By: Montse Andreu

One would think that the so long fought for equality of the sexes should have reached the adequate levels with respect to the chances that women have to succeed in the field of alternative musics. This is not so. And nevertheless, there are women who have devoted part (or all) of their careers to electronic, experimental composition, who have a great deal of talent. The objective of this series is to make some of these names known to the interested readers.

chenyi.jpg (10077 bytes)CHEN YI:
Born in Guangzhou, China, Chen Yi begins her musical studies with the piano and the violin at age three, with Zheng Ri-hua and Lee Soo Sin. During the Chinese revolution of the sixties she would try to continue with her violin studies, but was deported to a labour camp. Though the dark period also meant for her the opportunity to widen her knowledge of the traditional music in her country. At age seventeen, and once she returns to her home, she joins the orchestra of a local Beijing Opera Troupe as a concertmaster and composer. It is then when she started to study traditional Chinese music, as well as Western and Chinese music theory under the tutelage of Zheng Zhong.

In 1977, once the educational system of the country resumes the activity, Chen studies composition at the Beijing Central Conservatory with Professor Wu Zu-qiang and British composer Alexander Goehr, while at the same time continuing with her violin studies, as she also furthers her studies of traditional Chinese music.

In 1983, Chen composes the first viola concert in China, "Xian Shi", and in 1986, the Chinese Musicians Association, the Central Conservatory of Music, Radio Beijing, CCTV and the Central Philharmonic of China jointly collaborate in a monographic program devoted to the orchestral works of this composer, since at the time she is the first woman in China to receive the degree of Master of Arts in composition. In 1986, Chen Yi gets to travel to the USA to further her studies, obtaining a Doctorate in Musical Arts, with distinction, from Columbia University, in 1993, tutored by Chou Wen-Chung and Mario Davidovsky. This same year she gets appointed, through the Meet the Composer New Residencies program, to a three year term as Composer-in-Residence for the Women's Philharmonic, Chanticleer and the Aptos Creative Arts Program, all in San Francisco.

In 1996, Chen obtains a clamorous success with three gala concerts at the Center for the Arts Theater, Yerba Buena Gardens, SF, performing several of her orchestral works ("Ge Xu", and her "Symphony No.2"), choral pieces ("Set of Chinese Folk Songs", "Tang Poems") and the multimedia work "Chinese Myths Cantata", presented by the Women's Philarmonic, Chanticleer and the Lili Cai Dance Company. In 1996 the composer becomes a faculty member at the Peabody Conservatory, of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

In 1998, she becomes the Lorena Searcy Cravens/Millsap/Missouri Distinguished Professor in Composition, at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory. Chen Yi has also been awarded numerous prizes and grants, including first prize from the Chinese National Composition Competition for her "Duo Ye" for solo piano, the Lili Boulanger Award, the 1996 Sorel Medal for Excellence in Music from the Center for Women in Music at New York University and the 1997 CalArts Alpert Award for music. She has also received prestigious fellowships from the Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and Civitella Ranieri Foundation, and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust, the Fromm Music Foundation, the Koussevitzky Music Foudation, the San Francisco Art Commission, the Creative Work Fund, the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Aaron Copland Fund For Music, the NYSCA, Chamber Music America, Carnegie Hall, New Heritage Music Foundation, the American Guild of Organists, and the Meet the Composer/Reader's Digest Consortium Commissioning program in the United States of America. Her music is published by Theodore Presser Company, and has been released on different labels, among them the Nimbus (1994), Cala (1996), New Albion (1996), CRI (1998), CRC (1986, 1990) and Teldec (1997, 1999).

Chen Yi's music gets together the new abstract musical concepts of the New Music with the essential nature of traditional music both from China and from the Western countries, while combining the typical tonalities of traditional Eastern music with the Western ones, not without a touch of humor, as seen in the already mentioned works by this artist. In other cases, the composer appears as a passionate being, and combines this passion with magical textures, as seen in her piece "Sparkle", or yet in other cases she meditates on the interaction of ancient cultures with modern civilization, as illustrated in her work "Near Distance", where East and West meet in a very successful synthesis which portrays Chen Yi's wish to create authentic music for the future generations. Her virtuosity as a composer has led her to get important commissions from prestigious institutions as for instance Central Philharmonic of China, Brooklyn Philharmonic, Women's Philharmonic, Chanticleer, New York New Music Consort, Los Angeles Philharmonic, San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, Music From China, SF Citywinds and SF Girls Chorus, Yehudi Menuhin, Yo-Yo Ma, James Galway Evelyn Glennie and Singapore Symphony, the Rascher Saxophone Quartet, Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, the Kronos and the Ying quartets, the San Jose Chamber and Oakland Youth orchestras, Bradley University Choir and Orchestra, Eastman School of Music, Ithaca College, Pro Musicis of New York, Alea III of Boston, Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra, and Taipei Municipal Chinese Classical Orchestra, among others. Chen's compositions have also been programed by the BBC Philharmonic,Vienna Radio Symphony, National Symphony (US), American Composers, China National and Shanghai Symphony, NHK Symphony, Japan Philharmonic Symphony and Tokyo Philharmonic, New York Philharmonic, and the Hallé orchestras; Iceland, San Francisco, Sacramento, Long Beach, Duluth, Honolulu, Southbend, Atlanta, Virginia, Peoria, Taiwan symphonies; Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie, Symphony II, Berlin Quintet, los Haba and Stamnic quartets, Chicago Symphony chamber group, Minnesota Composers Forum, Washington DC Contemporary Music Forum, Aspen Contemporary Ensemble, CA EAR Unit, CalArts New Century Players, Ensemble 2e2m, among other prestigious music ensembles.

From 1989, her chamber works have appeared at a documentary series of 10 chapters on New Music, "Sound and Silence", for the European television, produced by the International Society for Contemporary Music, Katherine Adamov Films and the Polish TV. As a member of ASCAP, American Music Center, among other institutions, Ms. Chen serves on the Board of Directors of Meet The Composer, Music From China, and the New Music Consort, also on the Composer Advisory Board of the American Composers Orchestra, the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition, and International Alliance of Women in Music. She is active as a violinist in new music and ethnomusicologist in Chinese music, and a frequent guest lecturer in composition workshops throughout the States and China.

Recent world premieres of this composer's works include Golden Flute by Duluth Symphony in MN and Shanghai Symphony at the 6th International Radio Music Festival in China (11/97); Spring Dreams by Ithaca College Choir in New York (11/97); Fiddle Suite by Japan Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra at Suntory Hall, Tokyo (4/98); Momentum by Peabody Symphony at its Lincoln Center debut concert, New York (5/98); Sound of the Five by Mimi Hwang & the Ying Quartet (11/98); Eleanor's Gift by Paul Tobias and the Women's Philharmonic in San Francisco (12/98); Romance and Dance by Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra in Germany (12/98); Japan premiere of Ge Xu by NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo after its China tour with satellite broadcasting (12/98); Feng by San Francisco Citywinds in Berkeley and at the Chamber Music America's national conference showcase concert in New York (1/99); Percussion Concerto by Evelyn Glennie and the Singapore Symphony (3/99).

Previous Page (Articles/News)