Unsuk Chin
Beauty and talent go hand in hand.

Unsuk Chin was born in 1961 in Seoul, Korea. She began to teach herself piano and music theory at a very early age and subsequently studied composition at the Seoul National University with Sukhi Kang. Chin appeared as pianist at the Pan Music Festivals. In 1984 her composition Gestalten (Figures) was selected for the ISCM World Music Days in Canada, and in 1986 for the UNESCO ostrum of Composers. ' In 1985 Chin won the first prize of the Gaudeamus Stichting with Spektra for three celli. In 1985 she moved to Europe when she received a DAAD grant to study in Germany, and until 1988 took composition lessons in Hamburg with Gyorgy Ligeti, who encouraged her to look beyond the aesthetics of the current avant-garde. Since then, Unsuk Chin has lived and worked in Berlin. In 2004 Unsuk Chin won the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition for her Violin Concerto.

Chin 's music is modern in language, but lyrical and non-doctrinaire in communicative power. The colour of her music might perhaps be explained by Chin 's affinity for non-European music and by her occupation with electronic music. Chin 's fascination for polyrhythmic virtuosity is reflected in a series of Piano Etudes as well as in a series of instrumental concertos and in her orchestral/ensemble works. In her orchestral work Miroirs des temps, Chin employed compositional concepts of medieval composers, such as Machaut and Ciconia, in an original way.

The texts of Chin 's vocal music are often based on experimental poetry, and occasionally self-referential, employing techniques such as acrostics, anagrams, and palindromes, all of which are also reflected in the compositional structure. Playful aspects predominate also in Chin 's opera Alice in Wonderland. Theatrical actions are employed in some instrumental pieces as well,  including Allegro ma non troppo for percussion and tape, Cantatrix Sopranica for voices and ensemble, and Double Bind? for violin and electronics.
Unsuk Chin 's compositions have been performed at numerous festivals and concert series in Europe, the Far East, and North America. She achieved her breakthrough with Akrostichon-Wortspiel (1991-93) for solo soprano and ensemble, which has been programmed in 15 countries to date by such leading ensembles as Ensemble Modern conducted by George Benjamin, the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group conducted by Simon Rattle, the Nieuw Ensemble of Amsterdam, the Asko Ensemble, the Ictus Ensemble, and the new music groups of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Philharmonia Orchestra. Other works include Trojan Women for three female singers, female chorus, and orchestra, based on Euripides ' play, Fantaisie mecanique, Xi, and Double Concerto, all three commissioned by Ensemble Intercontemporain, ParaMetaString, commissioned by the Kronos Quartet, a Piano Concerto commissioned by the BBC for the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, and Miroirs des temps, commissioned by the BBC for the Hilliard Ensemble and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. In 2000, Piano Etude No.6 (Grains) was commissioned by the South Bank Center on the occasion of Pierre Boulez's 75th birthday. Kala for soloists, chorus, and orchestra was co-commissioned by the Danish Radio Symphony, the Gothenburg Symphony and Oslo Philharmonic Orchestras, and premiered under the baton of Peter Eotvos in March 2001. In addition, Unsuk Chin has been active in writing electronic music. She worked for years as a freelance composer at the Electronic Music Studio of the Technical University of Berlin. In 2000, Chin was rewarded first prize at the Bourges International Competition for Electroacoustic Music for Xi for ensemble and electronics. Her latest piece in this genre, Double Bind? for violin and electronics, was conceived at IRCAM and premiered in 2007.

Chin was composer-in-residence with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin in 2001/02, culminating in the commission of a Violin Concerto, premiered in January 2002 with Viviane Hagner as soloist and Kent Nagano as conductor. The concerto has since been performed in ten countries in Europe, Asia, and North America. Other recent works include snagS & Snarls (2003-04) for soprano and orchestra, commissioned by Los Angeles Opera, Cantatrix Sopranica (2004-05) for two sopranos, countertenor, and ensemble, which was co-commissioned by the London Sinfonietta, the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group, the St. Poelten Festival (Austria), Ensemble Intercontemporain, and Ensemble musikFabrik, as well as Rocaná for orchestra (2007), jointly commissioned by l 'Orchestre symphonique de Montreal, the Bayerische Staatsoper, the Beijing Music Festival Arts Foundation, and the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra.

In 1993 Chin was awarded first prize at the Competition for Orchestral Works to Commemorate the Semicentennial of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, and in 1997 first prize for Contemporary Piano Music at the Concours International de Piano d'Orleans. She was awarded the 2005 Arnold Schoenberg Prize, and in 2007 the Heidelberger Kuenstlerinnenpreis and the prizes of the Kyung-Ahm and Daewon Foundations.

Chin has been composer-in-residence with the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra since 2006, where she also serves as Artistic Director of the Contemporary Music Series. In 2007, Chin was the featured composer at the festivals in Manchester, Umea, Turin/Milan, and Strasbourg. Her opera Alice in Wonderland received its world premiere on 30 June 2007 at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich as the opening performance of the Munich Opera Festival. The production, directed by Achim Freyer and conducted by Kent Nagano, was named 'World Premiere of the Year ' in the annual survey of opera critics published in the yearbook of Die Opernwelt. Recent projects include a Cello Concerto for Alban Gerhardt, a Concerto for Sheng and Orchestra commissioned by Tokyo 's Suntory Hall, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Zaterdagsmatinee Amsterdam, and the Essen Philharmonie, and new works for Ensemble Modern and Ensemble Intercontemporain, the latter in collaboration with IRCAM. Chin is also one of the composers taking part in the project into sponsored by Ensemble Modern and the Siemens Arts Program.

Chin 's music can be heard on a Deutsche Grammophon disc containing Akrostichon-Wortspiel, Fantaisie mecanique, Xi, and Double Concerto performed by Ensemble Intercontemporain; Alice in Wonderland is available on DVD (Unitel); the Violin Concerto and her most recent orchestral composition Rocana were released in a new Analekta recording with Viviane Hagner and the Orchestre symphonique de Montreal conducted by Kent Nagano.

From: www.Boosey.com

Year / Artwork Title Importance Medium
1991-1993 Akrostichon-Wortspiel 4.00 stars CD
Kronos Comments:
7 scenes from fairy tales for soprano & orchestra

Piia Komsi - soprano
Ensemble Intercontemporain cond. Kazushi Ono

1996-1997 Piano Concerto 4.00 stars CD
Unsuk Chin DGG Comments:

Sunwook Kim - Piano
Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Myung-Whun Chung

1994 Fantaisie mécanique, for 5 instrumentalists 4.00 stars CD
Kronos Comments:

Ensemble Intercontemporain cond. Patric Davin

1997-1998 Xi, for electronic ensemble 4.00 stars CD
Kronos Comments:

Performed by Unsuk Chin

2001 Violin Concerto 4.00 stars CD
Kronos Comments:
Viviane Hagner - Violin
Orchestre Symphonique de Montereal cond. Kent Negano
2002 Double Concerto for piano, percussion & ensemble 4.00 stars CD
Kronos Comments:

Dimitri Vassilakis - Piano
Samuel Favre - Percussion
Ensemble Intercontemporain cond. Staphan Ashbury

1995-2003 Six Piano Etudes 4.00 stars CD

Mei Yo Foo - Piano

2004-2007 Alice in Wonderland 4.50 stars DVD

Chin's work was originally to be premiered by the Los Angeles Opera under Kent Nagano's direction, but the production was not realized. So when he was appointed as the new music director in Munich, Nagano had the rare courage to risk opening the first festival of his tenure with the world premiere of this unusual new work rather than a new production of an old, tried-and-true repertoire piece. Nagano even upped the ante by bringing in other local institutions, like the gigantic new Pinakothek der Moderne museum, to commission and display new Alice-based art works. To see such high-level chance-taking on the part of a conductor and a major opera house, the massive investment of artistic and financial resources and reputations in a new work, created an anticipation nothing short of phenomenal. A frenzy of speculation and a palpable excitement ran throughout the world's music aficionados. Unsuk Chin had already made a stir, particularly when she won the richest award for music composition, the $200,000 Grawemeyer Award, for her Violin Concerto, inducting her into the distinguished circle of other winners of this award, such as Witold Lutoslawski and her teacher Gyorgy Ligeti. Given such a pedigree, hopes were running high that at long last we might perhaps have a definitive operatic Alice. These expectations turned the June 30th premiere into a major red-carpet event, drawing the attention of the glittering elite of Munich and Germany, as well as of curious opera fans from all over the world.

Alice, the White Rabbit, Mad-Hatter, Queen of Hearts et al. have been traipsed onto the stage almost as soon as they were created. And the torrent of adaptations of the classic Victorian children's books by Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking Glass, And What Alice Found There has only increased since in every conceivable media. Perhaps the most vibrant examples of the peculiarly British genre of Witty/Wise Nonsense, this ripely inventive, playfully multi-leveled, low-hanging public-domain fruit has tempted many artists (and corporations) to bite into for inspiration. Sadly, remarkably few have done so without falling down the rabbit hole themselves. Transforming what works so magically well on the page is difficult.

Sitting in eager anticipation in the electric atmosphere of the Munich's magnificent National Theatre, one could see this would be no small offering: the elaborate, huge battery of percussion instruments alone required the players to spill out of the orchestra pit and into the boxes on both sides of the stage. What was presented, however, was problematic and very dark indeed. There seemed to be three different performances happening at the same time, all of them at best tangential to the source material.

First, there was the expressionist/minimalist production by Achim Freyer, which was inventive but spectacularly miscalculated. Alice's dreaming is nothing if not lucid. Certainly not nighttime-dungeon-dark with murky symbolism. Set on a totally black plane tilted so nearly perpendicularly, all the dancer-performers had to be suspended by wire or enter or leave by one of the nine round holes in it. When there were many active at a time, the stage began to resemble a battalion of paratroopers. Below at the front of the stage, also black, was a wide low barrier, behind which all of the singers were installed statically for the duration, with only their heads visible. Regardless of roles, these singers' heads were similarly made up to look like cadaverous multiple Lewis Carrolls. In front of each were placed a pair of white hands and forearms, which were gesticulating from time to time for no apparent purpose. All of this, like the prominent death-head with insect wings suspended over the stage for most of the show, would have better represented world of Edward Gorey than of Lewis Carroll. Although Freyer's production was amazingly complex, marshalling huge forces and with several coups de théatre, at best they were illustrative or momentarily surprising, but more often irrelevant and worse drawing attention to itself at the expense of the singers and the ideas of the story. Alice herself was a rag-doll with a tutu, and who often turned around to moon the audience, giving off more than a whiff of pederasty perhaps a reference to the controversial photographs of children made by Lewis Carroll (aka Charles Dodgson) and only discovered after his death?

Then there's the libretto, jointly credited to David Henry Hwang and the composer. Hwang is best known for M. Butterfly, but he has also provided librettos for Philip Glass (1,000 Airplanes, The Voyage, The Sound of a Voice), Bright Sheng (Silver River), Elton John (Aida), and Osvaldo Golijov (Ainadamar). Although the Alice libretto is drawn in large part directly from the book and strictly according to the composer's wishes, the additions are often unproductively obscuring. Unless you know the book well beforehand, it is unlikely you will be able to follow the story. And compounding this attitude, Chin had insisted on beginning and ending the libretto not with the original, but with newly imagined dreams. The opening dreamâ is simply awful: An unnamed boy carrying a mummified cat while portentously intoning This is my fate! Lewis Carroll always had a light tread, with layers of sly and playful symbolism, never with a dull thud like this. The composer claimed the purpose in inventing this opening scene was to avoid the Victorian original. However, in doing so, she has actually pushed her work closer to a surrealist version of that hoariest of Victorian artforms: the pompous oratorio.

Sally Matthews
Piia Komsi
Dietrich Henschel
Andrew Watts
Gwyneth Jones
Bayerisches Staatsoper and Staatsorchester / Kent Nagano

2008 Rocana 4.00 stars CD
Kronos Comments:
Orchestre Symphonique de Montereal cond. Kent Negano
2009 Su for Sheng and Orchestra 4.00 stars CD
Unsuk Chin DGG Comments:

Wu Wei - Sheng
Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Myung-Whun Chung

2008-2009 rev 2013 Cello Concerto 4.00 stars CD
Unsuk Chin DGG Comments:

Alban Gerhardt - Cello
Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra cond. Myung-Whun Chung