Meet Wang Jie, the Chinese-born composer of the chamber opera It Rained on Shakopee and more
Born in Shanghai, China, Wang Jie studied at Shanghai Conservatory before a scholarship from the Manhattan School of Music saw her move to the US.
Her works include the chamber opera It Rained on Shakopee, based on research at a US correctional facility, and her acclaimed Symphony No. 1, performed by the Minnesota Orchestra in 2010.
I studied the piano with a composer called Yang Liqing for 14 years. He did what any good composer would do, and tried to talk me out of becoming a composer myself. ‘Don’t become like me,’ he said. ‘You’ll never make money and you’ll never be famous.’ But look what I’m doing now!
I’ve always flirted with the idea of becoming a concert pianist. I trained pretty seriously, and still play chamber music. The turning point towards becoming a composer was when I was practising one of Beethoven’s middle-period piano sonatas at Shanghai Conservatory.
It was clearly a case of Beethoven having a below-average day, and I found myself thinking that I could revise it and make it more pianistic. Composing always seemed to come easy to me, so I thought I had to follow my calling.
I used to be very self-critical as a composer. So much so, in fact, that I was paralysed from turning out any music that I would allow the public to hear.
Over the years, I think my inner voice has grown to be one that is more nurturing and kind, and that puts me in a place of joy. As a result, joy started coming out in my music, which really came as a surprise – I had always been the torment one, fully of the agony and angst of existence.
I have ideas popping into my head all the time. I never have the anxiety that if I don’t grab a sheet of paper and write my ideas down that they’ll go away, as more will come.
I even have daydreams in which whole symphonies flash by in great detail in my head in a few seconds. I do most of my composing at the computer or at my sketch book, and then use the piano as a reality check and for harmonic integrity – but in itself, composing at the keyboard is very limiting.
I recently completed a piece for string quartet and organ for the Apollo Chamber Players. I’m an organist myself and love the instrument. And then I’ve been working on a piece which is like Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale but on steroids! It’s for a Pierrot ensemble and narrator – my husband [radio presenter] Fred Child will be the actor and narrator.
Michael is the Reviews Editor of BBC Music Magazine. He was previously a freelance film music journalist and spent 15 years at St George's Bristol. Michael specialises in film and television music and was the Editor of MusicfromtheMovies.com. He has written for the BBC Proms, BBC Concert Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Albert Hall, Hollywood in Vienna and Silva Screen Records.