Biography

Cynthia Lee Wong is a composer and digital / animation / video artist.  She has attracted international acclaim for her “shamelessly beautiful” music and devotion toward “not only the avant-garde audience, but…all music lovers” (Süddeutsche Zeitung). She has composed for orchestra, chamber ensemble, dance, voice, narrator, musical theater, electronics, and piano improvisation.

Cynthia’s most recent music commission Mech Mania will be performed in 2023-2024, by wind ensembles at Bowling Green University, Hartt School of Music, Lawrence Conservatory, Arkansas Tech University, University of Central Florida, and University of Wisconsin. 

Her Toccata for solo piano (dedicated to Samuel Adler in honor of his 95th birthday) was world premiered by Sookkyung Cho in November 2023 and will be performed again in January 2024.  Cynthia is also rearranging Carnival Fever for chamber orchestra, to receive its New York City premiere in 2024.

Cynthia is a pioneer of a brand new genre – the animated music score, such as In A Blink of An Eye, whose music was commissioned by ROCO Chamber Orchestra.  In A Blink of An Eye (2022) celebrates the wondrous, though ephemeral, nature of life. One life, even if short-lived, can impact others in extraordinary ways. This work is inspired by Chinese-American Iris Chang’s words: “You as ONE individual can change millions of lives. Think big.”   

In 2022, Cynthia also began teaching herself how to use artificial intelligence (AI) with visuals.  Among Cynthia’s early AI experiments is Carnival Fever, inspired by The Count of Monte Cristo and whose music was co-commissioned by San Francisco Symphony & New World Symphony.  She used AI in her video-making process, modifying thousands of frames, stylizing and changing details such as subjects’ hair and gender.  

Cynthia’s most recent animation / video project is Tectonal (September 2023).  Inspired by acclaimed book The Telling Image, Tectonal is a 16-17 minute commission for ROCO. For this project, she collaborated with a dream team of Emmy Award winners — composer Anthony DiLorenzo and author / filmmaker Lois Stark.  Cynthia expanded her AI palette beyond still images, discovering new animation techniques, which can be previewed at a sneak peek into her creative process.

As a composer, Cynthia has received praise for her music’s “original[ity]” (Miami Herald), “buzzing excitement” (Peninsula Reviews),“sheer, oscillating textures” (The New York Times),“elegant and communicative grace” (Il Giornale di Vicenza),“impressive energy and drive” (The Boston Globe), and “unsettling…dark, eerie…highly individual sound universe” (The San Diego Union-Tribune).

In January 2023, iSING! and Philadelphia Orchestra, together with soprano Esther Maureen Kelly and conductor Lio Kuokman, presented the North American premiere of Cynthia’s Snow on the River at the Kimmel Center, Philadelphia, and Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, New York.  An iSING! 2020 prizewinner, her piece was hailed as a “standout [composition] of the night” (OperaWire).

Snow on the River also received its staged, multimedia world premiere with Suzhou Symphony Orchestra and zhonghu (alto erhu). The performance was broadcast worldwide as CCTV 4’s 2021 Lunar New Year production. Set to text by a poet in exile, Cynthia’s piece conveys isolation and loneliness, familiar themes during the pandemic.

In 2022, Wear Yellow Proudly presented Cynthia’s Six Gupta Songs at an event celebrating Asian women on the anniversary of the Atlanta shootings and International Women’s Day. 

In 2021, Cynthia’s Unity in Diversity for chorus and orchestra received its world premiere by Assabet Valley Mastersingers.  Featuring texts by Sara Teasdale (first woman to win a Pulitzer Poetry Prize), Bengali writer Rabindranath Tagore (first Asian to win a Nobel Prize), and William Wordsworth, Unity in Diversity embraces humanitarian and environmental themes.

In 2016, No Guarantees, a musical comedy by Cynthia with librettist Richard Aellen, won funding from OPERA America’s Opera Grants for Female Composers program, supported by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation. In 2018, it received sold-out performances by University of Nevada’s Opera Theater Workshop and Nevada Conservatory Theatre.

From 2013-2015, Cynthia was selected for New Voices, a multi-organizational initiative with New World Symphony, San Francisco Symphony, and Boosey & Hawkes. As part of the residency, she received mentorship as well as chamber and orchestral commissions.

From 2010-2011, Cynthia received a Project 440 commission in which her piece Memoriam,dedicated to her late father along with all cancer survivors and caregivers, was premiered by Orpheus Chamber Orchestra on their opening night at Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall.

Past commissions and premieres include works for the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (Germany), Orchestra del Teatro Olimpico (Italy), Portland Symphony (Maine), Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, Tanglewood Music Festival, La Jolla Music Society, New York State Music Teachers Association, Mivos Quartet, and Tokyo String Quartet.

A graduate of the accelerated 5-year B.M./M.M. program at Juilliard, Cynthia received her Ph.D. as an Enhanced Chancellor’s Fellow at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. She studied composition with Samuel Adler, Milton Babbitt, David Del Tredici, David Olan, and Larry Thomas Bell, as well as piano with Tatyana Dudochkin, Frank Levy, and Martin Canin. Cynthia also participated in the BMI Musical Theater Workshop.

As an educator, Cynthia taught at Baruch College, City University of New York, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the Southwestern University of Finance and Economics in China, and the New England Conservatory Preparatory School. She was also Master Teacher at National YoungArts Week 2018 and Artistic Director at YoungArts Miami Classical Instrumental 2019 program.