Chen Yi (b. April 4, 1953, Guangzhou) is a Chinese-born American composer of orchestral, chamber, choral, and piano works that have been performed throughout the world.

Ms. Chen began violin and piano studies with Zheng Ri-hua and Li Su-xin at age three, but the Cultural Revolution interrupted her musical progress in 1966. She later studied composition with Wu Zu-qiang at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing from 1978-86, where she earned her MA, as the first Chinese woman to receive this degree in music. She then studied composition with Chou Wen-chung and Mario Davidovsky at Columbia University from 1986-93 and there earned her DMA with distinction. She was also awarded an honorary doctorate from Lawrence University in 2002.

Among her many honors in China are First Prize in a national competition in China (1985, for Duo Ye), First Prize in the composition competition of a children's piano competition in Beijing (1985, for Yu Diao) and First Prize in a traditional music competition of the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing (1986, for Xie Zi). Her honors in the USA include the Lili Boulanger Award from the Women's Philharmonic and the NEA Composer Fellowship (both 1994), as well as the Goddard Lieberson Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Guggenheim Fellowship and the Sorel Medal for Excellence in Music from the Center for Women in Music at the University of New York (all 1996). She has also received the CalArts Alpert Award (1997), the Eddie Medora King Composition Prize from the University of Texas and the Adventurous Programming Award from ASCAP (for Music from China) (both 1999) and the Charles Ives Living Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (2001-04). Her most recent honors include the ASCAP Concert Music Award (2001) and the Elise Stoeger Award from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (2002).

Numerous ensembles and orchestras in China, Germany, Singapore, and the USA have commissioned her and she has received many grants. Her chamber music was featured in Sound and Silence, a series of ten films on contemporary music co-produced by ISCM (1989), and she was profiled in the documentary film Chen Yi in America (A Cantonese in New York) (2002).

Ms. Chen is also active in other positions. She served as a composer to and concertmaster with the Beijing Opera Troupe from 1970-78 and later served as composer-in-residence to the Women's Philharmonic, the male chorus Chanticleer and the Aptos Creative Arts Program in San Francisco from 1993-96. She has served on the advisory councils of the American Composers Orchestra since 1993, the International Alliance of Women in Music since 1995 and the Walden School since 2000 and on the boards of directors of Meet the Composer since 1997 and Chamber Music America since 2002. She founded the bilingual newsletter of Music from China in 1991 and has since served as its co-editor.

She taught composition, multicultural analysis, and the orchestral works of Claude Debussy at the Peabody Conservatory at Johns Hopkins University from 1996-98 and has taught as the Lorena Searcey Cravens/Millsap/Missouri Distinguished Professor in Music Composition at the University of Missouri at Kansas City since 1998. She was the Karel Husa Visiting Professor at Ithaca College in 2002-03 and has guest-lectured throughout China and the USA.

She is married to the composer Zhou Long.
Theodore Presser publishes her music.


Jordan Hall at New England Conservatory | February 15, 2013
Distler Performance Hall at Tufts University | December 12, 2010
Houghton Chapel at Wellesley College | December 11, 2010
Studzinski Recital Hall at Bowdoin College | December 10, 2010
Jordan Hall at New England Conservatory | October 11, 2002
Edward M. Pickman Concert Hall at Longy | April 8, 2000

News and Press

[Concert Review] BMOP gives the viola its moment in the sun

And now, it might be asked, should we pity the viola? It is after all consigned to an unglamorous middle range, and is ever on the receiving end of all that merciless skewering (if you don’t know what I mean, type “viola jokes” into Google, or ask anyone who has played in an orchestra).

The Boston Globe Full review
[Concert Review] Roseate Ensemble: Violas Consort with BMOP

In another masterstroke of imaginative programming for which it is renowned, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, under Music Director Gil Rose, offered a day-late billet-doux to the sultriest member of the string family at Jordan Hall on February 15th. “Voilà! Viola!” consisted of five works featuring the viola, four of them as soloist and one for an ensemble of eight. (one will have to come up with a clever collective noun for this).

The Boston Musical Intelligencer Full review
[Concert Review] It’s “Voilà Viola!” night at Boston Modern Orchestra Project

Why did the contemporary-music orchestra give a concert of five works that all featured the viola?

a. because they wanted to make a pun in French
b. because it was St. Violantine’s Day
c. because there’s some good stuff for viola out there
d. the orchestra ordered up two brand-new viola pieces, never heard before

Boston Classical Review Full review
[Concert Review] Stylus reviews Voilà! Viola!

This Boston Modern Orchestra Project concert was another of Gil Rose’s theme-based concerts with a catchy name. The pieces were Suite for Eight Violas (1975) by Gordon Jacob, Serenade No. 1 for Viola and Orchestra (1962) by George Perle, Singing Inside Aura (2013) by Chinary Ung, Viola Concerto (2012) by Donald Crockett, and, finally, Xian Shi (1983) by Chen Yi. The selections were disparate in style and affect; a listener certainly comes away with an appreciation for the range of effects from this instrument within modern music.

Stylus Magazine Full review
[Concert Review] Women's works illuminated by Boston Modern Orchestra Project

A chamber-size contingent of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and director Gil Rose visited Wellesley College on Saturday (part of a weekend tour that also stopped at Bowdoin College and Tufts University) with an all-female-composer program called “Luminous Noise.” Such a deliberate spotlight is, hopefully, not quite the necessary corrective to a predominantly male compositional culture that it would have been all too recently, but it still invited consideration of what it does — and does not — mean to be a female composer in the world of classical music.

The Boston Globe Full review
[Concert Review] BMOP's Luminous Noise at Wellesley

The Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Gil Rose, conductor, is in residence this year at Wellesley College and presenting three concerts, of which the first, entitled, “Luminous Noise: Three Women Compose,” was presented on Saturday, December 11, at the Houghton Chapel. The acoustics there have always been excellent — the venue is often used for recording projects — and continue to be so after the recent renovation. This concert was one of three performances of the same program at Bowdoin College and Tufts University on this same weekend.

The Boston Musical Intelligencer Full review
[News Coverage] BMOP to perform modern classical compositions tonight

Performing numerous modern compositions of the 20th century, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP), under the direction of Gil Rose, will make its first ever appearance on the Bowdoin campus today in Studzinski Recital Hall, where the orchestra will perform the first program of a three-part series.

Since 1996, BMOP has been producing and performing contemporary compositions, especially at Jordan Hall at the New England Conservatory.

The Bowdoin Orient Full review
[Press Release] Tufts University Department of Music presents "Luminous Noise" – a concert by BMOP

As part of the Sundays at Tufts–Community Concert Series, Boston Modern Orchestra Project – the premier orchestra in the United States dedicated exclusively to commissioning, performing, and recording new orchestral music – will launch a brand new concert series to be co-hosted by Tufts University on Sunday, December 12, 2010 at 3 p.m. in the Distler Performance Hall of the Perry and Marty Granoff Music Center on the Tufts' Medford/Somerville campus.

Full review
[Press Release] Boston Modern Orchestra Project presents "Luminous Noise: Three Women Compose"

On Saturday, Dec. 11, at 8 pm, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) kicks off a three-concert performance series at Wellesley College with "Luminous Noise: Three Women Compose," featuring works by Chen Yi, Judith Weir and Jenny Olivia Johnson, three of the most dynamic female composers creating new orchestral works today. The performance, held at Houghton Chapel, is free and open to the public.

Full review