CCM student wins first place in American Prize

DMA composition student Kevin Li and recent alum Wenbin Lyu claim top spots in national competition

Story by CCM Graduate Student Chet Rhodes

The UC College-Conservatory of Music congratulates DMA composition student Kevin Li, recently named the winner of the 2023 American Prize in Composition university division, and recent graduate Wenbin Lyu, who was awarded third place in the same competition. 

A renowned national competition, the American Prize recognizes outstanding artists in a variety of areas, including composition, piano, voice, chamber music, conducting and ensemble performance. Both Li and Lyu (DMA, '23) were awarded distinction within the area of compositions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This piece was composed during the COVID-19 outbreak,” Li says of his winning work The Ghost That Haunts Us, “capturing a snapshot of that unusual time.” Inspired by the well-known Chinese tune “Spring Festival Overture,” Li imbues this traditionally festive and joyful music with the all-too familiar growing sense of anxiety that was largely experienced in the early days of the pandemic. “The pervasive fear of the virus prevented us from experiencing these cherished moments, perhaps forever changing how we will remember them.”

Li has received multiple degrees while at CCM, including a BM in Commercial Music Production and a MM in Composition. He is now pursuing a DMA in Composition with a cognate in Orchestral Conducting. Throughout his extensive study, Li has developed a personal style influenced by composers “ranging from Beethoven and Stravinsky to Gershwin and Jennifer Higdon.” His most prominent admiration, however, is the influential Gustav Mahler.

“A quote from Mahler particularly resonates with me,” Li says, “ 'The point is not to take the world’s opinion as a guiding star but to go one’s way in life and work unerringly, neither depressed by failure nor seduced by applause.’ These words profoundly resonate with me, serving as a reminder of the essential qualities of being an artist.”

Li thanks his CCM professors and mentors, including Norman Dinerstein Professor of Composition Scholar Douglas Knehans and Music Professor Aik Khai Pung, who leads the CCM Concert Orchestra. “There have been numerous cherished learning experiences,” Li says.

“One experience that will forever be etched in my memory is the opportunity I had to conduct Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty ballet with the CCM Concert Orchestra and CCM Dance in spring 2023.” Li reflects on how much this work has meant to him over the years, and what an amazing opportunity it was to get to conduct this work. “There I was, in the pit, creating music with everyone.”  

In addition to rehearsals leading up to the live event, Li lead the orchestra during the April 16 performance with audience members. Watch CCM's performance of the prologue to Sleeping Beauty, presented as part of "Dance Works" in April 2023.

Li emphasized the diverse and opportunity-filled environments that CCM creates for its students. In addition to “exceptional composition faculty, numerous opportunities for commissions, collaborations with student performers, and external residencies,” Li says, “it’s important not to overlook the broader community at CCM that nurtures us. What truly makes CCM outstanding is its diversity and inclusive ethos.” 

Headshot of Chet Rhodes

Chet Rhodes

CCM Graduate Assistant, Marketing + Communications

Currently a Bassoon Performance master’s student at CCM, Chet received a Bachelor of Music from the University of Utah. He has held positions with the Salt Lake Symphony and the Utah Philharmonia.

Featured image at the top: Stock image of a music score.

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The UC College-Conservatory of Music is thrilled to congratulate DMA composition students Kevin Li, who was recently named the winner of the 2023 American Prize in Composition university division, and Wenbin Lyu, who was awarded 3rd place in the same competition.