Proclaimed "a fresh voice in cross-cultural music" and "an innovative composer who merges diverse musical customs in works that transcend conventional aesthetic boundaries," Bright Sheng received a coveted MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in November 2001. Sheng's compositions are noted for their lyrical, limpid melodies inspired by the folk music of China, a Bartokian sense of rhythmic propulsion, and musical and theatrical gestures borrowed or derived from Chinese opera.
Sheng's importance in the international music community is evidenced by the numerous commissions he has received: Red Silk Dance (2000), a piano concerto for Emanuel Ax and the Boston Symphony; Nanking! Nanking! (1999) (for pipa and orchestra) for the NDR Symphony Orchestra; the Brooklyn Philharmonic's concert opener Tibetan Swing (2002); The Song and Dance of Tears (2003) — a quadruple concerto for the New York Philharmonic which features Western and Eastern solo instruments; the Seattle Symphony's commissions China Dreams (1995) and The Phoenix (2004) — written for soprano Jane Eaglen, and H'un (Lacerations) (1988) for the New York Chamber Symphony — Sheng's defining work written in response to his experiences during the Cultural Revolution. His most recent concerto — Colors of Crimson (2004) — was premiered on 21 October by the Luxembourg Philharmonic, who commissioned the work expressly for percussionist Evelyn Glennie.
In 2003, the Santa Fe Opera presented the world premiere of Madame Mao, Sheng's two-act, psychological portrait of Jiang Qing, Chairman Mao's wife. Set to a libretto by its stage director Colin Graham, the work received accolades worldwide. In 2002, Spoleto Festival USA mounted Sheng's multi-cultural music theater piece The Silver River (1997; rev. 2000). Based on an ancient Chinese tale about star-crossed lovers and set to a libretto by David Henry Hwang, the critically acclaimed production was directed by Ong Keng Sen. While serving a composer-residency at the Lyric Opera of Chicago from 1989 to 1992, Sheng wrote The Song of Majnun (1992) — a one-act "Persian Romeo and Juliet" — in collaboration with librettist Andrew Porter. In 2002, choreographer Helgi Tomasson compiled for the San Francisco Ballet three of Sheng's extant pieces into a new work entitled "Chi-Lin." In the chamber music world, Sheng's works have been commissioned and performed by such musicians as Yo-Yo Ma, the Verdehr Trio, the Shanghai String Quartet, Peter Serkin, and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. In addition to composing, Sheng enjoys an active career as a conductor and concert pianist, and frequently serves as music advisor and artistic director to orchestras and festivals. Since 1998, Sheng has been the Artistic Advisor to the "Silk Road Project," an international program created by Yo-Yo Ma that identifies, archives, and interprets musical traditions of the Far Eastern trade routes.
Born in 6 December 1955 in Shanghai, China, Sheng began piano studies at the age of four with his mother. After the cultural revolution, he moved to New York in 1982, and received his MA and DMA. Sheng's teachers include: Leonard Bernstein (composition and conducting), George Perle, Hugo Weisgall, Chou Wen-Chung, and Jack Beeson. His music is published exclusively by G. Schirmer, and his works are recorded Sony, BIS, Delos, Koch International, New World Records and Naxos. Since 1995, Bright Sheng has been a member of the composition faculty at the University of Michigan, where now serves as Leonard Bernstein Distinguished University Professor of Music.