Ung would be one of 13 inducted into the nation’s leading honor society of architects, artists, composers and writers. Inductees are elected for life.
A member of UC San Diego’s Department of Music faculty since 1995, Ung said it was a great honor to be inducted into the academy.
The American Academy of Arts and Letters was founded in 1898 and fosters and sustains an interest in literature, music and the fine arts. Membership is limited to 250 individuals, and vacancies are filled by vote of the membership. Only current academy members may nominate potential inductees.
A prolific composer, Ung left his native Cambodia in 1964 to study clarinet performance at the Manhattan School of Music. He later turned his attention to composition.
In 1989, Ung became the first American to receive the coveted Grawemeyer Award in music composition for his orchestral piece “Inner Voices,” a level of recognition that established his profile on the international stage.
In addition to his prolific career, Ung is also recognized as a leader with a commitment to preserving Cambodian culture and forging cultural exchanges between Asia and the United States. For a decade starting in the mid-1970s, Ung halted compositional work to become a noted conservator of the folk and court musical traditions of Cambodia — at the same moment his native country was being systematically destroyed during the Cambodian Genocide.
Through collecting numerous recordings, forming a traditional Cambodian Pinpeat ensemble and touring the U.S. to raise awareness about this art form, Ung helped preserve aspects of the traditional music he had known as a child. When he began composing again, his work incorporated aspects of Southeast Asian traditional music practice.
In recognition of his ongoing commitment to his native country’s cultural legacy, Ung has been honored by the National Cambodian Heritage Museum and Killing Fields Memorial, where he has been an advisor since its inception. In 2014, he was awarded the John. D. Rockefeller 3rd Award by the New York based Asian Cultural Council, and he and Susan Ung, his wife, are cofounders of the Nirmita Composers Institute, with the mission to nurture the next generation of Cambodian composers.
According to ucsdnews.ucsd.edu