Unsuk Chin, composer

Unsuk Chin headshot_credit Priska Ketterer

Unsuk Chin was born in 1961 in Seoul, South Korea. She studied with Sukhi Kang and György Ligeti and has lived in Berlin since 1988. Her music has attracted the attention of international conductors including Simon Rattle, Gustavo Dudamel, Alan Gilbert, Kent Nagano, Esa-Pekka Salonen, David Robertson, Peter Eötvös, Myung-Whun Chung, George Benjamin, Susanna Mälkki, Jukka-Pekka Saraste, François-Xavier Roth, Leif Segerstam, Hannu Lintu, Jakub Hrusa, Kazushi Ono and Ilan Volkov, among others. It is modern in language, but lyrical and non-doctrinaire in communicative power. Chin has received many honours, including the 2004 Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition for her Violin Concerto, the 2005 Arnold Schoenberg Prize, the 2010 Prince Pierre Foundation Music Award, the 2012 Ho-Am Prize, the 2017 Wihuri Sibelius Prize, the 2019 Hamburg Bach Prize, the 2020 Kravis Prize as well as the 2021 Leonie Sonning Music Prize.

She has been commissioned by leading performing organisations and her music has been performed in major festivals and concert series in Europe, the Far East, and North America by orchestras and ensembles such as the Berlin Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony Orchestra, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Gothenburg Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Tokyo Symphony, Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, London Sinfonietta, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, Ensemble Intercontemporain, Ensemble Modern, Kronos Quartet and Arditti Quartet. In addition, Unsuk Chin has been active in writing electronic music, receiving commissions from IRCAM and other electronic music studios.

In 2007, Chin’s first opera Alice in Wonderland was given its world première at the Bavarian State Opera as the opening of the Munich Opera Festival and released on DVD and Blu-ray by Unitel Classica. She has been Composer-in-Residence of the Lucerne Festival, the Festival d‘Automne, Stockholm International Composer Festival, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, the Cologne Philharmonic’s Eight Bridges festival, the São Paulo Symphony, Casa da Música, BBC Symphony's Total Immersion Festival, Melbourne Symphony, the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra in Hamburg, and many more. Between 2006 and 2017 Chin was Composer-in-Residence with the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, overseeing its contemporary music series which she founded. She served as Artistic Director of the ‘Music of Today’ series of the Philharmonia Orchestra in London for nine seasons between 2011 and 2020. In 2022 she started a five year tenure as Artistic Director of the Tongyeong International Festival in South Korea and her Artistic Directorship of the Weiwuying International Music Festival in Taiwan. Portrait CDs of her music have appeared on Deutsche Grammophon, Kairos and Analekta.

Unsuk Chin’s works are published exclusively by Boosey & Hawkes.

Unsuk Chin's piece Akrostichon-Wortspiel premiered in Chicago on September 30, 2023. 


Program notes: 

Akrostichon-Wortspiel (Acrostic-Wordplay), Commissioned by the Gaudeamus Foundation, was composed in 1991 for the occasion of the 1991 Gaudeamus Prizewinner’s Concert and its first performance, in incomplete form, was given by the Nieuw Ensemble in Amsterdam conducted by David Porcelijn. The piece was completed two years later and this definitive version received its premiere at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London on 8 September 1993 with George Benjamin conducting the Premiere Ensemble.

Akrostichon-Wortspiel consists of seven scenes from the fairytales The Endless Story by Michael Ende and Alice through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll. The selected texts have been worked upon in different ways: sometimes the consonants and vowels have been randomly joined together, other times the words have been read backwards so that the symbolic meaning alone remains. Each of the seven pieces is constructed around a controlling pitch centre but in their means of expression they are fully differentiated from one another. Seven different situations of emotional states, as described in the fairytales, ranging from the bright to the grotesque are brought to expression.

The tunings of some of the ensemble instruments are adapted from one quarter to one sixth of a tone to achieve a fine microtonality. The solo soprano fluctuates between these two tuning systems, depending upon which she perceives at any time.