Bright Sheng

Bright Sheng is respected as one of the foremost composers of our time, whose stage, orchestral, chamber and vocal works are performed regularly throughout North America, Europe and Asia. Sheng’s music is noted for its lyrical and limpid melodies, a Shostakovich sense of breath in music phrases, a Bartokian sense of rhythmic propulsion, and dramatic and theatrical gestures. Many of Sheng’s works has strong Chinese and Asian influences, a result of his diligent study of Asian musical cultures for over three decades. He was proclaimed by the MacArthur Foundation in 2001 as “an innovative composer who merges diverse musical customs in works that transcend conventional aesthetic boundaries.” The Foundation predicts that “Bright Sheng will continue to be an important leader in exploring and bridging musical traditions.”

Born in December, 1955, in Shanghai, Sheng began studying the piano with his mother at age four. During China’s infamous Cultural Revolution, at fifteen he was sent to Qinghai–a Chinese province bordering Tibet–where for seven years he performed as a pianist and percussionist in the provincial music and dance theater, and studied folk music of the region. When China’s universities reopened in 1978, he was among the first students admitted to the Shanghai Conservatory of Music where he studied composition from 1978-82. He moved to New York City in 1982; and, at Queens College, CUNY, he studied composition with George Perle and Hugo Weisgall, Schenkerian analysis with Carl Schachter, and earned his MA in 1984. He earned his DMA in 1993 from Columbia University where he studied composition with Chou Wen-Chung, Jack Beeson and Mario Davidovsky. During that period, in 1985, as a student at Tanglewood Music Center he met Leonard Bernstein who later became his mentor. Sheng studied composition and conducting with Bernstein privately until Bernstein’s passing in 1990.

In 1999, at the invitation of President Clinton, Sheng received a special commission from the White House to create a new work honoring the visiting Chinese Premiere Zhu, Rongji. The resulting Three Songs for Pipa and Cello was premiered by Wu Man and Yo Yo Ma during the state dinner hosted by the Clintons. In 2001, Sheng received the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and the American Award in Music from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and an ASCAP Achievement Award the following year.

Sheng’s works is well known for their dramatic style and historical signification. Two of his major orchestral works H’un: In Memoriam 1966-76 (1988) and Naking! Nanking!–a Threnody for Pipa and Orchestra (2000), and his opera Madam Mao (2003) were indeed inspired by events in recent Chinese history.

Sheng is also one of the most favored living chamber music composers. Sheng has worked with the Takács Quartet, the Emerson Quartet, the Shanghai Quartet, the St. Petersburg String Quartet, the Daedalus Quartet, and many others. Among Sheng’s chamber music works that have been enjoying frequent world wide performances are Four Movements for Piano Trio, Tibetan Dance, Srting Quartet #3, String Quartet #4, Seven Tunes Heard in China, The Stream Flows, and Concertino for Clarinet and String Quartet (1994). In 2007, Sheng’s String Quartet #5 was commissioned and premiered by the Emerson Quartet.