Du Yun (traditional Chinese: 杜韻, simplified Chinese: 杜韵) is a Chinese composer, multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and performance artist. She won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Music for her opera Angel's Bone, with libretto by Royce Vavrek.[1] She was a 2018 Guggenheim Fellow.[2] Du Yun was named as one of the 38 Great Immigrants by the Carnegie Corporation of New York in 2018, [3] and received a 2019 Grammy nomination in the category of Best Classical Contemporary Composition for her work Air Glow.[4][5][6]

Du Yun
杜韵 (Simplified Chinese), 杜韻 (Traditional Chinese)
Du Yun at Daguan theatre, at Shanghai Project opening
Du Yun at Daguan theatre, at Shanghai Project opening
Background information
Born (1977-06-18) June 18, 1977 (age 43)
Shanghai, China
GenresAvant-garde, experimental, punk, classical, crossover, folk, electronic, alternative rock, pop, World
  • composer
  • musician
  • performance artist
  • producer
Years active2000–present
LabelsNational Sawdust Tracks, Oxingale, Pentatone, New Focus Records, Deutsche Grammophon
Associated actsInternational Contemporary Ensemble, Ok Miss

Early life and educationEdit

Du Yun was born in Shanghai, China. She began studying piano at the age of four, attending the primary school Shanghai Conservatory of Music for piano. She studied composition at the middle school Shanghai Conservatory of Music with Deng Erbo. Du Yun later moved to the United States and graduated from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music with a Bachelor of Music degree in composition, under Randolph Coleman, and received a Ph.D. in music composition from Harvard University, with Bernard Rands, Mario Davidovsky.

On her earlier years growing up in Shanghai, Du Yun recounted, in her contribution to WQXR, that neither of her parents went to college and both were factory workers in China.[7]

She uses her whole name Du Yun, not Du, for professional and personal uses.

“An indie pop diva with an avant-garde edge.” The New York Times has called Du Yun a leading figure in China’s new generation of composers, and her music is championed by some of today’s finest performing artists, ensembles, orchestras and organizations.

-The New York Times

Du Yun's music growth in China

When Du Yun studied in junior high school in Shanghai, she collected cassette tapes from singer Faye Wong, Chen Sheng, Dou Wei, and Michael Jackson. She counts Dou Wei and Wang Fei (Faye Wong) the two Chinese pop musicians among who have had the most influences on her music life. She credits filmmaker Wong Kar-Wai as one of the major influences that impacted her styles.[8]

The music of Du Yun, who won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 2017, is difficult to classify, including aspects of, to quote her own website, "orchestral [music], opera, chamber music, theatre, cabaret, pop music, oral tradition, visual arts, electronics and noise."

-All Music

Du Yun

When she studied in high school, she began to spend pocket money to buy CDs that had beautiful album covers. Pink Floyd, Cocteau Twins, Sinead O’Connor and Kraftwerk entered her world all at once. She indulged in Krautrock, and psychedelic rock.

During her first year of college, British band Portishead released a new album, and Du Yun fell into the world of trip-hop. Her psychedelic style was later used in many of her works, and in 2012, she released her first studio album, Shark in You, which featured a variety of styles, from experimental dance music to cabaret and jazz electronic music.

Director Stan Lai has cooperated with Du Yun twice. He said her music not only has the background of classical music, but also is multifaceted, influenced by pop and folk music.[9]


In my mind, I don’t discern whether it’s in English or in Chinese. I remember when I first came here, in my early years, I realized that this word was in English or this word was in Chinese, but I no longer have those differences anymore.

- Du Yun[10]


Her works include compositions for solo instruments, electroacoustic music, chamber music, orchestral works, opera, indie pop, punk, theatre, oral tradition music, sound installations, and performance art pieces. Du's works have been performed internationally in venues such as Carnegie Hall, the Guangzhou Opera House, the Salle Pleyel Paris, the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Escola de Música do Estado in São Paulo, the Darmstädter Ferienkurse in Germany, and London Southbank Centre. She has written for the New York Philharmonic, the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the LA Philharmonic, the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, and solo artists Hilary Hahn and Matt Haimovitz.

She has been selected by the National Public Radio as one of the 100 most influential young composers under 40 in 2011. The Washington Post listed her as one of top 35 female composers in classical music.

When Du Yun won the Pulitzer for her opera Angel's Bone in 2017, it made her the first Asian woman to win this prize in music.[11] The opera's production in Hong Kong in 2018 won the best of the performances of the year by the South China Morning Post.[12]

From 2014-2018, Du Yun was the Artistic Director of the MATA Festival in New York City.

In 2006, Du Yun joined the composition faculty at the State University of New York-Purchase. In 2017, she joined the composition faculty at Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University.[13] She is the Professor of Composition at Peabody.[14] In 2017, she was also appointed as the distinguished visiting professor at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music.[15][16]

Du Yun lives and works from New York City.

I think artists should have the absolute freedom to work with however they want and however they wish to express. I also think that creating works engaging social topics is equally important and those things are not exclusive. More and more, I am concerned about human condition. Art just happen to be the means I know how to engage.

- Du Yun[17]

Theatrical worksEdit

On April 10, 2017, she was awarded Pulitzer Prize for Music for her second opera, Angel's Bone.[18][19][20][21] The citation for the prize reads: "Premiered on January 6, 2016, at the Prototype Festival, 3LD Arts and Technology Center, New York City, a bold operatic work that integrates vocal and instrumental elements and a wide range of styles into a harrowing allegory for human trafficking in the modern world. Libretto by Royce Vavrek."[22]

She is the composer of the musical Dim Sum Warriors, based on a graphic novel and bilingual iPad app series about Kung Fu-fighting dumplings by the Singaporean filmmaker, satirist and cartoonist Colin Goh and Yenyen Woo.[23] Dim Sum Warrior was made into a Chinese musical which was produced by Stan Lai. The musical debuted on Aug 11, 2017, to sold-out audiences at Theatre Above in Shanghai, and went on to tour in 25 major cities in China the following year.[24]

As a performing artistEdit

Du Yun at rehearsal

Du Yun's performing persona on stage has been called "utterly extraordinary, unrestrained performance."[25]

Ok MissEdit

As a bandleader, Du Yun leads her band Ok Miss. A band with amorphous styles. According to The New Yorker, the one predictable thing about Du Yun, is her unpredictability. Dig deeper, though, and you can sense the conjoined strands of curiosity and compassion that run through everything she makes. On the first two nights of her Stone residency, her art-pop band, OK Miss, ventures through breathy Chinese pop, seductive trip-hop, and metallic skronk.[26]

Performances in the visual art worldEdit

Du Yun has done works for the Guangzhou Triennial,[27] The Shanghai Project,[28] Cordoba Contemporary Arts Center,[29] and the Sharjah Biennial.

“Practice means many things to me simultaneously, together. It means artistic practice, though not what I sing, play on piano, or write down on the staff. It has to do with critical thinking. How do I think about my relationship to working and what does the end product mean? How do you train — or trick — the mind to keep tackling your work in diverse ways to expand the ways that people think. It’s about an approach.”

- Du Yun[17]

Social causesEdit

Du Yun is an advocate for women, racial equality and social justice. In an interview with National Public Radio on the gender issue in classical music, she said: "I think this is the issue — larger and deeper than the debate of discrimination at hand. Any sustainable and viable career paths cannot and should not depend on a few people's luck."[30] Speaking to Foreign Policy on art's power in politics, she said: “A lot of times politics, global issues, are very black and white... There is a place for that, but it's also fantastic to have art side by side, from different viewpoints open for interpretations.”[31]

Curatorial outputsEdit

Du Yun founded and curated the Pan Asia Sounding Festival at National Sawdust in March 2018, as part of the Spring Revolution.[32] “I want to demystify Asian culture. I want to question who owns the culture and bring together the divisions we have in society,” she told the New York News Channel PIX11.[33]


Du Yun started a global initiative FutureTradition to advocate folk arts and promote cross regional collaborations. The works are with many collaborations cross-regions.[34] When All About Jazz covered her keynote speech for the European Jazz Conference in 2019, Ian Patterson wrote:

Du highlighted Chinese opera and the Indian raga as examples of art forms whose traditions have been built on cultural and linguistic hybridity -the ever-evolving influence of geography and time. She could just as well have been talking about jazz. Culture, Du intimated, has always been about the embrace of new ideas. It was no contradiction in terms when Du called for both reverence and irreverence towards folk traditions.[35]

Critical receptionEdit

Du Yun is regarded as "leading force on the New York Scene,"[36] "one of China's leading young composers."[37] Her onstage performing persona has been described as "adventurously eclectic" and "an indie diva with avant garde edge"[38] by The New York Times. She was named one of the top 35 female composers in classical music by The Washington Post.[39] Her album "Angel's Bone" and "Dinosaur Scar" are listed as Top Recordings of The Year in both 2017 and 2018 by the New Yorker.[40][41] Her work for Jennifer Koh "Give Me Back My Fingerprints" is listed as Top 25 Classical Music Tracks of 2019 by the New York Times.[42]

In its decade review, UK's Classical FM listed her winning of Pulitzer as No.6 in "10 ways the 2010s changed classical music forever."[43] Rolling Stone Italia named her as one of the women composers who defined the 2010s decade. [44]



Studio albums



Notable collaborations include with visual artist Shahzia Sikander, flutist Claire Chase, and librettist Royce Vavrek.

Honors and recognitionsEdit


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External linksEdit

  Media related to Du Yun at Wikimedia Commons