Influential Chinese composers

Influential Chinese composers


The Cultural Revolution in China was a period dominated by anti-western and anti-capitalist sentiments. However, that attitude has completely flipped and now, Chinese musicians who’ve grown up post-revolution are flooding both Chinese and western music conservatories and introducing their own styles of music, fusing Chinese traditions with modern sounds. While in the midst of the Chinese New Year, I think it’s appropriate to highlight some of these composers who are working to bring their works to American listeners, as well as audiences around the world.

Bright Sheng

Although Sheng was born in Shanghai, he moved to a province near Tibet as a young teenager. There he played piano and percussion for a local theater and became immersed in the regions local folk music. He was one of the first students to study in the Shanghai Conservatory after the fall of the Cultural Revolution and since then has been awarded the MacArthur “genius” grant and seen his music performed in symphonies all over the world. He’s also an exemplary pianist, conductor, and professor.


Tan Dun

After winning an Oscar and Grammy for his score for the film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Dun has become one of the mot recognized Chinese composers in the world. His style of music is deemed unclassifiable and was inspired by the avant-garde music he heard when he moved to New York in the 1980s. His works fuse everything from sounds of nature, minimalistic instruments like water and paper, and Chinese folk music. 


Chen Yi

Although Chen Yi was raised in a musical family in the southern China, her ability to study Western music was stifled during the Cultural Revolution. She had to stuff a blanket in her piano in order to muffle its sound when practicing. Her family was forced to move to the country side where she absorbed Chinese folk music. Later, after returning to the city, she became the first woman to earn a master’s in composition in China. With her husband, Zhou Long, Yi now teaches composition at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She has been commissioned by Yo-Yo Ma and the Cleveland Orchestra.