“...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.” He has collaborated with ensembles such as London Symphony, Tokyo Philharmonic, Norwegian Radio Orchestra, Cabrillo Festival Orchestra (Santa Cruz, CA), 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), re: mix, Stradivari Quartett (Switzerland) and T'ang Quartet.
Nature is often a source of inspiration in Zhangyi's music. Orchestral works like the Rain Tree, Vanda (violin concerto), and of an ethereal symphony, offer soundscapes of the tropical environment, flora and fauna, and cosmic motion. Water, a choral setting of KTM Iqbal’s poem, reflects the beauty and horror of the nature of water. The theme of nature also permeates keyboard works such as Walks on Water, 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/Esplanade), and Kampung Spirit (SLO/Arts In Your Neighbourhood) also touch on the themes of nature and climate change.
The musical representation of Singaporean culture is another recurring theme within Zhangyi's music. For instance, the chamber operas Laksa Cantata, Window Shopping, and Kopi For One, 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). With Twin Cinema, a string nonet written for the Stradivari Quartet and musicians of the SSO, the iconic Singaporean poetic form was reimagined - sonically projecting the twin cinema's 'split-screen' symmetry and multifold narratives.
Creatively researching musical syncretism within 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 British 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. Returning to food and music, Eight Hundred Bowls《八百》, for guzheng, oboe, cello and percussion, explores the artistic intersections between the dramatic process of making hand-pulled noodles (拉面) and music-making.
Zhangyi was conferred the Young Artist Award by the National Arts Council (Singapore) in 2014, culminating in the studio recordings of A Singapore Trilogy with L'arietta, 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 Orchestra and Eric Whitacre Singers. Zhangyi's music may also be heard on Centaur Records (The Seven Angels, Phoon Yu) and Naxos Records (of an ethereal symphony, Norwegian Radio Orchestra and Miguel Harth-Bedoya).
As an educator, Zhangyi serves as Assistant Professor at Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, where he currently teaches Analysis and Composition. Through his module 'Text and Music', Zhangyi has co-curated (with Sara Florian) several projects in collaboration with the Asian Civilisations Museum: Waves and Waves (2020), Suite Ensemble (2021), and Zoomorphic Muses (2022).
Zhangyi received degrees in Composition (and Music Theory Pedagogy) from The Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University (MM and DMA), and Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music of the National University of Singapore (BMus). His mentors include Kevin Puts, Michael Hersch, Thomas Benjamin, and Peter Edwards.
As a performer, Zhangyi often conducts his own pieces, as well as other new works. He had led YST's new music ensemble OpusNovus from 2016-18. He also plays the viola with Red Dot Baroque.
“A consummately imaginative orchestrator, Zhangyi is refined in his effects, contrasting delicate ink-wash (shuǐ mò huà) traceries with bolder, more rhythmically intricate, tutti drama.”
- Classical Source