“Fusion? Everything in music is fusion. Stravinsky is fusion. Shostakovich 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 contacts, no money, and no ability to speak English, Sheng has been able to realize with his music the intensity and complexity of his life experiences. He continues to create an oeuvre that “merges diverse musical customs in works that transcend conventional aesthetic boundaries.” (MacArthur Foundation)
Recipient of the 2001 MacArthur Foundation “Genius Award,” his most recent commissions include, Dream of the Red Chamber (2016), an opera inspired by a Chinese fiction masterpiece, with a libretto by Sheng and David Henry Hwang, premiering with the San Francisco Opera; Angel Fire Duo (2014) for Music from Angel Fire; Deep Red (2014) for marimba and chamber players, written for Tanglewood Music Center and Eastern Music Festival, where it had its World Premiere in 2014; Concerto for Orchestra: Zodiac Tales (2005), commissioned by The Philadelphia Orchestra and premiered with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leonard Slatkin in 2014.
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; Shanghai Overture (2007), commissioned by the Shanghai College of Music in honor of their 80th anniversary; 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; The Blazing Mirage (2012) for cello and string orchestra, premiered by Trey Lee and the Munich Chamber Orchestra; and Let Fly (2013), a violin concerto co-commissioned by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra, and Singapore Symphony for performances with soloist Gil Shaham. 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 addition to his newest opera, Dream of the Red Chamber (2016), which is set to premiere with the San Francisco Opera, Sheng has an important voice in the theater world. Madame Mao (2003) — 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 proclaims, “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." In 2011, Sheng founded and serves as Artistic Director of “The Intimacy of Creativity—The Bright Sheng Partnership,” an annual workshop where composers collaborate with performers and explore creativity in music. 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.