Well-known US-based Chinese composer Sheng Zongliang (Bright Sheng) received a US$500,000 MacArthur Genius Award recently, making him one of only five composers to receive the award in its 20-year history.
Born in Shanghai on December 6, 1955, Sheng started piano studies with his mother at the age of four. After graduating from middle school during the "cultural revolution" (1966-76) he was one of the first students accepted by the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, where he earned his undergraduate degree in music composition.
In 1982 he moved to New York, where he attended Queens College, University of New York City and Columbia University. Among his teachers were Leonard Bernstein, Chou Wen-chung, Mario Davidovsky, George Perle and Hugo Weisgall.
Sheng was the artistic director of the San Francisco Symphony's "Wet Ink 93" Festival and composer-in-residence with the 1993 Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. He was the former composer-in-residence of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, where his opera "The Song of Majnun" set to a libretto by Andrew Porter, premiered in April 1992.
His music has been performed by major ensembles and soloists around the world and has received critical praise. The highly acclaimed "H'un (Lacerations): In Memoriam 1966-76," his dramatic orchestral portrait of China's "cultural revolution," has been performed by the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, Tokyo Philharmonic and symphonies from Baltimore, San Francisco, Honolulu, Milwaukee and Kansas City, among others.
His recent works include "Nanking Nanking," which was premiered by the NDR Symphony, and a piano concerto for Emanuel Ax and the Boston Symphony.
A total of 23 recipients of MacArthur Fellowships were named by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation this year. Each will receive US$500,000 of "no strings attached" support over five years.
"The announcement of the MacArthur Fellows offers an opportunity to focus on the importance of the creative individual in society," said Jonathan Fanton, president of the MacArthur Foundation.
"Whether working alone or within an organization, these are people who provide the imagination and fresh ideas that can improve people's lives and bring about movement on important issues."
An important underpinning of the program is confidence that the fellows are in the best position to decide how to make the most effective use of their awards. The foundation neither requires nor expects specific projects from the fellows, nor does it ask for reports on how the money is used.
(China Daily March 29, 2002)