Chen Yi Biography (BBC)
The middle child of two medical doctors in Guangzhou, Chen Yi began her musical studies on violin and piano at the age of 3. Family life and musical education were both brutally disrupted a decade later by the Cultural Revolution, when each member was sentenced to 're-education' in a different corner of the country. At the age of 17, she left her labour camp to return to Guangzhou as concertmistress and composer of the city's Peking Opera troupe.
In 1978, after the Cultural Revolution, Chen Yi was one of 200 students admitted to the newly reopened Central Conservatory of Music, where she finally had to choose between violin and composition. Picking the latter, she studied with Wu Zugiang and visiting professor Alexander Goehr; as an undergraduate she won a first prize for a three-movement string quartet and composed the first Chinese viola concerto.
In 1986, having become the first woman in China to receive a Master's degree in composition, her graduation featured a high-profile concert of her orchestral works, broadcast nationally by the China Record Corporation.
Later that year, Chen Yi moved to New York to continue her studies at Columbia University with Chou Wen-Chung and Mario Davidovsky, among others. Her relocation resulted in what she considers her first mature large-scale orchestral composition, Duo Ye No. 2 (1987), a reworking of a solo piano piece that had won the Chinese National Composition Competition in 1985. Its expressive balance of folk roots and modernist sonorities unveiled a distinctive compositional voice that the composer herself compares to "speaking in Chinese, but writing in a Western idiom."
After receiving her doctorate in 1993, Chen Yi served a three-year residency in San Francisco through the Meet the Composers New Residencies programme, simultaneously composing for The Women's Philharmonic, the vocal ensemble Chanticleer and the Aptos Creative Arts Program. She taught for two years at Baltimore's Peabody Conservatory before accepting an endowed professorship at the University of Missouri. A recipient of the three-year Charles Ives Living Award (2001-4) from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, she now divides her time between Kansas City and Beijing, where she began a three-year visiting professorship at the Central Conservatory in 2006.
Chen Yi has amassed commissions, performances and awards from dozens of major organisations in North America, Europe and Asia. Her piece Si Ji ('Four Seasons') was a 2006 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
Profile © Ken Smith
Chen Yi Tracks