Composers Festival spotlight: Chen Yi

The Mizzou New Music Initiative is pleased to welcome Chen Yi as one of two distinguished guest composers for the 2021 Mizzou International Composers Festival.

Chen (pictured) 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.

She holds a BA and MA in music composition from the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, and a DMA from Columbia University in New York City. Chen was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2005, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2019.

As a distinguished guest composer for the MICF, Chen will give individual composition lessons to the resident composers, make a public presentation on her music, and consult with the ensembles who will be performing her works during the festival.

The Mizzou New Music Ensemble will play Chen’s “Near Distance” as part of the “Mizzou New Music” online concert on Wednesday, July 28, and Alarm Will Sound will present the US premiere of Stefan Freund’s arrangement of Chen’s “Sparkle” during the “World Premieres II” online concert on Saturday, July 31.

Other recent premieres include “Plum Blossom,” a piano solo performed by 15 semi-finalists at the Fifth Hong Kong International Piano Competition; a three-movement symphonic work, “Introduction, Andante, and Allegro,” co-commissioned by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and the Los Angeles Philharmonic and performed by the SSO at Benaroya Hall in Seattle; and “Fire,” commissioned by the Chicago Center for Contemporary Composition and performed by Grossman Ensemble at Logan Center Performance Hall at the University of Chicago.

Chen’s music has been performed and commissioned by many leading musicians and ensembles, including Yehudi Menuhin, Yo-Yo Ma, Evelyn Glennie, the Cleveland Orchestra, the BBC, Seattle, Pacific, Kansas City, and Singapore Symphonies, the Brooklyn, NY, and LA Philharmonic, Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden, and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. Her music also has been recorded on labels including Bis, New Albion, CRI, Teldec, Telarc, Albany, New World, Naxos, Quartz, Delos, Angel, Bridge, Nimbus, KIC, and China Record Company.

Chen has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as the Lieberson Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Other honors include first prize from the Chinese National Composition Contest, the Lili Boulanger Award, CalArts / Alpert Award, ASCAP Concert Music Award, and many more.

She has received the UMKC Kauffman Award in artistry/scholarship twice, in 2006 and 2019, and the faculty service award in 2012. Chen also has been awarded honorary doctorates by Lawrence University, Baldwin-Wallace College, University of Portland (OR), New School University (NYC), and the University of Hartford.

Known as a strong advocate for new music, American composers, Asian composers, and women in music, Chen has served on the advisory or educational boards of the Fromm Music Foundation at Harvard, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, Chamber Music America, Meet The Composer, the American Music Center, New Music USA, the American Composers Orchestra, the League of Composers/ISCM, the International Alliance of Women in Music, and the Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy.

Chen Yi is the subject of an eponymous biography written by Leta E. Miller and J. Michele Edwards and published in December 2020 by the University of Illinois Press. You can hear some samples of her music in the embedded players below.

“Ning,” recorded July 2015 at Beijing Conservatory, featuring Alexandra Greffin-Klein (violin), Sun Jing (pipa), and Alexis Descharmes (cello).

“Percussion Concerto,” performed in October 2018 at the Staller Center for the Arts Stony Brook University in Stony Brook NY, featuring the Stony Brook Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Eduardo Leandro, and percussion soloist Sun Yi.

“The Fisherman’s Song,” performed by Yang Yang (piano) and Michael Taylor (violin) in February 2020 at Ward Recital Hall, Catholic University in Washington DC.

From December 2017, the Curtis 20/21 Ensemble at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia presented a portrait of composer Chen Yi.