“...a breath of fresh air on our musical landscape”
- The Straits Times
"...music from a voice of the future"
- BBC Radio 3
The music of Chen Zhangyi has been described by Straits Times as “a breath of fresh air on our musical landscape” and by BBC Radio 3 as “music from a voice of the future.” His collaborators include ensembles such as London Symphony, Tokyo Philharmonic, Norwegian Radio Orchestra, Cabrillo Festival Orchestra, Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO), Singapore National Youth Orchestra, Singapore Symphony Children's Choir (SSCC), Singapore Lyric Opera (SLO), L'arietta, The Opera People (TOP), Ensemble Ripieno (PH), Stradivari Quartet and re: mix.
Nature is often a source of inspiration in Zhangyi's music. For instance, in orchestral works like Rain Tree, Vanda (violin concerto), and Of An Ethereal Symphony commissioned by SSO for their Europe tour in 2016. Water, a choral setting of KTM Iqbal’s poem, was recorded on SSCC's album - And I’ll Sing Once More. The theme of nature also permeates keyboard works such as Walks on Water (a chamber work featuring the piano), and Clima a solo piano work written to raise awareness of climate change. In collaboration with librettist Dr. Sara Florian, the operas Arianna on Another Island (a Children's opera, TOP), and Kampung Spirit (SLO) also touch on the theme of nature and climate change.
The musical representation of Singaporean culture is another recurring theme within Zhangyi's music. For instance, Laksa Cantata, Window Shopping, and Kopi For One, which forms A Singapore Trilogy (libretto by Jack Lin) that is inspired by the Singaporean pastimes of food, shopping and coffee. His opera output also include the social distancing-inspired Panic Love (libretto by Felix Cheong), as well as A Day, A Lily, a docu-opera about dementia (co-created with Jack Lin, soprano Wong Su Sun, and director Lim Ziyu).
Creatively researching musical syncretism within an East-Asian and South-East-Asian contexts, the 'Triple' Concerto for Erhu, Ruan, Percussion and Ensemble《三人行》was written for the YST Conservatory Orchestra for its tour to Seoul in 2019, led by conductor Jason Lai, featuring soloists Likie Low, Sulwyn Lok, and Yuru Lee. Through the research of eclecticism present in Leong Yoon Pin and Edwin Thumboo's Bunga Mawar, Zhangyi also pays homage to Leong's 'Nanyang Style' through the recent opera Kampung Spirit, in what he terms a 'New Nanyang Style'. In a music and food collaboration initiated by guzheng player Yvonne Tay, Eight Hundred Bowls《八百》explores the intersections between the dramatic process of pulling noodles, with elements of East Asian music.
Zhangyi was conferred the Young Artist Award by the National Arts Council (Singapore) in 2014, culminating in the studio recordings of A Singapore Trilogy, released through United Records. His work Ariadne's Love was one of the winning works of the Abbey Road Studios Anthem Competition, recorded by London Symphony and Eric Whitacre Singers. His music can be heard on Centaur Records (The Seven Angels) and Naxos Records (Of An Ethereal Symphony).
He is also an educator and serves as Assistant Professor at Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, where he teaches analysis, composition, and led the new music ensemble OpusNovus from 2016-18. Through his module Text and Music, Zhangyi has co-curated several projects in collaboration with the Asian Civilisations Museum: Suite Ensemble (2021), and Waves and Waves (2020).
Zhangyi also plays the viola with Red Dot Baroque.