Yuan-Chen Li (b.1980, Taiwan) first arrived on the contemporary music scene in Taiwan with her very personal use of instrumentation and style in her chamber music piece Zang (the funeral) in 2000. In 2003, the expression and orchestration of her orchestral work Awakening won the prize at the Asian Music Festival 2003 in Tokyo from the Asian Composers’ League, and was subsequently premiered by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. In recent years, Li’s music reflects her transformation of processes and concepts in Chinese phonology, Taiwanese chamber and aboriginal music, Asian traditional arts, literature, and Buddhism into a compositional technique for solo, chamber, and orchestra of both Western and Chinese instruments, offering new experience to her audience and collaborators with the cross-cultural and cross-disciplined approach to musical time, space, and drama. With her virtuosity in instrumentation and fluency in converging and synthesizing contrastingly cultural, musical, and conceptual ideas, her treatment of the space of sonority, temporality, texture, and syntax have engaged musicians of different practices, critics, researchers, and worldwide listeners.
Featuring her distinct artistry in different contexts, Li’s work has been programmed in many concert series and festivals: Chamber Music North West (2019), Georgia Tech Institute (2019), Oberlin Conservatory (2018) and Peabody Conservatory (2018), Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra (2017), EarTaxi New Music Festival (Chicago, 2016), American Composers Orchestra’s EarShot (Buffalo, 2015), Northwestern University Institute for New Music NUNC! (Chicago, 2014), Asian Composers’ League (Tel-Aviv 2012, Tokyo 2003), 2012 Thailand International Composition Festival, IMANI Winds Chamber Music Festival (New York, 2012), Contempo series (University of Chicago, 2010-2015), Peace Cross-strait Orchestra Concert (China and Taiwan, 2009), Composers/Pianists concert series (New England, 2008-9), New Music New Haven (Yale, 2006-08), The Female Form: Women Composers (New York, 2008), Listening to the 21Century (Taipei, 2007), Soundbridges (Berlin, 2007), Norfolk Chamber Music Festival (Norfolk, 2007), Tune in to Taiwan 2003 (Taipei, 2003), New Ideal Dance Festival (Taipei, 2003), and Kuan-Du Musical Soiree (Taipei, 2001).
Major honors and awards include an Artist Residency at Omi International Art Center, Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris (2010), grants from the Regional Arts and Culture Council, National Culture and Arts Foundation of Taiwan, the Ezra Laderman Prize, the Rena Greenwald Memorial Prize, Finalist Martirano Award 2016, and ASU Gammage Beyond 2018, First prize of Literature and Art Creation Award (Taiwan), the Chang-Hui Hsu Memorial Prize of Asian Composers League, Study Abroad Scholarship from the Education Minister (Taiwan), and Scholarship of Arts from Tzu Chi Foundation. Recent commissions include those from the Yale-Taiwan Music Group, National Performing Arts Center (Taiwan), ensembles such as Sound of Dragon Society, and soloists such as American saxophonist Jessica Maxfield, harpist Li-Ya Huang, and clarinetist Tsai-Pei Lun.
Li received her Ph.D. in music composition from the University of Chicago in 2015. Her primary advisors are composers such as Marta Ptaszynska and Shulamit Ran, conductor Cliff Colnot, musicologist Martha Feldman, and theorist Lawrence Zbikowski. Before her residence in Chicago, Li earned the Artist Diploma from Yale University, studying with Martin Bresnick. Her dissertation “Wandering Viewpoint,” a concerto for solo cello and two ensembles, is about maintaining the freedom and independence of the soloist in a highly assimilated texture and sound competed by two ensembles of similar instrumentations. The piece received review that called Li’s compositional voice “original and somewhat difficult to describe,” and “engaging” (Chicago Classical Review, 2015.4.24). Accompanying her Ph.D. degree is a paper entitled “Difficult Voice in Vocal Composition, Composers’ Aesthetic Responses to Secondhand Holocaust Experiences,” featuring three case studies, including Chaya Czernowin’s opera Pnima…ins innere, Meredith Monk’s theater opera Quarry, and Schoenberg A Survivor from Warsaw, using psychoanalytic theory to discuss musical transgenerational phenomenon of the post-war music. Li also holds an Artist Diploma from the Yale University School of Music (2008), studying composition with Martin Bresnick, and M.F.A. (2006) and B.F.A.(2003) from Taipei University of the Arts, having studied composition and theory with Tsung-Hsien Yang and Chung-Kun Hung. Before entering college she studied composition and classical music for ten years with Ting- Lien Wu.
Committed to cultivating the combination of new music composition, interpretation, and community, she has frequently collaborated with Paul Ching-Po Chiang, conductor of Moment Musicaux Philharmonia (Taiwan), National Symphony Orchestra (Taiwan), and Chinese ensemble Chai-Found Music Workshop (Taiwan). Since 2011, Li has been mentored by Maestro Cliff Colnot, through whom she has been introduced to professional notation, rehearsal techniques, and editorial work for orchestra, chamber music, and songs. After holding a visiting professor position at Reed College (Portland OR), she has since lived and worked in Portland.