The music of Du Yun, who won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 2017, is difficult to classify, including aspects of, to quote her own website, "orchestral [music], opera, chamber music, theatre, cabaret, pop music, oral tradition, visual arts, electronics and noise." She also does not readily conform to description as Chinese or American.
Du was born in Shanghai on June 18, 1977. Her musical education coincided with the rebuilding of Western-influenced institutions in China after the end of the Cultural Revolution, and she was trained from girlhood in composition and piano at the Shanghai Conservatory. A second major set of influences came when China opened itself to Western popular culture in the '90s. With a group of Kenyan exchange students, Du formed a reggae band in Shanghai. She also enjoyed alternative rock and indie pop, which were not transmitted through official channels but circulated in street bootleg tapes.
When Du moved to the U.S. and enrolled in the composition program at the Oberlin Conservatory, she developed a style that was not only eclectic, but, in the words of TimeOut New York, showed a "boundless, almost childlike sense of curiosity about the world around her -- she reinvents herself daily, and so does her music." Du earned a PhD in composition from Harvard University and then joined the faculty at the State University of New York at Purchase in 2006.
Her music has run the gamut from traditional instrumental genres and opera to popular song, electronics, performance art and collaboration with visual artists, and more. Her profile was raised by commissions from star soloists Matt Haimovitz (two pieces on the Figment album) and Hilary Hahn (When a Tiger Meets a Rosa Rugosa, on the album In 27 Pieces). Among Du's large-scale compositions is Mantichora, premiered in 2011 by the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra. For the first part of her career, Du avoided direct Chinese influences, but she has suggested that her art represents an Asian aesthetic of compromise between extremes, and in the 2010s she began to immerse herself in the Chinese kungqu operatic genre. The U.S. National Public Radio network designated Du as one of 100 composers under 40 to watch, and in 2017, the year she reached that milestone, she won the Pulitzer Prize for her opera Angel's Bone, which depicted angels forced into sexual slavery and addressed the subject of human trafficking. The opera included elements of electronics and video.