She succeeds in doing what only a few in her field do: Unsuk Chin draws inspiration from the different spheres of European and Asian musical culture, and from this develops a style of composition that is as personal as it is global. The Korean composer, who has lived in Berlin since 1988, is as far from thinking in personal stylistic categories as she is from orientating herself towards historical terms: “When we listen to contemporary music, it’s no use thinking in pigeonholes – modern, postmodern, traditional, etc. – they are all generalisations.”
Unsuk Chin was born in Seoul in 1961 as the daughter of a Presbyterian clergyman and a teacher, and received her first theoretical and practical music lessons from her father at the age of four. After intensive work on her own, she was accepted to study composition at Seoul National University, where she eventually joined the class of Sukhi Kang. From 1985 to 1988, Chin studied under György Ligeti at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater Hamburg. Winning first prize at the Gaudeamus Competition in Amsterdam in 1985 marked the beginning of her international career: “I was the only woman, the only Asian and the youngest participant.” Since then, her works have been performed by leading orchestras under the baton of conductors such as Kent Nagano, Sir Simon Rattle, Gustavo Dudamel, Alan Gilbert, Sakari Oramo and Myung-Whun Chung. In 2004, Unsuk Chin was honoured with the Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition for her violin concerto, in 2005 the Arnold Schönberg Prize and in 2007 the Heidelberger Künstlerinnenpreis. The same year, her opera [Alice in Wonderland] after Lewis Carroll had its successful premiere at Bayerische Staatsoper. From 2006 to 2018, Chin led the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra’s New Music Series, which she founded, and since 2011 she has been artistic director of the Philharmonia Orchestra’s Music of Today series in London.