Yan Hui Chang



Yan Hui Chang (b. 1954, Heyang County, Shaanxi Province, China–)1 is an internationally acclaimed conductor. He has premiered the works of leading Singapore composers, and his international standing has inspired musicians at home and abroad. For his contributions to the music scene, Yan was awarded the Cultural Medallion for Music in 2001.2

Early life and artistic career
Yan was born in a remote valley in Heyang County, Shaanxi Province, China, where only three families lived. The young Yan was already a gifted musician. When he was eight years old, Yan followed his elder brother in trying to learn to play the di zi, (Chinese flute) and hu qin (Chinese string instrument). His brother soon tired of the instruments but Yan was fascinated by them. He continued to experiment with them and not long after, he was able to play these two instruments fluently.3

Yan learnt how to read simple music scores and by the time he was in primary five, he had taught himself how to play the organ. His performance of various musical instruments was the highlight of his school’s cultural performance night.4

When Yan was in junior high school, the principal put him in charge of the musical instruments in the school. Yan was awed and thrilled by the range of instruments, many of which he had never seen before in his life. He threw himself into learning to play the various instruments, such as the er hu (two-stringed bowed musical instrument), suo na (Chinese woodwind musical instrument), san xian (long-necked plucked string instrument), piano and trombone.5

Yan also borrowed a music theory book from his teacher and studied it diligently. Soon he even managed to compose a few tunes.6 Curious to know how his works would sound when performed, Yan formed his own school band and since there was no one to conduct the band, he took it upon himself to carry the conductor’s baton.7

Before Yan even graduated from senior high school, he was invited by the Heyang Ju Tuan musical group to be their principal ban hu (string instrument) player. At the same time, the Heyang High School was eyeing him to be their music teacher. However, Yan set higher goals for himself. He was aiming to enroll in the Xi’an Conservatory of Music situated in the province’s capital city of Xi’an.8

On a snowy night, the 17-year-old Yan and his cousin got on a train and headed towards Xi’an but were dropped off at the wrong station. In a twist of fate, he ran into Gao Zhi Cheng, a gu zheng (Chinese plucked string instrument) expert who taught at the Xi’an Conservatory of Music. Recognising Yan’s talent, Gao sent the young man home and in the following year, two staff from the conservatory went to Yan’s school and recruited him.9

Yan joined the Xi’an Conservatory of Music in 1973. After five years there, he went on to study at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music10 under the tutelage of Xia Fei Yun and He Zhan Hao.11He graduated from the Shanghai Conservatory of Music in 1983 and was appointed principal conductor and artistic director of the Central Chinese Orchestra, an ensemble of traditional Chinese instruments.12

A gifted conductor, Yan was conferred the title of National Class One Conductor in China only four years later in 1987.13 His reputation also grew outside of China. In 1987 and 1988, he was invited to be a guest conductor for the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra. In 1990, Yan led the China Central Chinese Orchestra to Singapore for a performance.14

In 1992, Yan came to Singapore to work for Singapore Naxos Records as a music director in charge of composing music.15 Between 1992 and 1993, Yan wrote and produced records such as Clouds, The Moon, A Music Journey on the Yellow River and Song of the General.16 Yan eventually became a Singapore citizen in 1996.17

In addition to his full-time job, Yan continued to wield the baton as a guest conductor with the Singapore Chinese Orchestra and the Singapore Symphony Orchestra for concerts and album recordings. Yan also worked with local musicians like Cultural Medallion winners Leong Yoon Pin and Phoon Yew Tien through premiering their musical works.18

Other than Singapore, Yan was also invited to guest conduct various orchestras in China and Russia, as well as releasing various albums with these orchestras.19 Yan also collaborated with internationally acclaimed Chinese director Zhang Yi Mou on the sound tracks for Zhang’s award-winning film, Raise the Red Lantern (1991).20

In 1995, Yan left for Taiwan and became the resident conductor of the Taiwan Kaohsiung City Chinese Orchestra.21 He led the orchestra in many performances and also premiered many of his own compositions. These performances caused a stir in the Taiwanese music scene.22 As a result, Yan won awards for best conductor in Taiwan thrice.23

In 1997, Yan accepted an offer by the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra to become its music director. Yan is currently serving as the orchestra’s artistic director and principal conductor.24

Apart from conducting on the concert stage, Yan is also actively engaged in musical composition and has won numerous awards for his works. His representative works include the symphonic poem The Sound of Water, which won two awards, and pi pa solo work Nostalgia, which has also won an award. Among the many recordings Yan has made, the symphonic piece, Buddha’s Story, and A Collection of Modern Er Hu Music won the Gold Tripod Award in Taiwan.25

In recent years, Yan has served as a guest or visiting professor for several music institutions in China, a position which has allowed him to continue to promote Chinese music.26

Stylistic conventions
As a conductor, Yan is known for his charisma and unique hand and body movements while conducting.27 A strict conductor, he moves with precision and expects his orchestra to respond to every millimetre flick of his baton. Yan says of his conducting, “My movements as a conductor bring life to pure sound. Yet true communion among the musicians, myself and the audience come from the heart.” Yan believes that to be good conductor, one must have a strong personality, wits and physical fitness.28

Yan is willing to perform a variety of music and not just keep Chinese orchestra music within a tightly defined classical mode. Yan believes that for Chinese music to flourish, one must continue to develop and not stagnate. His goal therefore is to perform classical music in a way that is acceptable to audiences. Yan has a two-pronged strategy to maintain and grow his audiences for classical Chinese orchestra music: education and creating mass appeal.29

In line with this strategy, Yan pushes his orchestras to perform both classical Chinese music and classical Western music adapted for the Chinese orchestra. His orchestras also play contemporary music, including adaptations of pop tunes, and frequently perform with popular singers, pianists, violinists and other soloists.30

Family
Wife: Xiong Yue31

Awards32
2001: Cultural Medallion for Music.
2004: Bronze Bauhinia Star (BBS) by the Chief Executive of Hong Kong SAR.
2008: Jurors’ Award for Conducting at the 6th China Gold Record Awards – Multi Arts Category.
2010: The Overseas Award for Music at the 51st Literary and Art Works Awards of the Chinese Writers’ & Artists’ Association (Taiwan).

List of selected works33
Clouds.
The Moon.
A Music Journey on the Yellow River.
Song of the General.
The Sound of Water.
Nostalgia (pi pa solo).
Illusion (er hu concerto).
Nuo (san xian concerto).
The Clouds and the Water of Rivers Xiao and Xiang (gu zheng concerto).
The Weiyang Sect.
Ode to the Strings.
Qing Lian Yu Yue (Cyan Lotus under the Moon).
Chuan Deng Xu Ming (The Passing of the Light).



Author
Chor Poh Chin



References
1. 光明日报社 [Guang Ming Ri Bao She].(2010, August 12). 阎惠昌:那确是一段音乐奇遇 [Yan Hui Chang: na que shi yi duan yin yue qi yu]. Retrieved from http://www.gmw.cn/content/2010-08/12/content_1212668.htm; Tan, S. E. (1999, May 1). Watch my hand, I want romance. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. National Arts Council Singapore. (2013, October 4). Cultural Medallion & Young Artist Award Recipients for Music. Retrieved from National Arts Council website: https://www.nac.gov.sg/art-forms/music/local-directory/cultural-medallion-young-artist-award-recipients-for-music
3. 光明日报社 [Guang Ming Ri Bao She].(2010, August 12). 阎惠昌:那确是一段音乐奇遇 [Yan Hui Chang: na que shi yi duan yin yue qi yu]. Retrieved from http://www.gmw.cn/content/2010-08/12/content_1212668.htm
4. 光明日报社 [Guang Ming Ri Bao She].(2010, August 12). 阎惠昌:那确是一段音乐奇遇 [Yan Hui Chang: na que shi yi duan yin yue qi yu]. Retrieved from http://www.gmw.cn/content/2010-08/12/content_1212668.htm
5. 光明日报社 [Guang Ming Ri Bao She].(2010, August 12). 阎惠昌:那确是一段音乐奇遇 [Yan Hui Chang: na que shi yi duan yin yue qi yu]. Retrieved from http://www.gmw.cn/content/2010-08/12/content_1212668.htm
6. 光明日报社 [Guang Ming Ri Bao She].(2010, August 12). 阎惠昌:那确是一段音乐奇遇 [Yan Hui Chang: na que shi yi duan yin yue qi yu]. Retrieved from http://www.gmw.cn/content/2010-08/12/content_1212668.htm
7. DeMeglio, F. (2001, September 29). Ensuring the Chinese orchestra stays relevant. The Business Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. 光明日报社 [Guang Ming Ri Bao She].(2010, August 12). 阎惠昌:那确是一段音乐奇遇 [Yan Hui Chang: na que shi yi duan yin yue qi yu]. Retrieved from http://www.gmw.cn/content/2010-08/12/content_1212668.htm
9. 光明日报社 [Guang Ming Ri Bao She].(2010, August 12). 阎惠昌:那确是一段音乐奇遇 [Yan Hui Chang: na que shi yi duan yin yue qi yu]. Retrieved from http://www.gmw.cn/content/2010-08/12/content_1212668.htm
10. Tan, S. E. (1999, May 1). Watch my hand, I want romance. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG
11. 黄匡宁 [Huang, K. N.]. (1997, May 17). 香江神韵飘洋来 [Xiang jiang shen yun piao yang lai]. 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 52. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Naxos Digital Services. (2014). Hui Chang Yan. Retrieved from http://www.naxos.com/person/Hui_Chang_Yan/5242.htm
13. Tan, S. E. (1999, May 1). Watch my hand, I want romance. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. 黄匡宁 [Huang, K. N.]. (1997, May 17). 香江神韵飘洋来 [Xiang jiang shen yun piao yang lai]. 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 52. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. 李慧玲 [Li, H. L.].(2002, April 11). 海阔凭鱼跃天高任鸟飞 [Hai kuo ping yu yue tian kao ren niao fei]. 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Hong Kong Composers’ Guild. (2014). Yan Hui-chang. Retrieved from http://www.hkcg.org/Composers/yanhuichang_e.html
17. Conductor-at-large. (2001, September 20). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Conductor-at-large. (2001, September 20). The Straits Times, p. 5; Tan, S. E. (1999, May 1). Watch my hand, I want romance. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. 百度百科 [Bai du bai ke]. (2014). 阎惠昌 [Yan Hui Chang]. Retrieved from http://baike.baidu.com/view/1906959.htm
20. Tan, S. E. (1999, May 1). Watch my hand, I want romance. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Tan, S. E. (1999, May 1). Watch my hand, I want romance. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. 黄匡宁 [Huang, K. N.]. (1997, May 17). 香江神韵飘洋来 [Xiang jiang shen yun piao yang lai]. 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 52. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. 李慧玲 [Li, H. L.].(2002, April 11). 海阔凭鱼跃天高任鸟飞 [Hai kuo ping yu yue tian kao ren niao fei]. 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Tan, S. E. (1999, May 1). Watch my hand, I want romance. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra. Artistic Director/Principal conductor. Retrieved from http://www.hkco.org/HKCO_Friends.aspx?channel=3&pagenumber=12&lang=E
25. Hong Kong Composers’ Guild. (2014). Yan Hui-chang. Retrieved from http://www.hkcg.org/Composers/yanhuichang_e.html
26. Hong Kong Composers’ Guild. (2014). Yan Hui-chang. Retrieved from http://www.hkcg.org/Composers/yanhuichang_e.html
27. 郭永秀 [Kuo, Y. X.]. (1997, June 21). 前卫而又不失传统 [Qian wei er you bu shi chuan tong]. 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 60. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Tan, S. E. (1999, May 1). Watch my hand, I want romance. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29. DeMeglio, F. (2001, September 29). Ensuring the Chinese orchestra stays relevant. The Business Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. DeMeglio, F. (2001, September 29). Ensuring the Chinese orchestra stays relevant. The Business Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31. 李慧玲 [Li, H. L.].(2002, April 11). 海阔凭鱼跃天高任鸟飞 [Hai kuo ping yu yue tian kao ren niao fei]. 联合早报 [Lianhe Zaobao], p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Hong Kong Composers’ Guild. (2014). Yan Hui-chang. Retrieved from http://www.hkcg.org/Composers/yanhuichang_e.html
33. Hong Kong Composers’ Guild. (2014). Yan Hui-chang. Retrieved from http://www.hkcg.org/Composers/yanhuichang_e.html



Further resources

阎惠昌 (指挥) [Yan, H. C.]. (Conductor). (1991). 黄河: 钢琴协奏曲 [Huang He: Gang qin xie zou qu]. [Sound recording]. 香港: 雨果制作公司.
(Call no.: Chinese AV 784.262 YEL-[ART])

阎惠昌 (指挥) [Yan, H. C.]. (Conductor). (1994). 长城随想 [Chang cheng sui xiang]. [Sound recording]. 香港: 雨果制作公司.
(Call no.: Chinese AV 787.6 SF-[ART])

阎惠昌 (指挥) [Yan, H. C.]. (Conductor). (2001). 喝采 [He cai]. [Sound recording]. 香港: 雨果制作公司.
(Call no.: Chinese AV 784.20951 XGZ-[ART])

阎惠昌 (指挥) [Yan, H. C.]. (Conductor). (2001). 红楼梦组曲 [Hong lou meng zu qu]. [Sound recording]. 香港: 雨果制作公司.
(Call no.: Chinese AV 784.2 XGZ-[ART])

阎惠昌 (指挥) [Yan, H. C.]. (Conductor). (2002). 山水响 [Shan shui xiang]. [Sound recording]. 香港: 雨果制作公司.
(Call no.: Chinese AV 784.20951 XGZ-[ART])

阎惠昌 (指挥) [Yan, H. C.]. (Conductor). (2004). 鼓王群英会 [Gu wang qun ying hui]. [Video recording]. 香港: 雨果制作公司.
(Call no.: Chinese AV 785.68 MAJ-[ART])



The information in this article is valid as at 5 March 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Subject
Personalities
Arts