Today we’d like to introduce you to Anqi Liu.
So, before we jump into specific questions about your music, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I started studying the piano when I was four years old with Mr. Xingwu Li, an ethnomusicologist whose specialties are traditional Mongolian music. Those afternoons, in which I finished my lessons with performances of Bach and Beethoven fugues, Mr. Li always played Mongolian long songs on his old cassette tape machine. These songs made a distinct impression upon me at the time. My hometown, Inner Mongolia is a unique existence in China– it is one of the autonomous provinces among the five with diverse cultural influences. My background as a composer includes the rather challenging experience of trying to be creative in the university system in my country where they couldn’t offer resources supporting the people like me. The situation conditions me to always seek out solutions both independently yet empathetically through multiple communications with musicians and people around. I realized, back then, although I had the law degree, I was in my innermost heart, believing in myself as a creative artist.
After coming to the U.S. in 2013, in the NYC area, those experiences helped me to collaborate with the musicians coming from distinct backgrounds. I studied composition, music theory, and music history with Professor Robert Aldridge, Professor Gerald Chenoweth, Professor Richard Chrisman, and Professor Charles Fussell at Rutgers University. What I gained so important from them was the faith, the faith that I can in fact be a composer. I was very uncertain if I could dive into the realm at all: with so limited training as well as resources in my earlier stage and with so distinct background and experience from all others. After two premieres of my works in Rutgers, in 2014 the artistic director of New Brunswick Chamber Orchestra, Mark Hyczko commissioned me a string quartet with the theme of “Hometown”. This commission allowed me to go back to understand profoundly my cultural background. I remember it was during those extremely cold east coast mornings, listening to Mongolian traditional long songs while looking out my window and watching the sparkling city lights embellished by the shimmering snow and how, during the sunrise, the sky’s tone transformed from warmer to cooler hues—that I found myself. I got support from the conductor Kynan Johns and Kelly Crandell as well as musicians from Rutgers to have my pieces performed at (Le) Poisson Rouge, Shapeshifter Lab, The Firehouse Space, and other venues in NYC. After I finished my MA degree there, they accepted me to the Ph.D. program to continue my study. However, I decided to leave the NYC area, which friends couldn’t understand my decision. For me, I had learned and experienced a lot in NYC. Although I loved the city, I felt I had to find outside space to further refining my original voice as a composer.
In 2017, I came to UC San Diego to peruse my Ph.D. in composition where I meet many brilliant spirits. Musicians in this community are powerful, and they are always willing to explore new dimensionality and experiments regarding sound and arts. It was always enjoyable and inspiring to work with them. Conductor Steven Schick constantly commissions new works by young composers, and he really cares how single detail in your score evolves into sound. Lessons with my advisor Professor Lei Liang, further foster my original voices as a composer. I am so thankful that Professor Lei Liang encourages me to be who I am and helps me to dive into my own world more profoundly. Independent studies with Professor Miller Puckette and Professor Tom Erbe, greatly expand my perspectives on sound. Seminars with Professor King Britt, Professor Roger Reynolds, Professor Rand Steiger, Professor Wilfrido Terrazas, Professor Chinary Ung, and others inspired me in different ways. I also gain so much from friendships with colleagues at the UCSD music department. Playing, improvising together, and making music with the musicians here are healing. Within years, my works allow me to travel all over the world, having my works performed in France, Sweden, Germany, the U.S., and my home country, brings me great friendships with people from diverse backgrounds. Memories of these cure painful scars and in return become part of my work.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
The struggles are always there. But struggles built me up. Those past experiences of trying to hear my music become alive in a lot of extreme conditions for the limitation of resources, allowed me to understand people and diversities with nuanced perspectives and forced me to always remain independent as well as constantly stay curious. I see those struggles as part of me.
Can you give our readers some background on your music?
Deeply carving in the internal structure of sounds to reveal maximally unknown sonic potential, I enjoy experimenting with diverse possibilities to expand space and the dimensions of sound. These experiments often lead to challenges that call into question conventional ways of playing or viewing the instruments. Being born and raised as a Manchurian in Inner Mongolia, my identity has always felt complex. My experience in both the western world and China has driven me to give an authentic voice to the under-represented culture I came from.
Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
I want to thank all of them for their generous support and their wiseness as mentors, teachers, and friends. I also want to thank my parents, who have supported me with no doubt of my ability to be who I am. They purchased a piano when I was four with all of their savings and they did so only for a simple wish: one day if their daughter feels sad, the piano will stay with her and comfort her.
Mosa Tsay, Bolin Zhang, Sherry An, and Anqi Liu
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