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Bright Sheng with University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman during the awards dinner where Sheng was bestowed with the Leonard Bernstein Distinguished University Professorship (2004).
[Photograph from Bright Sheng Papers, Box 1, Photographs, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.]

At the time Bright Sheng chose the English version of his name, he was unaware of the multiple meanings of the word 'bright'. His name in Chinese is Sheng Zong-Liang, and, according to Sheng, his given name means something like "bright lights." Based on this, he chose 'bright' because he once read a book that referred to an Englishman named Mr. Bright, so he thought it might be good to be known as Bright Sheng in English. He only discovered the connotation of smartness later.

Since then, the choice of name has proven prescient. Among Sheng's many honors have been a Distinguished University Professorship from the University of Michigan and the MacArthur Foundation's 'Genius Grant'. As a composer, his works have been commissioned by figures such as Yo-Yo Ma and the White House.

Bright Sheng with President Clinton at a White House state dinner honoring Chinese Premiere Zhou Rongji, where Sheng's Three Songs for Pipa and Cello premiered (1999).
[Photograph from Bright Sheng Papers, Box 1, Photographs. Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.]

Sheng's renown may be attributed, in part, to his sound, a unique blend of elements from Western, traditional Chinese, and Tibetan sources. He serves as the Artistic Advisor to the Silk Road Project, which brings together musicians, researchers, and composers from the regions stretching along the ancient trade route. Additionally, many of his compositions use Tibetan and Chinese instruments.

Explaining his influences, Sheng (in an interview with Michigan Today) reiterated a point he'd made earlier in the music publication Full Score:
"I am a mixture not only of Eastern and Western influences but of Tibetan and Chinese within the Eastern. Why shouldn't my music reflect that? People acknowledge "artistic license"; I embrace "cultural license"--the right to reflect my appreciation and understanding of both cultures in my work. ... I think less and less about whether some element I am using is Chinese or Western. I write whatever excites me while continuing to study both cultures."

~Bright Sheng, interview in Michigan Today, Fall 1998.

Biography in Chinese

More information on Bright Sheng's music, influences, and archival collection is found in the rest of this site. Additionally, links to outside websites--with information like tutorials on archival terminology, the Silk Road Project, the use of music and scores as primary sources, and Tibetan musical instruments--can be found on the resources page.

Bentley Historical Library | University of Michigan School of Music | Bright Sheng Finding Aid

Bentley Historical Library
Last updated: 1:23 PM 10/27/04 | nmd