Called “alluring” and “wildly inventive” by The New York Times, the “irresistible” (San Francisco Chronicle) music of Vietnamese-American composer Viet Cuong (b. 1990) has been commissioned and performed on six continents by musicians and ensembles such as the New York Philharmonic, Eighth Blackbird, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Sō Percussion, Alarm Will Sound, Atlanta Symphony, Sandbox Percussion, Albany Symphony, PRISM Quartet, Orchestra of St. Luke’s, and Dallas Winds, among many others. Cuong’s music has been featured in venues such as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center, National Gallery of Art, and Library of Congress, and his works for wind ensemble have amassed several hundreds of performances worldwide, including at Midwest, WASBE, and CBDNA conferences. He was recently featured in The Washington Post‘s “21 for ’21: Composers and performers who sound like tomorrow.”
In his music Cuong enjoys exploring the unexpected and whimsical, and he is often drawn to projects where he can make peculiar combinations and sounds feel enchanting or oddly satisfying. His notable works thus include concerti for tuba and dueling oboes, percussion quartets utilizing wine glasses and sandpaper, and pieces for double reed sextet, cello octet, and solo snare drum. This eclecticism extends to the range of musical groups he writes for, and he has worked closely with ensembles ranging from middle school bands to Grammy-winning orchestras and chamber groups. Passionate about bringing these different facets of the contemporary music community together, his recent works include Vital Sines, a concerto for Eighth Blackbird and the United States Navy Band, and Re(new)al, a concerto for percussion quartet with a variety of ensemble accompaniments. He is the California Symphony’s 2020-2023 Young American Composer-in-Residence, as well as the Pacific Symphony’s current Composer-in-Residence.
Cuong is an Assistant Professor of Music Composition and Theory the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He holds degrees in music composition from Princeton University (MFA/PhD), the Curtis Institute of Music (Artist Diploma), and the Peabody Conservatory (BM/MM). His mentors include Jennifer Higdon, David Serkin Ludwig, Donnacha Dennehy, Steve Mackey, Dan Trueman, Dmitri Tymoczko, Kevin Puts, and Oscar Bettison. During his studies, he held the Daniel W. Dietrich II Composition Fellowship at Curtis, Naumburg and Roger Sessions Fellowships at Princeton, and Evergreen House Foundation scholarship at Peabody, where he was also awarded the Peabody Alumni Award (the Valedictorian honor) and Gustav Klemm Award.
A scholarship student at the Aspen, Bowdoin, and Lake Champlain music festivals, Cuong has been a fellow at the Orchestra of St. Luke’s DeGaetano Institute, Minnesota Orchestra Composers Institute, Mizzou International Composers Festival, Eighth Blackbird Creative Lab, Cabrillo Festival’s Young Composer Workshop, Cortona Sessions, and Copland House’s CULTIVATE workshop. Cuong has held artist residencies at Copland House, Yaddo, Ucross, the Atlantic Center for the Arts, and at Dumbarton Oaks, where he served as the 2020 Early-Career Musician-in-Residence. His music has been awarded the Barlow Prize, Frederick Fennell Prize, Walter Beeler Memorial Prize, Barlow Endowment Commission, ASCAP Morton Gould Composers Award, Theodore Presser Foundation Award, Suzanne and Lee Ettelson Composers Award, Cortona Prize, New York Youth Symphony First Music Commission, and Boston GuitarFest Composition Prize.
He pronounces his name “Vee-EHT Kwawng,” though “VEE-it” is also fine. Viet is his first name and Cuong is his family name.
Cuong was born in California and grew up in Marietta, GA, where he attended Lassiter High School and was a member of the LHS marching and concert bands. Growing up, he played piano, percussion, and clarinet. He is a member of BMI, the American Composers Forum, and Blue Dot Collective, a group of composers who focus on writing adventurous new music for wind band. His brother’s name is Nam.
Photos by Aaron Jay Young