Unsuk Chin, Korean leading composer of classical music

Unsuk Chin (Born 1961) is a South Korean composer of classical music, based in Berlin, Germany. She was awarded the Grawemeyer Award in 2004, the Arnold Schönberg Prize in 2005 and the Music Composition Prize of the Prince Pierre Foundation in 2010.Unsuk Chin was born in Seoul, Korea. She studied composition with Sukhi Kang at Seoul National University and won several international prizes in her early 20s. She studied with György Ligeti at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater Hamburg from 1985 to 1988. In 1988 Unsuk Chin moved to Berlin, where she worked as a freelance composer at the electronic music studio of the Technical University of Berlin, realizing seven works. Her first large orchestral piece, Troerinnen, was premiered by the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra in 1990. In 1991, her breakthrough work Acrostic Wordplay was premiered by the Nieuw Ensemble – since then it has been performed in more than 20 countries in Europe, Asia and North America. Chin’s collaboration with the Ensemble Intercontemporain, which has led to several commissions from the latter, started in 1994 with Fantaisie mecanique. Since 1995, Unsuk Chin is published exclusively by Boosey & Hawkes. In 1999, Chin began an artistic collaboration with Kent Nagano, who has since premiered six of her works.

Chin’s violin concerto, for which she was awarded the 2004 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition, was premiered in 2002 by Viviane Hagner. Since then it has been programmed in 14 countries in Europe, Asia and North America, and performed, among others, by Christian Tetzlaff, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and Simon Rattle in 2005.

Unsuk Chin’s works have been performed by conductors such as Kent Nagano, Simon Rattle, Alan Gilbert, Gustavo Dudamel, Myung-Whun Chung, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Neeme Järvi, Peter Eötvös, David Robertson and George Benjamin as well as by leading orchestras and ensembles such as the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, New York Philharmonic Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Philharmonia Orchestra, Tokyo Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Montreal Symphony Orchestra, NDR Symphony Orchestra, Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Radio Filharmonisch Orkest, Ensemble intercontemporain, Ensemble Modern, Kronos Quartet, Hilliard Ensemble, Klangforum Wien, Arditti Quartet, London Sinfonietta and Ensemble musikFabrik. Chin’s music has been highlighted at major music festivals such as at the 2014 Lucerne Festival, the Festival Musica in Strasbourg, the Suntory Summer Festival, the 2013 Stockholm Concert Hall’sTonsätterfestival or Settembre Musica in Italy. 2001/2002 Unsuk Chin was appointed composer-in-residence at Deutschen Symphonie-Orchester Berlin; since 2006 she holds the position of Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra’s composer-in-residence and artistic director of its Contemporary Music Series, which she founded herself at the invitation of the orchestra’s chief conductor Myung-Whun Chung and in which so far ca. 150 Korean premieres of central works of classical modernism and contemporary music have been presented, including commissioned works by Peter Eötvös, Pascal Dusapin, York Höller and Tristan Murail. Since 2011, she has overseen the London-based Philharmonia Orchestra’s Music of Today series at the invitation of its chief conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen. 2007 Chin’s first opera Alice in Wonderland was premiered at Bavarian State Opera. A second opera named Through the Looking Glass will be premiered in the 2018/19 season at The Royal Opera.


Unsuk Chin does not regard her music as belonging to any specific culture. Chin names Béla Bartók, Igor Stravinsky, Claude Debussy, Anton Webern, Iannis Xenakis, and György Ligeti, among others, as 20th-century composers of special importance for her. Chin regards her working experience with Electronic music and her preoccupation with Balinese Gamelan as influential for her work. In her orchestral work Miroirs des temps Chin has also used compositional concepts of Medieval composers, such as Machaut and Ciconia, by employing and evolving techniques such as musical palindromes and crab canons.

The texts of Chin’s vocal music are often based on experimental poetry, and occasionally they are self-referential, employing techniques such as acrostics, anagrams and palindromes, all of which are also reflected in the compositional structure. Consequently, Chin has set music to poems by writers such as Inger Christensen, Harry Mathews, Gerhard Rühm or Unica Zürn into music, and the title of Cantatrix Sopranica is derived from a Nonsens treatise by Georges Perec. However, in Kalá Chin has also composed works with less experimental texts by writers such as Gunnar Ekelöf, Paavo Haavikko, and Arthur Rimbaud, Troerinnen is based on a play by Euripides and Le silence des Sirènes juxtaposes texts by Homer and James Joyce.

Playful aspects are dominant also in Chin’s opera Alice in Wonderland, which is based on Lewis Carroll’s classic. The opera’s libretto was written by David Henry Hwang and the composer. The Munich production, which has been released on DVD by Unitel, was directed by Achim Freyer, and it was selected ‘Premiere of the Year’ by an international critics’ poll, which was conducted in 2007 by the German opera magazine “Opernwelt”.

Some of Chin’s works are influenced by extramusical associations and other art genres, such as her orchestral work Rocaná which alludes to Olafur Elíasson’s installations, or her ensemble works Graffiti and cosmigimmicks, the latter of which is being influenced by the art of pantomime and by Samuel Beckett.


<Upcoming Concert>

A Tale of Four Cities: 4 Berlin

 Gothenburg Concert Hall: StenhammarsalenKungsportsavenyn, Gothenburg, Västra Götaland, Sweden
On Sunday 2 April 2017 at 18:00
Chin, Unsuk (b. 1961), Advice from a Caterpillar
Bang, Malin (b. 1974), Perpetual revival
Steen-Andersen, Simon (b. 1976),  Beside/Besides
Pärt, Arvo (b. 1935), Spiegel im Spiegel
Dahm, Robert (b. 1981), Imagines me into systems smeared along wires
Herrmann, Arnulf (b. 1968),  Rondeau sauvage
Martensson, Per (b. 1967),  New work

TeRra, editorial team.



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