This weekend, the Mizzou New Music Initiative and the University of Missouri School of Music will have the honor of welcoming Chen Yi for a brief residency on the MU campus and a world premiere.
Chen (pictured) currently is a distinguished professor of composition at the Conservatory of Music and Dance at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. A finalist for the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Music for her composition “Si Ji” (“Four Seasons”), she was born and raised in Guangzhou, China and is known as a prolific composer who blends Chinese and Western traditions, transcending cultural and musical boundaries.
Along with many orchestral works, Chen has written numerous choral works and pieces of chamber music, including works written for traditional Chinese instruments.
While she’s at Mizzou, Chen will give a presentation her works at 3:00 p.m. Saturday in room 146 of the Fine Arts Building, and take in the world premiere of her new composition “The Beautiful West Lake” during a concert by the University Singers at 7:30 p.m. Saturday night at First Baptist Church.
The work was commissioned by the University of Missouri School of Music specifically for R. Paul Crabb and the University Singers with funding from the Sinquefield Charitable Foundation. The lyric is taken from the poem “The West Lake,” written during the Song Dynasty in 1073 by the Chinese poet Su Dong-po (1037-1101).
Chen’s program notes describe “The Beautiful West Lake” like this:
“The shining waves in the lake, and the drizzling rains on the hills from a colorful landscape of the West Lake. It is presented by simple pentatonic melodies, with cluster harmonies and a pattern of reciting nonsense syllables in the background in my choral piece. The sound and voices in the music convey the feeling of enjoying the nature, which symbolizes the beauty in Southeast China, whose presence is just so natural and perfect.”
Following the concert, Chen will wrap up her visit on Monday by leading a morning coaching session at Loeb Hall with the Mizzou New Music Ensemble.
A violinist as well as a composer, she received bachelor and masters degrees in music composition from the Central Conservatory in Beijing, and a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from Columbia University.
Chen is the recipient of the prestigious Charles Ives Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2001 and was elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 2005. She has received
fellowships and commissions from organizations including the Guggenheim Foundation; the National Endowment for the Arts; the Koussevitzky, Fromm, Ford, Roche, and Rockefeller foundations; Meet The Composer, Chamber Music America;, the BBC Proms; the China National Center for the Performing Arts, the Lincoln Center Festival, and Carnegie Hall.
Ensembles and soloists commissioning her work have included the Cleveland Orchestra, Mira Wang and the Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden, the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, the Seattle Symphony, Yo-Yo Ma and the Pacific Symphony, Evelyn Glennie and the Singapore Symphony, the Women’s Philharmonic, the Brooklyn Philharmonic, and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.
Chen’s music is published by Theodore Presser Company, and has been recorded and released on more than 20 different labels, including New Albion, CRI, Angel, Koch International Classics, Delos, New World and Naxos.
Also of note is that her husband is Zhou Long, also a professor of composition at UMKC’s conservatory, winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for music, and one of two distinguished guest composers at the 2013 Mizzou International Composers Festival.
For more about Chen Yi, you can read this 2001 interview with Minnesota Public Radio and this interview conducted at the 2005 Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic in Chicago, and listen to this interview she did in 2012 with NYC radio station WQXR.
You can see and hear some samples of her works in the embedded videos below.
“Prospect Overture” for orchestra, commissioned by the China National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing and premiered by the China National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Daniel Harding, on December 31, 2008 at the CNCPA.
“Chinese Ancient Dances” for clarinet and piano, performed by Divan Consort on September 27, 2012 at CSU Fullerton’s Meng Hall.
“Distance can’t keep us two apart,” a 2012 work commissioned by the American Choral Directors Association Endowment and performed here by Montclair State University Singers, conducted by Dr. Heather Buchanan, on February 17, 2012 at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium, in Providence, RI.