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Yan Hui Chang

Chinese orchestral music conductor and composer.

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Published: 12 Oct 2016


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Art requires practice and a good foundation. One needs to continuously put in effort in order to have an achievement.

Yan Hui Chang is an award-winning Chinese orchestral music conductor and composer. An established figure in the Chinese music circle, he served as Principal Conductor and Artistic Director of the China Chinese National Orchestra, and is the current Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra. He has also worked with acclaimed film directors Zhang Yimou and Teng Wenji to record the movie soundtracks of Raise the Red Lantern, Ballad of the Yellow River and Five Women and a Rope. Yan received the Cultural Medallion (Music) by the National Arts Council of Singapore in 2001 and the Bronze Bauhinia Star awarded by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in 2004 for his significant contributions to the Chinese music scene.

Yan Hui Chang was born in 1954 in Shaanxi Province, China. From a young age, he was encouraged to pursue his interest in music. His elder brother introduced him to traditional Chinese instruments and his father showed him that a future in music was possible. While he was in senior high, he taught elementary music at a junior high school. At 18, he was admitted to the Xi’an Conservatory of Music. He subsequently served as an ensemble director and conductor at the Department of Chinese Opera of the Shaanxi Province College of Arts.

Despite acquiring a position at the college, Yan strove to advance his musical pursuit. In 1978, he enrolled at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, where he studied professional training in Chinese music conducting for five years under the renowned conductor Xia Feiyun. It was also at the institution that he honed his music skills under celebrated composers He Dengtiao and He Zhanhao. Upon graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree with distinction in 1983, Yan was appointed Principal Conductor cum Artistic Director of the China Chinese National Orchestra.

Four years later, Yan became the youngest National Class One Conductor accredited by the First Professional Appraisal of China, considered the highest rank for Chinese music conducting. He worked with professional Chinese orchestras in Beijing, Shanghai, Taiwan and Singapore, gaining recognition from music circles in the region. In 1992, he was appointed Music Director of the classical music production department of Naxos Pte Ltd in Singapore, a classical music distributor.

By the late 1990s Yan had become a respected musical conductor. His standing was elevated when the Hong Kong Urban Council appointed him as Music Director of the prestigious Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra in 1997. Under his baton, the Orchestra performed at famous venues around the world and at international festivals, including the Carnegie Hall in New York City in 2009 and the Klara Festival in Belgium that same year. He grew the Orchestra into a performing body of world-class Chinese music that not only staged new works but actively developed talents and reached out to the community as well. In 2008, the group was the first Chinese ensemble to perform at the new National Centre for Performing Arts in Beijing.

In a career that has spanned over three decades, Yan has become an authority in Chinese orchestral music both on and off the stage. He was selected member of the Hong Kong Council for Academic Accreditation and an Examiner and Arts Advisor of the Hong Kong Development Council for Grants in 2000. At the same time, he has been appointed guest or visiting professor by several music institutions around the world. He continues to travel overseas to conduct symposiums and workshops on Chinese music, currently holding the titles of Honorary Fellow at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts and Professor at the China Conservatory, supervising its Master’s programme. In 2012, he became the first Chinese conductor to hold masterclasses at the Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris.

In his youth, Yan chose to specialise in Chinese music because he believed that the discipline had great potential and that many aspects of the discipline were unexplored. As the Artistic Director and Principal Conductor at the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra, he was intent on promoting music conducting as a legitimate career. He formed the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra Orchestral Academy to enhance the quality of musical conducting and promote Chinese music amongst young talents. He also worked with members of the Orchestra to organise symposia and competitions to boost awareness of Chinese orchestra and conducting. One of the Academy’s milestones was staging the inaugural International Conducting Competition for Chinese Music in 2011, a competition the world’s first such competition that focused on Chinese music conducting.

Yan's position as an important figure in Chinese orchestral music led him to work with other prominent Chinese artists. The maestro collaborated with film directors Zhang Yimou and Teng Wenji, and composer Zhao Jiping to record the soundtracks for award-wining films Raise the Red Lantern, Ballad of Yellow River, and Five Girls and a Rope. In addition, the Buddhist music works Buddha’s Story and The Collection of Modern Erhu Music conducted by Yan won the 1991 and 1992 Taiwan Golden Tripod Awards respectively.

Apart from conducting, Yan is an accomplished composer. His works include the symphonic poem The Sound of Water, which won a Class One Prize in the Composition Contest of the Shanghai Conservatory of Music and a Class Two Prize in the Third National Music Composition Competition. His pipa solo work, Nostalgia, won a Class One Award at the First National Pipa Contest of Contributing Works. Between 1992 and 1993, he composed and produced audio recordings of Clouds and The Moon, as well as computer music albums A Music Journey on the Yellow River and Song of the General.

Yan once said that his experience in composition has served as an advantage in becoming a good conductor. “Being a composer, I know very well about every aspect of the work I create and it enables me to clearly present the idea to others,” he said. He is also one to subscribe to the mantra that practice makes perfect. “Art requires practice and a good foundation,” he explained, “One needs to continuously put in effort in order to have an achievement.”

In 2001, Yan received the Culture Medallion (Music) from the National Arts Council in Singapore for his significant contribution to the Chinese music scene. He was also awarded the Bronze Bauhinia Star by the Hong Kong government in 2004. The award was created in 1997 to replace the Order of the British Empire honours system when Hong Kong was transferred to the sovereignty of China.

On top of his long-standing position as the Artistic Director and Principal Conductor at the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra, Yan is currently the Specially Invited Conductor of Chinese Music with the Zhejiang Symphony Orchestra of China and Principal Guest Conductor at the Taiwan National Chinese Orchestra. He continues to compose Chinese orchestral scores and share his passion for Chinese music through concerts and masterclasses.

Timeline

1954

Born in Shaanxi, China.

1972

Admitted to the Xi’an Conservatory at age 18.

1975 to 1978

Conductor and Head of the Research Centre, Department of Operatic Music of the Shaanxi Academy of the Arts.

1979 to 1983

Trained in Chinese Music Conducting under renowned conductor Xia Feiyun at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, China. Famous composers Hu Dengtiao and He Zhanhao were also his teachers.

1980

His pipa solo work Nostalgia won a Class One Award at the First National Pipa Contest of Contributing Works.

1983

The Sound of Water, a symphonic poem he composed, won a Class One Award in the Composition Contest of the Shanghai Conservatory of Music and Class Two Award in the Third National Music Composition Competition.

1983 to 1991

Part of the Central National Orchestra of China.

1983

Composed Concerto for Erhu – Illusion.

1983

Appointed Principal-cum-Artistic Director of the Chinese National Orchestra of China upon graduating with a Bachelor’s degree cum laude.

1987

Conferred the title of National Class One Conductor at the First Professional Appraisal of China.

1988

Composed Zheng Concerto - The Clouds and the Water of Rivers Xiao and Xiang.

1991 to 1992

Guest Professor of Conducting, China Conservatory.

1991

Buddha's Story, a symphonic piece he conducted, won the Gold Tripod Award, Taiwan.

1992

Composed Sanxian Concerto – Nuo.

1992

Settled in Singapore and was the Music Director of Naxos Pte Ltd, Singapore.
A Collection of Modern Erhu Music, which he conducted, won the Gold Tripod Award, Taiwan.

1992 to 1993

Wrote and produced Clouds, The Moon, A Music Journey on the Yellow River and Song of the General.

Sep 1993

Appointed Music Director of the classical music production department of Form Records, Singapore.

1994

BMG Record of Japan invited him to conduct the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra in Moscow for the CD recording of Chinese music.

1995 to 1997

Served as Resident Guest Conductor of the Taiwan Kaohsiung Experimental Chinese Orchestra.

1 Jun 1997

Appointed by the Hong Kong Urban Council as Music Director of the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra; led the Orchestra during Hong Kong's transition from British Administration to a SAR of the People Republic of China.

2000

Member of the Hong Kong Council for Academic Accreditation. Also an Examiner and Arts Advisor of the Hong Kong Arts Development Council for Grants.

Sep 2001

Awarded the Cultural Medallion (Music) by the National Arts Council, Singapore.

1 Oct 2003

Title changed to Artistic Director and Principal Conductor, a position that he has held till today. He is also a standing member of the China Nationalities Orchestra Society.

2004

Awarded a Bronze Bauhinia Star by the Chief Executive of HKSAR in recognition of his remarkable achievements in Chinese music and his efforts in promoting Chinese music.

2005

Composed Ode to the Strings.

2007

Composed Buddhist music Qing Lian Yu Yue (Cyan Lotus under the Moon).
Composed Buddhist music Chuan Deng Xu Ming (The Passing of the Light).

2008

Won Juror's Award for Conducting at the 6th China Gold Record Awards – Multi Arts Category.

2009

Awarded an Honorary Fellowship by the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts.
Appointed Visiting Scholar of the Hong Kong Academy's School of Music and conducted master classes in Conducting.
Formed The HKCO Orchestral Academy.

2010

Initiated the world's first ever International Conducting Competition for Chinese Music, which was enthusiastically supported and highly commended by professional music conservatories in China and overseas.

May 2010

Received the Overseas Award for Music at the 51st Literary and Art Works Awards of the Chinese Writers' & Association, Taiwan.

Jul 2011

Appointed as the Specialist of the Hong Kong Council for Accreditation of Academic and Vocational Qualifications.

Dec 2011

Invited to be a Professor at the China Conservatory and a supervisor on its Master's programme.

Mar 2012

Invited to conduct master classes at the Conservatoire royal de Bruxelles, the Conservatoire de Luxembourg, and the Conservatoire national supérieur de musique et de danse de Paris. This made him the first Chinese conductor to teach such classes there.

Aug 2013

A book on him entitled The Making of a Maestro – the Story of Yan Huichang, authored by renowned music critic Dr Oliver Chou was published by Joint Publishing, Hong Kong.

Present

Specially Invited Conductor of Chinese Music with the Zhejiang Symphony Orchestra of China and Principal Guest Conductor at the Taiwan National Chinese Orchestra.


TributeSG

TributeSG celebrates the arts community’s most senior members, and those who have made a lifetime of contribution to the arts. These artists, administrators, educators, patrons, and champions include many Singapore arts pioneers who laid the foundations of the vibrant arts and cultural scene we enjoy today. The many profiles in TributeSG let us into the minds and worlds of these pioneers, and help us understand our shared arts heritage. When we revisit their works and rediscover their journeys, we learn where we came from and how we came to be. Collectively, their stories tell the tale of the making of a nation’s artistic identity.

In putting together this collection, the TributeSG team consulted an external advisory panel, consisting of Arun Mahiznan, Choo Thiam Siew, J. P. Nathan, K. K. Seet, Kwok Kian Chow, and Iskandar Ismail. Those selected to be profiled in TributeSG met one of the following criteria: they were at least 60 years of age as of 12 Oct 2016, or deceased, or had received national recognition in the form of the Cultural Medallion. This journey of arts archival officially came to a close on 12 Oct 2016, after four years of extensive research, interviews and collation of information graciously provided by the TributeSG pioneers, their families and peers. TributeSG also benefited from enthusiastic help from like-minded friends and organisations who supported Esplanade’s cause—to remember, honour and celebrate Singapore’s arts pioneers.

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