© Alex Cao
Brief Biography: Bright Sheng’s musical studies began in China at the age of four when his mother taught him piano. After the Cultural Revolution, he moved to New York in 1982 where his teachers included Leonard Bernstein, George Perle, Hugo Weisgall and Jack Beeson. A strong Eastern influence is evident in his music, which often uses traditional tales, folk songs, and instruments from China, as well as gestures borrowed from Chinese opera; however, it is incorporated into a highly original and assured framework based on a Western tradition. He is much in demand as a composer, pianist, conductor and artistic director for major organizations throughout America and Europe.
For a complete biography, click here.
- H'un (Lacerations): In Memoriam 1966-76
- China Dreams
(1995 written as Composer-in-Residence with the Seattle Symphony)
- The Silver River
(1997, rev. 2000; music theatre)
- Nanking! Nanking!
(1999; pipa, orchestra)
- Tibetan Swing
- Madame Mao
- The Nightingale and the Rose
(2007; ballet; orchestra)
- String Quartet No. 5, "The Miraculous"
(2007; string quartet)
- 1989-92 Composer-in-Residence at the Lyric Opera of Chicago resulting in The Song of Majnun
- 1992-95 composer-in-residence with the Seattle Symphony
- 1998 Appointed Artistic Advisor of Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Project
- 1999 Premiere of Three Songs for Cello and Pipa at a White House reception for Chinese Premiere Zhu Rongji's visit
- 2001 Awarded a MacArthur Foundation Genius Award
- 2003 Appointed Leonard Bernstein Distinguished University Professor of Music at the University of Michigan, USA
- 2007 First ever Composer-in-Residence with the New York City Ballet
Bright Sheng...is one of the more fiery compositional talents on the American scene.
— The Village Voice
…formidable technical skills and intriguing musical voice…
— The New York Times
... [His] music is bright, ingenious, and entertaining. Although it is multicultural, it is also unpretentious.
— The Boston Globe
“Fusion? Everything in music is fusion. Stravinsky is fusion. Shostakovitch is fusion. Debussy is fusion. Brahms is fusion ... I’m fusion. Of course it’s possible.”
These encouraging words from Leonard Bernstein to Bright Sheng have been a guiding force. Since arriving in the United States in 1982 with “no friends, no English, and no money,” Sheng has been able to realize with his music the intensity and complexity of his experience, creating an oeuvre that “merges diverse musical customs in works that transcend conventional aesthetic boundaries." Recipient of the 2001 MacArthur Foundation “Genius Award,” his past commissions include: H’un (Lacerations): in memoriam 1966–1976 (1988) for the New York Chamber Symphony, written in response to Sheng’s experiences during the Cultural Revolution; China Dreams (1995) written as Composer-in-Residence with the Seattle Symphony (1992–1995); Nanking! Nanking! (1999) for pipa and orchestra for the NDR Symphony Orchestra; Flute Moon (1999) for flute and orchestra for the Houston Symphony; Red Silk Dance (2000), a piano concerto for Emanuel Ax and the Boston Symphony; The Song and Dance of Tears (2003) for Western and Eastern solo instruments — a Silk Road Project quadruple concerto led by Yo-Yo Ma and Emmanuel Ax for the New York Philharmonic; Phoenix (2004), for soprano Jane Eaglen, co-commissioned by the Seattle Symphony and the Danish National Symphony Orchestra; Colors of Crimson (2004) for percussionist Evelyn Glennie and the Luxembourg Philharmonic; Concerto for Orchestra: Zodiac Tales (2005), co-commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra and Carnegie Hall; Shanghai Overture (2007), commissioned by the Shanghai College of Music in honor of their 80th anniversary; and Never Far Away (2008), a harp concerto co-commissioned by the San Diego Symphony, the Dallas Symphony, the Grand Rapids Symphony, and the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. Conductors who champion his music include: Christoph Eschenbach, 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 presented 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. From 1989 to 1992, Sheng served as Resident-Composer 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. 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. From 2006 until 2008, Sheng was the first Composer-In-Residence with the New York City Ballet, which resulted in his 2007 collaboration with choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, The Nightingale and the Rose. New York City Ballet will also premiere Just Dance, a new ballet from Sheng created in collaboration with Peter Martins, the organization's Ballet Master in Chief.
Born in Shanghai, China in 1955, Sheng and his family were persecuted during the Cultural Revolution. Sheng describes this decade-long cultural cleansing by Mao Zedong as “one of the world’s holocausts ... the cost to the Chinese people cannot be counted.” Avoiding compulsory farm service through his musical talents, Sheng discovered his love for Chinese folk music, as well as his predilection for music composition, while in a provincial band in Tibet. As the scourge of the Cultural Revolution began to dissolve in 1976, Sheng was accepted as a composition student at Shanghai Conservatory, from which he graduated with top honors. Sheng left China for New York City, ultimately finding his path through studies at Queens College, then Columbia University, and finally the music festivals at Aspen and Tanglewood. Sheng developed his transcontinental voice under the wings of top musicians such as conductor Gerard Schwarz, pianist Samuel Lipman, and composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein. Sheng admits: “I’m a mixture of both cultures, but I consider myself both 100% American and 100% Chinese.” In addition to composing, Sheng enjoys an active career as a conductor and concert pianist, and frequently acts 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." He has been a member of the University of Michigan's composition faculty since 1995, where he is the Leonard Bernstein Distinguished University Professor of Music.
Bright Sheng's music is exclusively published by G. Schirmer, Inc.
— September 2012
For specific inquiries about this composer, please
contact Amelia Lukas at amelia.lukas(at)schirmer.com or (212) 254-2100 ext.