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WQXR Features

Composer Chen Yi Remembers the Cultural Revolution

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As part of our China in New York festival, from Sunday, January 22 to Sunday, January 29, WQXR Host David Garland interviews a different Chinese-born musician, composer or conductor who has lived in the United States and has become prominent to New York City audiences.

Born in 1953, violinist, composer and professor Chen Yi grew up during the cultural revolution in China, which left its mark on her family life and her music.  At age 13 she was sent to a communist labor farm, smuggling her violin beside her bed. She practiced Western music on her violin secretively, dampening the sounds by covering the windows and doors with blankets. She also used her Western techniques to improvise on Chinese revolutionary folk songs.

To continue her musical pursuits in composition, she came to New York City in the early 1980s. She studied with famed composers Chou Wen-chung and Mario Davidovsky at Columbia University, earning a DMA with distinction. 

Since 2006, both Chen and her husband Zhou Long have been professors of composition at the University of Missouri–Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance.