Taking the ‘Path of Beauty’

For Chen Yi, a trip to San Francisco is always a homecoming.

The celebrated Chinese-American composer spent 1993 through 1996 in The City, as a composer-in-residence with the award-winning chorus Chanticleer.

This month, she returns for a special event: the world premiere of her latest work, “From the Path of Beauty.”

Co-commissioned by Chanticleer and the Shanghai String Quartet, the song cycle will be performed by both groups on Thursday and Sunday at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music; on Friday in Berkeley; and Saturday in Santa Clara.

In a recent phone interview from Kansas City, where she teaches at the University of Missouri, Chen explained that “From the Path of Beauty” takes its name from an ancient Chinese book of aesthetics.

“I collect Chinese cultural books, and this one includes chapters about art, poetry, clay figurines, and dancing ink, which means calligraphy,” she says. “That was my inspiration for the piece.”

The score was written as a celebration of friendship between sister cities San Francisco and Shanghai, and is dedicated to the memories of San Francisco Supervisor Gordon Lau and deputy Mayor Peter Henschel.

Chen Yi is a unique voice among composers today. Born in 1953 in Guangzhou, China, she studied at the Beijing Conservatory; in 1986, she became the first woman in China to receive a master’s degree in composition.

During her time in San Francisco, in addition to her work with Chanticleer, she served as composer in residence with the Women’s Philharmonic and the Aptos Creative Arts Center. Her music has been performed by the Seattle Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra and the San Francisco Symphony, among others.

She has composed a number of works for Chanticleer, and says that working with the 12-man chorus is always rewarding. “They sing everything so precisely,” she says. “I’ve followed them for years, in NewYork and elsewhere. They’ve come to Kansas City often, and I even watch them on YouTube!

“When (music director) Joe Jennings told me this was their 30th anniversary, I wanted this work to be special. I knew all the characteristics of the group: they’re really the voices of an orchestra, and that was my goal, to find something to showcase this great orchestra.”

IF YOU GO

Chanticleer, Shanghai String Quartet

Where: San Francisco Conservatory of Music, 50 Oak St., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. Thursday and 5 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $25 to $44

Contact: (800) 407-1400; (415) 392-4400; www.chanticleer.org

Note: Also at 8 p.m. Friday at First Congregational Church, 2345 Channing Way, Berkeley; and 8 p.m. Saturday at Mission Santa Clara, 500 El Camino Real, Santa Clara

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