American composer, born in China, of mostly orchestral, chamber, choral, and piano works that have been performed throughout the world.
Chen Yi began studies in piano with Li Su-xin and violin with Zheng Ri-hua at age three. She later studied composition with Wu Zu-qiang at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing from 1978–86, where she earned her MA. 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 has received honorary doctorates from the Lawrence University Conservatory of Music in Appleton, Wisconsin in 2002, the Baldwin Wallace Conservatory of Music in Berea, Ohio in 2008, the University of Portland in Oregon in 2009, and The New School in New York, New York in 2010.
Among her many honours in China are First Prize in a national competition (1985, for Duo Ye No. 1), First Prize in a competition for music for piano for children in Beijing (1985, for Yu Diao) and First Prize in the competition for traditional music of the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing (1986, for Xie Zi). Among her honours in the USA are the Lili Boulanger Award from the Women’s Philharmonic in San Francisco (1994), the NEA Composer Fellowship (1994), the Goddard Lieberson Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1996), the Guggenheim Fellowship (1996), and the Sorel Medal for Excellence in Music from the Center for the Study of Women and Society at the City University of New York (1996). She has also received the Alpert Award in the Arts from the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, Santa Clarita (1997), the Eddie Medora King Award for Musical Composition from the University of Texas (1999), the Adventurous Programming Award from ASCAP (1999, for her work with Music from China), the Charles Ives Living Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (2001–02), the ASCAP Concert Music Award (2001), the Elise Stoeger Award from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (2002), the Friendship Ambassador Award from the Edgar Snow Memorial Fund (2002), and the Kauffman Award in Artistry/Scholarship from the University of Missouri–Kansas City (2006). She has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences since 2005. 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).
Chen Yi is also active in other positions. She served as a composer to and concertmaster of the Beijing Opera Troupe from 1970–78. She founded the bilingual newsletter of Music from China in 1991 and has served as its co-editor since 1991. She served as composer-in-residence to the Women’s Philharmonic, the male chorus Chanticleer and the Aptos Creative Arts Program in San Francisco, all from 1993–96. She has served on the advisory council of the American Composers Orchestra since 1993, of the International Alliance for Women in Music since 1995 and of The Walden School in Dublin, New Hampshire since 2000. She has served on the board of directors of Meet the Composer since 1997 and of Chamber Music America since 2002.
She taught composition, multicultural analysis and the orchestral works of Claude Debussy at the Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore from 1996–98 and has taught as the Lorena Searcey Cravens/Millsap/Missouri Distinguished Professor in Music Composition at the University of Missouri–Kansas City since 1998. She taught as the Karel Husa Visiting Professor at Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York in 2002–03 and as the Changjiang Scholar Visiting Professor at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing in 2006. She has given guest lectures throughout China and the USA.