Guo Wenjing was born in 1956 in Chongqing, an ancient city of China’s mountainous Sichuan province. In 1978, he was one of a hundred students admitted out of 17,000 applicants to Beijing’s re-opened Central Conservatory of Music. Unlike many colleagues from this acclaimed class (Tan Dun, Chen Yi, Zhou Long), Guo remained in China after graduation except for a short stay in New York (on an Asian Cultural Council grant). The New York Times praised him the only Chinese composer who has never lived abroad but established an international reputation. At home, Guo Wenjing has been honored among the Top China Hundred Outstanding Artists.
The former head of the composition department of the Central Conservatory, where he still remains on the faculty, Guo maintains a busy schedule as composer and educator.
His music first became known in the West in 1983, when Suspended Ancient Coffins on the Cliffs on Sichuan was premiered in Berkeley, California. The piece clearly pays tribute to Béla Bartók, highlighting two solo pianos with a battery of percussion instruments, but the strong imprint of Guo’s own Sichuanese roots is unmistakable in the orchestral writing.
Abroad, his works have been featured at festivals in Amsterdam, Berlin, Glasgow, Paris, Edinburgh, New York, Aspen, London, Turin, Perth, Huddersfield, Hong Kong and Warsaw, and at venues like Frankfurt Opera, the Berlin Konzerthaus, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw and New York’s Lincoln Center. He has written works for internationally distinguished ensembles like the Nieuw Ensemble, Atlas Ensemble, Cincinnati Percussion Group, Kronos Quartet, Arditti String Quartet, Ensemble Modern, and Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra, Göteborg Symphony Orchestra, China Philharmonic Orchestra, Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra, Singapore Symphony Orchestra and Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra.
Guo’s catalogue includes the following chamber operas: Wolf Cub Village (1994), Night Banquet (1997-98/2001) and Fengyiting (2004). The former, based on Lu Xun’s 'Diary of a Madman', was premiered at the Holland Festival; after a subsequent performance in Paris, Le Monde compared his “masterpiece of madness” to Berg’s Wozzeck and Shostakovich’s The Nose. Night Banquet, on the other hand, was inspired by a painting about the Song dynasty court official Han Xizai and was first produced at the Almeida Theatre (London) and the Hong Kong Arts Festival. A second version of the work, Ye Yan/The Night of the Banquet, premiered at the Paris Autumn Festival, was also given in Berlin, in New York at the Lincoln Center, and in Perth. In October 2003, both Wolf Cub Village and Ye Yan/The Night of the Banquet received their Chinese premieres at the 6th Beijing Music Festival, directed by Lin Zhaohua at the Beijing People’s Art Theatre.
In 2004 Guo composed the chamber opera Fengyiting (written for a tenor of Beijing opera and a soprano of Sichuan opera) which was premiered at the Concertgebouw of Amsterdam.
Critics from many countries have responded to Guo’s “unparalleled musical beauty and dramatic power” (Le Monde), and found his work “pungent and vivid” (The Guardian), “uninhibited and pure” (Het Parool) and “subtle and unusual” (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung). He has also been credited with “a highly original sense of operatic possibility” (The Independent). In 2007 Poet Li Bai (upon the most famous Tang dynasty poet) was premiered in July in Denver (Colorado) during the Summer Festival of the Central City Opera. The same year in October the opera was staged in China: in Beijing, as part of the Tenth Anniversary of the Beijing Music Festival (at Poly Theatre), and in Shanghai, at Grand Theatre. The European premiere took place in Rome, May 2008, and Hong Kong performances were scheduled in December 2009.
Guo also wrote works for esemble, such as She Huo (1991) for eleven players, Late Spring (1995) for Chinese ensemble, Inscriptions on Bone (1996) for alto singer and 15 instruments, Sound from Tibet (2001) combining instruments from China and the West. Among his most performed chamber works are Drama (1995), a trio for three percussionists, who also speak and sing, and Parade (2004) a sequel to Drama, for three percussionists. In addition, he has composed for more than forty films and TV shows, among which are "Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles" directed by Zhang Yimou, "In the Heart of the Sun" by Jiang Wen, "Red Powder" by Li Shaohong, "King of Chess" by Teng Wenji, as well as "Travel Notes to the South" and "Still Water Slight Wave". He is the composer who wrote the unique "Characters" for 2008 Beijing Olympic Opening Ceremony.
Among his orchestral works there are: Journeys (for soprano and orchestra), first performed by the Hong Kong Philharmonic conducted by Edo de Waart in October 2004 (the text was taken from epic poetry by contemporary Chinese poet Xi Chuan); Concerto for erhu (Chinese two-stringed fiddle) co-commissioned by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (world premiered in January 2007) and the Bavarian Radio’s longstanding concert series “Musica Viva”; Concerto for zheng commissioned by MiTo Settembre Musica festival and premiered in Turin (September 2011).
The prestigious international ´Tibor Varga´ violin competition, commissioned Guo to write the compulsory piece for the 2013 edition. shèxì (this is the title of the work for violin and orchestra) was premiered by the finalists of the competition.
- Concerto per zheng e orchestra
- Drama (Xi)
- Echoes of Heaven and Hearth
- Inscriptions on bone
- Late Spring