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Experiences of Asian Women Composers in Western Classical Music

A recent New York Times article by Joshua Barone explores and reflects upon the experiences of Asian Composers within the Western Classical Music Arena. In this post, we focus on the experiences of two noteworthy Asian Women Composers, Du Yun and Unsuk Chin, featured in this article.

"Asian composers who write in Western classical musical forms, like symphonies and operas, tend to have a few things in common. Many learned European styles from an early age, and finished their studies at conservatories there or in the United States. And many later found themselves relegated to programming ghettos like Lunar New Year concerts. (One recent study found that works by Asian composers make up only about 2 percent of American orchestral performances planned for the coming season.)"

"At times, the music of Asian composers has been misunderstood or exoticized; they have been subjected to simple errors such as [...] repeated [misspellings of names]."

Du Yun

Born and raised in Shanghai, China and currently based in New York City, Du Yun is a composer, multi-instrumentalist, performance artist, activist, and curator for new music, who works at the intersection of orchestral, opera, chamber music, theatre, cabaret, musical theater, oral tradition, public performances, sound installation, electronics, visual arts, and noise (Source: artist's website - see below).

"I never wanted to be pigeonholed, to be a reduced representation. I wanted to always open that Pandora’s box of messiness — and I encourage others to celebrate messiness, the unclean narrative of your life. Every immigrant has her own path; your work should absolutely be reflective of that. So if I’m a spokesperson, it’s for my own voice. And through that particular voice, I hope there is something that resonates." - Du Yun

Unsuk Chin

Unsuk Chin was born in Seoul, studied with Ligeti in Hamburg, and is now resident in Berlin. Her output features both electronic and acoustic scores. Her music is modern in language, but lyrical and non-doctrinaire in communicative power. With an acute ear for instrumentation, orchestral colour, and rhythmic imagery, her music has been performed worldwide by major orchestras, contemporary music ensembles and interpreters (Source: artist bio at Boosey & Hawkes - see below).