Donald P. Pipino Performing Arts Series: Du Yun

Du Yun, a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and musician, performs music that’s ‘out of the box’ and not limited to one specific genre. Photo courtesy of Du Yun

By Douglas M. Campbell

Shining bright on everyone’s screens, the third season of the Donald P. Pipino Performing Arts Series continues this month. This time, the series brought in Du Yun, a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and musician, who gave a virtual masterclass and a virtual performance and presentation on Feb. 24.

Kivie Cahn-Lipman, an assistant professor of cello, contacted Du Yun to present at Youngstown State University. The series’ online format allows the school to host guests previously unaffordable.

“Du Yun is one of these superstars: she is a Pulitzer prize winner, she’s been a director of contemporary music festivals, she’s traveled the world as a pop artist as a performer herself. So it’s great to be able to bring her,” Lipman said.

Du Yun’s compositions merge many genres with a unique flair of unpredictability. Her style of work is what Phyllis Paul, dean of the Cliffe College of Creative Arts and Communication, wants to expose students and the community to with this series.

“Some of what some people may call ‘outside of the box’ stuff that she does — but everything, if you’ve read enough about her, you know she is not just a musician, not just a composer … she’s also deeply concerned about society,” Paul said.

An example of this is with Du Yun’s Pulitzer Prize compositions with Royce Vavrek, a librettist on “Angel’s Bone,” which follows two fallen angels found by a couple, the X.E.’s,  who forces them into prostitution.

“We focused more on Mr. and Mrs. X.E. than we do on the angels because I realized that the middleman being also the middle person is something I wanted to engage in more. When you want to explore other people you want to know why and how … neither Royce nor I have been a victim of human trafficking. So I thought to put myself in the lens of victims is not as powerful as trying to understand the middle person going through that … because every one of us can be in a situation where we can exploit other people,” Du Yun said.

Lipman, whose ensemble worked with Du Yun for a pre-premiere of “Angel’s Bone,” said her music tends to be challenging to her listeners. 

“She likes to push boundaries, and so some of her music is going to sound pretty strange to the uninitiated,” Lipman said.

In her masterclass, two YSU students — Max Franco, a senior music composition major, and Jesse Crownover, a freshman music composition major — got the chance to present their original pieces and workshop them with her. 

“I’m always interested in hearing other people’s ideas and interpretations and their connections with it,” Du Yun said. 

Franco’s piece was written at the end of 2020, where he collaborated with another YSU student who played the violin. He describes it as a meditative sound with the violin, partially inspired by his mood during the pandemic.

“The idea for that piece came from my mood during the whole pandemic thing, everyone was kind of in their houses and going through some different things. I know I personally went through some mental changes through the time,” Franco said. 

Crownover’s piece, titled “Anew,” started with a theme of three notes on the piano, which was eventually orchestrated for a woodwind quintet. 

“It’s a pretty unique sounding piece. There’s a lot of dissonance in it, I really like how it sounds and I’m excited to share it with her and eventually have it played live by some people here as well,” Crownover said. 

Next to present at the Donald P. Pipino series are Anthony Roth Costanzo, a countertenor, and Tyshawn Sorey, a multi-instrumentalist and composer.

More information is available at Cliffe College’s Office of Community Engagement and Events.