East Meets West
Born Sheng Zongliang on December 6, 1955 in Shanghai. He received his first musical instruction
on piano from his mother and his early interest in music was nurtured through his father’s
record collection, which included many western classical works.
During the mid ‘60s, the
Cultural Revolution quickly spread to Shanghai and the family’s piano and record collection
were confiscated in due course.
Because of his musical ability, Sheng avoided being “sent down” so when he graduated from
junior high school, he auditioned for and was assigned to play piano and percussion in a folk
dance and song group in the Qinghai Province, on the Sino-Tibetan border. This was to be a
decisive experience in Shang’s development, for in addition to working as a practical musician,
he would also conduct, arrange and compose for the ensemble. His experiences in Qinghai
were also his first exposure to authentic Chinese folk music. When China’s universities
reopened in 1978, he was among the first students admitted to the Shanghai Conservatory of
Music where he studied composition from 1978-82. Following graduation, Sheng immigrated to
America where he would study with George Perle and Hugo Weisgall at Queens College in New
York and later with Chou Wen-Chung, Jack Beeson and Mario Davidovsky at Columbia
University. In 1985, while a student at the Tanglewood Music Center, Sheng met Leonard
Bernstein, who would become his mentor. Sheng studied composition and conducting with
Bernstein privately until Bernstein’s death in 1990. Following the premiere of H’un (Lacerations)
In Memoriam 1966-76 in 1988 by the New York Chamber Symphony, conducted by Gerard
Schwartz, Sheng’s music burst onto the global scene.
Bright Sheng has received numerous honors, from both his homeland and in his adopted home,
including three fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Charles Ives
Scholarship Award from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and the fellowships
and awards from the Guggenheim, Jerome, Naumberg, and Rockefeller foundations. In
2001, Sheng received the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and the American Award in Music
from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and an ASCAP Achievement Award the following
year. He also was among the composers chosen by the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games
Committee to compose music for the opening ceremony.