The interconnectedness of our postmodern world is a major theme in my music. My experiences growing up make this pertinent: an Australian citizen who calls Shanghai home as he navigates American college life in Massachusetts. In an age where a night’s sleep is all it takes to travel halfway around the world, and where Bach and Mongolian throat singing can occupy adjacent YouTube tabs, I explore and seek inspiration in non-Western musical traditions, even as I write and perform works within the classical lineage. I am interested in bridging apparent differences between cultures and musicians, and in doing so, seeking the subcutaneous common ground that we share as human beings.
The globalization of culture makes it impossible for artists to exist in a vacuum. In fact, we have an obligation to be socially responsible. We produce works as citizen-artists, where we address and invite reflection upon the realities that confront us today. My recent pieces feature dialogues between instruments, and in extension, musical traditions, both foreign and familiar to me. In addition to orchestras, choruses, and chamber ensembles, I work with didgeridoo, shakuhachi, pipa, erhu, yangqin / Chinese dulcimer virtuosi, as well as Mongolian throat singers. In doing so, I first highlight the differences among these instruments, before considering how I may interact with their cultural contexts.
For example, in the Concerto for yangqin and cello ensemble, I musically retrace the history of the instrument; the dulcimer originated in Persia, where it spread westward, to Eastern Europe, as well as eastward, via the Indian Ocean and over the Silk Road, to China. By assigning various timbres and materials to the yangqin, I augment the solo instrument beyond its conventional identity as a “Chinese” instrument.
Nanyin, Water Silk Road, for didgeridoo and orchestra, is another exploration of how the concept of “place” and “distance” can be abstracted through music. I imagine the didgeridoo as a narrator, seeking the threads of ancient melodies, nanyin, from Southeast China. The resulting call-and-response between an Australian sound and a Chinese tradition takes place over vast seas, an expanse that can only be shortened through musical terms. This piece is also my first attempt to engage with nanyin, a long-term research interest of mine.
Ultimately, I try to transcend the assumed identities of the instruments I write for, be it a cello, soprano singer, or morin khuur (Mongolian horse-head fiddle). By drawing on their rich pasts and distinct identities, I hope to synthesize a contemporary understanding of how we relate to one another in the ways we experience art. In geopolitics, borders are absolute; in music, the blurring, or even the abolishment, of boundaries can be the most beautiful.
Sam Wu's music deals with the beauty of blurred boundaries. From Shanghai, China, Wu (b. 1995) currently pursues his masters in composition at The Juilliard School, after receiving his A.B., with honors, from Harvard University. His principal teachers include Tan Dun, Robert Beaser, Chaya Czernowin, Derek Bermel, and David Conte.
Winner of Harvard University's Robert Levin, Francis Boott, John Green, Hugh F. MacColl, Wister Prizes, Artist Development Fellowship, Ensemble Ibis Competition, Oklahoma City University’s Project21 Prize, Interlochen Fine Arts Best Composer Award, Harvard Bach Society Orchestra Composition Competition, and ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Awards, Sam was also a participant in the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra's Young Composers' Initiative.
Sam has been commissioned by the Shanghai International Arts Festival, National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing, Anda Union, Sydney University Confucius Institute, Brattle Street Chamber Players, Princeton Pianists’ Ensemble, and the Harvard Ballet Company.
Sam’s music has been performed in the United States, France, Portugal, Australia, Japan, China, and Indonesia. His other collaborators include the Melbourne Symphony, Shanghai Philharmonic, Asia Society, Parker Quartet, Callithumpian Consort, Juventas Ensemble, Shanghai Conservatory Youth Symphony, Antioch Chamber Ensemble, Radcliffe Choral Society, and pipa master Wu Man. As arranger, Sam has written for the Italian, Moscow Philharmonic, China National, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Xi'an Symphonies, as well as Xinjiang musician Alimjan.
In addition to composing, Sam has served as the assistant conductor of the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra, music director of the Mozart Society Orchestra, Harvard-Radcliffe Gilbert and Sullivan Players, Harvard Early Music Society, and guest conductor of the Harvard Bach Society Orchestra. Sam furthermore acts as musical assistant and arts administration intern under Tan Dun.
Sam also has been featured on the National Geographic Channel, Business Insider, Harvard Crimson, Harvard Arts Blog, Asahi Shimbun, People's Daily, China Daily USA, SinoVision, four CCTV channels, ICS, Shanghai municipal TV Channels, among others.