Multimedia: Emerging Chinese Composers Bring Local Sounds to Global Stage

Emerging Chinese composers Sam Wu, Qin Yi, and Zulan made their United States debuts on Tuesday at Asia Society New York's event Shanghai/New York: Future Histories. The three composers each premiered a multidisciplinary ensemble work combining local inspiration with distinct forms of engaging international audiences.

Following the performances, the composers discussed their respective works in a Q&A session moderated by renowned Chinese composer Tan Dun (The First Emperor and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and Asia Society’s Director of Global Performing Arts Rachel Cooper.

Chamber music composer Sam Wu seeks to “create drama for both the heart and the brain” in dolphin song, a lamentation prompted by the recent extinction of the Yangtze River White Dolphins. “I really wanted to explore the communicative potential in music, and more specifically, how…in music I could also combine social responsibility,” he said.

Electronic music pioneer Qin Yi’s composition Mirror Mind combines multiple forms, including dramatic performance, live percussion, interactive multi-channel electronic music, and new-media visual arts. “It’s a teamwork piece, and there is no servant and master,” said producer Xu Zhibo. “The performer is also a creating force in this piece.” (Qin herself was unavailable for the Q & A.)

Zulan, whose composition Death and the Maiden is based on a play of the same name by Austrian Nobel Laureate Elfriede Jelinek, finds inspiration from ethnic musicians, particularly those from her home region of Inner Mongolia. She described her musical journey, which started with a classical education, then progressed toward an exploration of her personal cultural identity.

The performances were presented by Asia Society and Performance Space 122 and commissioned by the Rising Artists’ Works (RAW) project of the China Shanghai International Arts Festival (CSIAF), which commissions young, emerging artists from across China.

Tan, who leads RAW's Artistic Advisory Committee, stressed the importance of cultivating China's new generation of artists.

“China, I think, is having jet lag now. Everything is so fast… [and] the vanishing of tradition is faster than any kind of construction,” he said, before commending the three composers: “[All three of you] are very devoted to what’s happening in society, the world, and the environment… and also deeply, honestly express what you feel.”

Video: Watch the post-performance artist Q & A (26 min., 47 sec.)

About the Author

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Tim Lau is a Content Producer at Asia Society. He is a New Jersey native and has also lived in Greater Chicago and Washington, DC.