Ken Ueno

Composer
Class of 
1994
Alumni

Ken Ueno ’94 takes the composer’s imagination a step further than most, crafting each commissioned composition to match the very essence of the artist who commissioned it. As he puts it, "I take into consideration the specific skills of the performers and analyze them using computer technology to develop structures, form, and sounds from the analysis. When I write for myself and orchestra, I do overtone singing and multiphonics, then analyze the frequencies and create an acoustic resynthesis of some of my sounds.”

The winner of numerous awards, including the Berlin and Rome prizes, Ueno has hundreds of compositions to his name. He came to his career via an unusual path: born to Japanese parents, he grew up in California and entered West Point Academy with plans to become a politician after a military career. But an injury sidelined him, and after more than a year of playing guitar for hours a day, he decided on music instead. In addition to his Berklee degree, he has also received an M.M. from Yale and a Ph.D. from Harvard.

Berklee opened him up to jazz and eventually to classical music and composition. “When I first heard Bartok’s Fourth String Quartet, it was a kind of second conversion experience after Jimi Hendrix. I was inspired…but I also felt that there was something I didn’t understand. The intellectual part is what got me interested in classical composition,” he says.

Ueno has received commissions from violist Kim Kashkashian, percussionist Evelyn Glennie, the Hillard Ensemble, and many more. He has worked with the Boston Modern Orchestra as a vocal soloist in concertos that showcase his throat-singing, circular singing, and other techniques. He has also sung with the Warsaw Philharmonic, the Thailand Philharmonic Orchestra, and orchestras in North Carolina, California, and elsewhere.

Recently Ueno, who is an associate professor of music at the University of California, Berkeley, has been collaborating with visual artists, architects, and video artists for works that have appeared at Art Basel in Germany, in Mexico City, and in Taipei, Taiwan. His multitalented composing and vocal life represent a way to project music far into the future.