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Classical music has a history of Composing… Women! So this Women’s History Month Tri States Public Radio and the WIU School of Music shines the spotlight… one every weekday… on over twenty great female composers. From baroque to romantic… to impressionist… to post-serialist. From the mystic Abbess who advised the Pope… to the Chicagoan whose works were rediscovered in an abandoned house. Listen in for Composing Women… Every weekday during March at 7:19 during Morning Edition, or at 5:48 during All Things Considered, as TSPR Music Director Ken Zahnle introduces you to our composer of the day… and at 11:00 a.m. during Ovation for a featured work by our featured classical master.

Chen Yi

Chen Yi
Theodore Presser Co.

From the studio… to the work camps… to the opera… and on to academia and America… Chen Yi is the most prominent woman of a generation of Chinese-born composers.

Classically trained by her parents (musically inclined Doctors), Chen's education was abruptly interrupted by the Communist government’s 1966 Cultural Revolution, which condemned Western art. The young teen was forcibly relocated to the countryside for so-called “re-education:” hard labor in the fields. While there, she would play simple tunes on the violin to entertain the farmers, embellishing them with European classical technique. These were her first compositions, and the foundation of her fusion of traditional Chinese music and modern Western music.

At 17 Chen was suddenly recruited by her hometown’s Beijing Opera Troupe to replace relocated or imprisoned older violinists. There, she led and composed for the orchestra. It was a good match, and she spent eight years in that role until entering the Beijing Central Conservatory of Music with the famed Class of ’78… the first after the Cultural Revolution… along with Tan Dun and Bright Sheng. Chen became the first woman to earn a graduate degree in composition from the conservatory.

In 1986 Chen moved to the U.S., entering the D.M.A. program at Columbia and continuing a prolific and decorated career: she has been composer-in-residence for Chanticleer and the San Francisco Women’s Philharmonic, taught at the Peabody Conservatory, been shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize, and is currently an endowed professor at the University of Missouri, Kansas City.

Chen Yi… a Composing Woman.


Memory for solo flute (version 2)
The Golden Flute movt 1 for flute and orchestra
The Golden Flute movt 2
The Golden Flute movt 3
Ba Ban for piano solo
Percussion Concerto
The West Lake for choir
Jing Marimba for solo marimba

Supporting Materials


Image of a young Chen Yi playing the violin, from

Image of Chen Yi seated at a table with pencil and paper. Her husband, Zhou Long, stands in the background with a pipe.

Accessible websites relevant to the composer
This website provides information about Chen Yi’s biography, compositions, and performances.

Ken oversees all music programming for Tri States Public Radio, hosting the morning classical music program Ovation, the Saturday nigh jazz survey After Hours, and engineering recorded performances for TSPR. Ken is a native of Highland Park, IL, with degrees in music and broadcasting from Western Illinois University. Teenage years listening to Chicago's old-school fine arts and classical radio stations, coupled with a few months spinning discs on a college residence hall radio station, led him onto the primrose career path of radio. Ken has deep roots at TSPR, starting as a student staff announcer and host, before becoming news director for a group of local radio stations, then Program Director for Tri States Audio Information Services. When he's not deep within our studios and music library, he continues his over quarter-century of assisting Macomb High School's Marching Band.