Vietnam, Spain, and Bali to connect with her roots and collect research for her compositions. Passionate about fostering the talent of the next generation, Fung has mentored young composers in programs at the American Composers Forum, San Francisco Contemporary Chamber Players, San José Youth Chamber Orchestra, and Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music. 


Violin Concerto No.1 was commissioned by Kristin Lee and the Metropolis Ensemble, and premiered in New York on September 15, 2011 under Andrew Cyr. The performance tonight is the Hawaiʻi premiere of the work. In addition to solo violin, the score calls for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, percussion, harp, strings, and runs for 21 minutes. The composer’s original program notes are quoted as follows:


“My Violin Concerto brings together my influence by non-Western traditional music, especially Balinese gamelan music, and my friendship with violinist Kristin Lee.  The initial idea for the work began during rehearsals for the premiere of my Piano Concerto in 2009, in which Kristin was the concertmaster of Metropolis Ensemble.  Ever so enthusiastic, she suggested how it would be wonderful for me to write a concerto for her.  Fast forward a year, and the concerto commission falls into place through the generosity of the DeRosa family.  


I started to think seriously about the concerto in the summer of 2010 at the same time as I was preparing for a tour of Bali with the Balinese gamelan with which I have performed for the past three years.  The gamelan sonorities ringing through my head were a natural inspiration for me, but just as meaningful was Kristin’s desire to come with me for part of the Bali tour.  She wanted to witness first-hand the sounds that have moved me, and wanted to understand where my ideas came from.  Upon my return to my home in New York, I started writing in July and finished by October. The concerto draws on the sights, sounds, and memories of Bali that have remained in my heart from the tour, as well as my getting to know Kristin, her firebrand style of playing, and, complementing that, the intense lyricism that she expresses as well. 


The work is in one continuous movement with several sections.  It starts off high and soft, with bird-like whistles in the strings and eventually culminates in an increasingly driving transition, topped off with a kebyar-like phrase in the orchestra.  The first fast section begins with odd-meters and jaunting rhythms in the solo part.  A “ghostly” slow section follows, featuring eerie harmonic string writing, and eventually the music accelerates into a second fast section with the solo violin displaying virtuosic moto perpetuo passages.  At the climax of this section, an involved cadenza grows toward one of the highest pitches on the violin with the instruction, “play like a rock star.”  In the penultimate section of the concerto, the soloist is repeatedly interrupted by the orchestra while quoting from a Javanese folksong called Puspawarna.  Eventually, the full texture of this melodic section subsides and the concerto ends as it began, with birdlike whistles fading into ascending glissandi.”


Born in Edmonton, Canada, Fung received her doctorate from The Juilliard School. She currently lives in California and is on the faculty of Santa Clara University. Learn more at

(Notes by the composer and compiled by Michael-Thomas Foumai)


Invention, inspiration, and re-imagination unite in a program journeying through memory, time, comedy, and the new and ancient sounds of the Gamelan. Violinist Kristin Lee and conductor Andrew Gram join your Hawaiʻi Symphony Orchestra in the Hawai’i premiere of Vivian Fung’s Bali-inspired Violin Concerto No.1, Haydn’s Symphony No. 60, and Stravinsky’s gateway to musical time travel, Pulcinella Suite. © MTF

bottom of page