Awards and Honors: Professors Anne Harley and Nathalie Rachlin Win NEA ArtWorks Grant for Therigatha Premiere

Rachlin Harley Inside Splash art

(left to right: Nathalie Rachlin and Anne Harley)


Scripps College Associate Professor of Music Anne Harley and Professor of French Nathalie Rachlin received a grant of $10,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts that will go toward the commission of a new major work of vocal chamber music that highlights scriptural texts of ancient female Buddhist female esoteric practitioners. The premiere is planned for a performance at Scripps College in Claremont, Calif., on March 24, 2018, as the culmination of a weeklong festival across The Claremont Colleges highlighting the function of the arts in healing in post-genocide contemporary Cambodian society.

Working with Professor Harley, who was the primary grant investigator, composer Chinary Ung has chosen texts for the composition from the ancient Buddhist collection of women’s scriptures, the Therigatha, which is the earliest collection of women’s writings in the world. Ung, one of the leading American composers of classical music today, will set these texts in Khmer, Pali, and English. The poems were transmitted orally until they were transcribed in the first century BCE. The 73 poems reaffirm the equality of sexes in early Buddhist spiritual practice and document the lives of early female practitioners.

“To our knowledge, these texts have not been set for the Western concert stage as yet,” Harley says. “The commission will be an important cultural bridge between the US, Cambodia, and India (original home of the Therigatha texts), uplifting voices from the ancient, hidden, women’s Buddhist tradition in a world-class composition.”

The premiere performance will be free and open to the public, with the College extending a special welcome to the Cambodian community of Long Beach, Calif., the largest Cambodian diaspora in the world. Professors Harley and Rachlin are co-organizing a week-long series of events on contemporary Cambodian arts and culture associated with the premiere.

Harley will perform as soprano for the musical debut and has convened some of the leading contemporary musicians in Southern California for the project, including Grammy-award winning percussionist, Nick Terry, and award-winning contemporary specialist soprano Stacey Fraser, Brian Walsh (bass clarinet), and Susan Ung (viola/voice). Several subsequent performances are planned at three other universities in Southern California: University of California at San Diego, Chapman University, and California State University, San Bernardino.

To mark master composer Ung’s 75th birthday in 2017-18, Harley will lead a professional recording for commercial release on her Voices of the Pearl label. Along with Ung’s new piece, the release will also feature last year’s commissioned work by Karola Obermüller, for which Harley also received an NEA Artworks grant.