Composition Department

Tonia Ko, MM 2012

Many Splendid Forgettings

IU New Music Ensemble
David Margulis, tenor
David Dzubay, conductor

Performed on April 20, 2012; Auer Hall, Indiana University

Winner of the 2011 Georgina Joshi Composition Commission Award

TONIA KO (b. 1988) is a Chinese-American composer whose music has been described as “expansive, meditative,” and containing an “uncertain piquancy.”  Born in Hong Kong in 1988 and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii, her work reflects and embraces her multi-cultural upbringing.  Ensembles that have performed her music include the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Eastman Wind Ensemble, Luna Nova New Music Ensemble, New York Treble Singers, and members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  She has participated in festivals across the United States, such as the Wellesley Composers Conference and Brevard Music Center, as well as the American Conservatory at Fontainebleau, France.  A three-time winner of the Louis Lane Prize and twice a finalist in the ASCAP Morton Gould competition, she has also received recognition from the International Alliance for Women in Music, Austin Peay State University, Chinese Fine Arts Society of Chicago, and the Belvedere Chamber Music Festival.

Tonia is finished her Master’s degree at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music in May 2012. She completed her undergraduate degree at the Eastman School of Music, graduating with highest distinction.  Her teachers include Claude Baker, Aaron Travers, Robert Morris, and Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon.  A devoted pianist, Tonia has studied with Vincent Lenti and Shigeo Neriki.  She has also been a member of the IU Contemporary Vocal Ensemble, Eastman Chorale and the Hawaii Youth Opera Chorus, an organization with which she sang and danced hula for eleven years.  In the fall, she will begin doctoral studies as a Sage Fellow at Cornell University.

Many Splendid Forgettings (2011)

It seems perhaps contradictory that a piece “in memory of—” can be about forgetting.  I have always found the two processes to be connected and intertwined.  We fight against it, but an inevitable part of human nature is to forget.  My work, Many Splendid Forgettings, focuses on a single poignancy of this process: Forgetting leaves empty spaces, which are then available for catharsis and new meaning.

This piece can be described as symbolic, rather than narrative.  The texts were chosen to depict increasing space, starting with prose and moving to poetic syntax.  The singer ends the work with three laconic haiku by Basho, whose ‘space’ is filled up by instrumental interludes.  The music is woven together by melodic fragments recurring throughout the piece.  Furthermore, the harpsichord’s distinctive sound plays an important role in transforming musical material.

I decided to write for tenor voice in honor of the four young men who were with Georgina six years ago today.  Many thanks go to Dr. Dzubay and the members of the New Music Ensemble for putting together my composition, and especially to Mr. Joshi and the Georgina Joshi Foundation for this incredible opportunity.

Texts from Many Splendid Forgettings


…my dream is intangible, it comprises no allegory; as Mallarmé said, “It is a musical poem, it needs no libretto.”

…In his memory will you permit me to offer you this sketch of him, hastily dashed off, a vague recollection of a beautiful and beloved face, radiant, even in the shadows.


                  From Paul Gauguin’s letter to André Fontainas, Tahiti, March 1899

This time of ours

Is like a great, confused dream.

Why should one spend life in toil?

When I woke up, I gazed for a long time

At the courtyard before me. 

A bird sings among the flowers. 

May I ask what season this is?

Spring wind,

The bright oriole of the water-flowing flight calls.

My feelings make me want to sigh.

The wine is still here, I will throw back my head and drink.

I sing splendidly,

I wait for the bright moon.

Already, by the end of the song, I have forgotten my feelings.

                  From "A Statement of Resolutions After Being Drunk on a Spring Day" by Li T'ai Po, trans. Amy Lowell 

please don’t forget;

in the grove,

a plum blossom

sweeping the garden,

the snow forgotten:

a broom

So many many

memories come to mind:

cherry blossoms

                  Three haiku by Basho Matsuo, trans. David Landis Barnhill