A Requiem for Cambodia, ‘Symphonic work on the genocide of the Khmer Rouge, released as an album


Bangsokol: A Requiem for Cambodia», a symphonic work by composer Him Sophy and the first major piece of its kind to address the Khmer Rouge genocide in the country, was recently released on the Entertain Impact label.

Sophy, himself a survivor of the Khmer Rouge, places the musical ritual of a Bangsokol – a traditional Khmer ceremony that accompanies Cambodian Buddhist funeral rites – in the form of a Western requiem.

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“When I composed the requiem,” says Sophy, “I relived the feelings I had during the Khmer Rouge era. It was Hell on Earth. The requiem must be experienced around the world so that everyone understands that tragedy is a shared experience.

According to the announcement, as an act of cultural renewal, “Bangsokol” speaks to the role of the arts as a means of healing and reconciliation and seeks to inspire a new generation of artistic expression.

Sophy worked in collaboration with librettist Trent Walker, and the work was recorded at the National Sawdust in Brooklyn, New York with the Metropolis Ensemble and the Taipei Philharmonic Chamber Choir, under the direction of Metropolis Ensemble Artistic Director Andrew Cyr. It premiered in 2017 at BAM in New York and other cultural institutions around the world, as a multidisciplinary stage production combining music, film, movement and voice; Rithy Panh, also a genocide survivor, provided the visuals.

The act of “Bangsokol” in the Buddhist funeral ritual represents the removal of a cloth, which signifies transmigration into the next life, where the spirits of the dead find ultimate rest and rebirth. This play mourns the nearly 2 million people who died under the Khmer Rouge, many of whom disappeared during the genocide and whose bodies have never been found.

“Bangsokol shows the resilience of the Cambodian people,” adds Phloeun Prim, executive director of Cambodian Living Arts, which originally commissioned the work. “This art remains alive despite the genocide and an attempt to eradicate our culture. Today we still see conflict around the world and during the pandemic many people have died on their own, without a proper burial. This piece conveys a deep message of remembrance for those who have passed away.

“This album alone is an extraordinary musical experience that brings cultures and people together while serving as a model for how art can be a powerful vehicle for reconciliation in post-conflict societies,” said Paul Katz, CEO from Entertain Impact. “Our agency uses popular culture for social change. So, working with Him Sophy and Phloeun Prim of Cambodian Living Arts, the sponsoring organization, to release such an important album seems particularly relevant in today’s conflict-ridden world.

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