Shih-Hui Chen

Shih-Hui Chen



Immigrating to the U.S. in her early twenties, Taiwanese-American composer Shih-Hui Chen has long been fascinated by the narratives at the intersection of cultures and traditions, and of cultural identities. Musically, she seeks to cross boundaries in her works, between music and other art forms, between music and society, and between the music of different peoples, in appreciation of the value of all cultures. 

Her theatrical work or/and, in collaboration with director Doug Fitch and writer Monique Truong, is an exploration of issues of empathy, diaspora and cultural identity. Her desire to create connections among members of the global community led her to found 21C: Classical, Contemporary, and Cross-Cultural Asian Music, a performing arts festival fostering intercultural exchange between Asia and the U.S. through a series of lectures and performances that demonstrate traditional as well as contemporary Asian music.

Seeking a more in-depth understanding of the music and cultures of her native Taiwan, Chen recently spent two years studying indigenous and nanguan music in Taiwan, in affiliation with the Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica, and the works that grew from this study synthesize a variety of musical genres. They include Withholding the Umbrella for Chinese Orchestra, inspired by Taiwanese nanguan music and commissioned by the Taiwan Institute; Returning Souls: Four Short pieces on Three Formosan Amis Legends, music she composed for a documentary by anthropological filmmaker Taili Hu, along with a concert version for string quartet; and Echoes from Within: A Musical Response to Cy Twombly, a 45-minute site-specific work for sheng, double bass and electronics, commissioned by The Menil Collection in collaboration with composer Kurt Stallmann.

Shih-Hui Chen currently serves on the Performing Arts and Culture committee at the Asia Society Texas Center and is on faculty at the Shepherd School of Music, Rice University where she also serves on the MUSE committee (Musicians United for Social Equality). Recognition of her work has come from institutions that include: American Academy in Rome, Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, Harvard/Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Fulbright Scholar Program, and American Academy of Arts and Letters. Her music can be heard on Albany Records, New World Records, and Bridge Records. 

"Among the composers of Asian descent living in the U.S.A., Shih-Hui Chen is most successful in balancing the very refined spectral traditions of the East with the polyphonic practice of Western art-music. In a seamless narrative, her beautiful music, always highly inventive and expressive, is immediately as appealing as it is demanding and memorable." — American Academy of Arts and Letters.

"deep musical intelligence" — Wire Magazine on CD Returning Souls.

Photo by Tommy Lavergne