Carnegie Hall Commissions
"A fresh voice in cross-cultural music."
"An innovative composer who merges diverse musical customs in works that transcend conventional aesthetic boundaries."
These are the words used to describe Bright Sheng, the 2001 recipient of the MacArthur Foundation’s "Genius Award." Steeped in the tradition of Western classical music, Sheng’s compositions draw from the fount of late 20th-century contemporary ideas, as well as the folk music of China and the surrounding, famed Silk Road region.
Sheng’s importance in the international music community is evidenced by his numerous commissions: Red Silk Dance (2000), a piano concerto for Emanuel Ax and the Boston Symphony; Nanking! Nanking! (1999) for pipa and orchestra for the NDR Symphony Orchestra; Flute Moon (1999) for flute and orchestra for the Houston Symphony; The Song and Dance of Tears (2003), a Silk Road Project quadruple concerto for the New York Philharmonic for Western and Eastern solo instruments; the Seattle Symphony’s China Dreams (1995) and The Phoenix (2004), written for soprano Jane Eaglen in a co-commission with the Danish National Symphony Orchestra, which subsequently brought the work to China in 2005; Colors of Crimson (2004) for percussionist Evelyn Glennie and the Luxembourg Philharmonic, and Sheng’s defining work H’un (Lacerations) (1988) for the New York Chamber Symphony, written in response to his experiences during the Cultural Revolution. Conductors who champion Sheng’s music include Christoph Eschenbach, Valery Gergiev, Marin Alsop, Gerard Schwarz, Kurt Masur, Robert Spano, Hugh Wolff, Leonard Slatkin, David Zinman, David Robertson, and Neeme Järvi.
In the theater world, Madame Mao—Sheng’s two-act, psychological portrait of Jiang Qing (Chairman Mao’s wife)—was premiered by the Santa Fe Opera in 2003. Set to a libretto by its stage director Colin Graham, the work received accolades worldwide. In 2002, the Lincoln Center Festival mounted Sheng’s multi-cultural music theater piece The Silver River (1997; rev. 2000) in a co-production previously mounted at the Spoleto Festival USA. Based on an ancient Chinese tale about star-crossed lovers and set to a libretto by David Henry Hwang, the critically acclaimed production was directed by Ong Keng Sen. This production will be performed again in Ann Arbor Michigan in early 2007. From 1989 to 1992, Sheng served a composer residency at the Lyric Opera of Chicago where he wrote The Song of Majnun (1992)—a one-act "Persian Romeo and Juliet"—in collaboration with librettist Andrew Porter. No stranger to dance, in 2002, Sheng collaborated with choreographer Helgi Tomasson for the San Francisco Ballet’s Chi-Lin, a new ballet set to three extant chamber pieces.
Recent premieres include Three Fantasies for Violin and Piano, a Library of Congress and La Jolla Chamber Music Festival co-commission for violinist Cho-Liang Lin; Wild Swan for the New West Symphony (conducted by Sheng), and a new ballet—Two Birds With the Wings of One—(based on extant music) by choreographer Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux for the New York City Ballet, where Sheng recently began his post as composer-in-residence. During Sheng’s two-year residency, he participates in composer master classes, conducts performances, and collaborates on two upcoming new ballets with Christopher Wheeldon (2007) and Peter Martins (2008). Sheng was also the composer-in-residence at the 2006 Saratoga Chamber Music Festival (NY), where Charles Dutoit and the Philadelphia Orchestra participated in a performance of The Phoenix, sung by Lauren Flanigan. Sheng’s future collaborations with the Philadelphia Orchestra include the forthcoming world premiere of their commissioned piece Concerto for Orchestra: Zodiac Tales to be conducted by Christoph Eschenbach.
In addition to composing, Sheng enjoys an active career as a conductor and concert pianist and frequently serves as music advisor and artistic director to orchestras and festivals. Sheng previously served as the Artistic Advisor to Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project.
Born December 6, 1955 in Shanghai, China, Sheng began piano studies at the age of four with his mother. After the Cultural Revolution, he moved to New York in 1982 and received his MA and DMA. Sheng’s teachers include Leonard Bernstein (composition and conducting), George Perle, Hugo Weisgall, Chou Wen-Chung, and Jack Beeson. His music is published exclusively by G. Schirmer, and his works are recorded on Sony, BIS, Delos, Koch International, New World Records, and Naxos. Since 1995, Sheng has been a member of the composition faculty at the University of Michigan, where he now serves as Leonard Bernstein Distinguished University Professor of Music.