Julian Yu

The multi-award winning Australian composer Julian Yu employs a musical language imbued with a high degree of elegance and expressiveness, which are both enhanced by an impeccable craft and special attention to detail.

His music creates a sonic world, which is constantly changing, and always being framed within a clear sense of shape and direction. Without being overtly referential, his music also shows a strong connection with the Western musical tradition as well as with his Chinese roots, thus, creating a very individual musical discourse.

Born in Beijing in 1957, Julian Yu surprised his non-musical family by starting to compose music at the age of 12. In 1973 he left school early to study composition at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, and later joined the teaching staff there. In 1980 he was sent to Japan to study at the Tokyo College of Music under Joji Yuasa and Schin-Ichiro Ikebe. After his return in 1982 he resumed teaching and wrote a lot of music for film, television and radio as a “ghost composer” under other people’s names. In 1985 he migrated to Australia. In 1988, he was selected for a Composition Fellowship at Tanglewood, where he studied with Hans Werner Henze and Oliver Knussen, and was awarded the Koussevitzky Tanglewood Composition Prize for that year.

Since then, Yu has won numerous prizes and much recognition for his composition, including an Australia Council Composer Fellowship and grants from the Australia Council and other organisations such as the Ian Potter Foundation. In 1991 and 1994, an international jury unanimously selected his work for the 1st and 2nd triennial Paul Lowin Orchestral Prizes (Australia’s richest award for composition). Other prizes include the Zen-On Piano 2000 composition prize, and awards in the 56th Japan Music Concours, the 35th Premio Musicale Citta di Trieste, and the 1987, 1989 and 1990 International New Music Composers’ Competition (USA). He composed music for the opening ceremony (Australasian Section) of the Olympic Games in Beijing (with Broadstock and Barton). For his achievements, he was awarded a Doctor of Music (D.Mus) by the University of Melbourne, where he currently teaches Composition and holds an honorary Fellowship.

His music has been performed at ISCM World Music Days (in Switzerland, Mexico, Luxemburg and Hong Kong), and at many other festivals including Gaudeamus, Huddersfield, Munich Biennale and the Asian Composers' League (ACL) festivals.

Major works include Philopentatonia, commissioned by IRCAM for Ensemble InterContemporain and later performed by Ensemble Modern, the London Sinfonietta, and the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra conducted by Heinz Holliger; Three Symphonic Poems, performed by Sydney Symphony under Gunther Schuller; Great Ornamented Fuga Canonica, performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Oliver Knussen; Wu–Yu, performed by the Tanglewood, BBC, Luxembourg and Hiroshima Orchestras; puppet music theatre The White Snake, commissioned by Hans Werner Henze and performed at the second Munich Biennale International New Music Theatre Festival; Sinfonia Passacaglissima, performed at the Sydney Opera House by the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra under Markus Stenz; Marimba Concerto, performed by Evelyn Glennie; Not a Stream But an Ocean, commissioned and performed by the BBC Proms; The Future of Water, commissioned by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra; and Willow and Wattle, commissioned by Melbourne Symphony and performed to great acclaim during their tour of China.

Press quotes

“A selection of performances of the work of composer Julian Yu makes Classical Allusion a delight” ★★★★

— Chris Copas, The Star

“Yu's symphonic writing is brilliant [and] highly coloured”

— Dale Keeling, Noteworthy

Compositions by Julian Yu appear on

Julian Yu 10 CD collection

The ten CDs that include music by composer Julian Yu are available individually or as a set for a special price of $100. To order the full set, click on one of the links on this page near the bottom. Digital booklets for these titles can be found on the pages for each of the eleven volumes. Type Julian Yu in the search box above right to see information about Julian Yu CDs.


Move 50

A special CD to celebrate Move Records’ 50th year. Twenty-four Australian composers were invited to create a new short work for this special commemorative disc.


50 Chinese Folk Songs

The first of the two collections on this CD, the 50 Chinese folk songs, consists of pieces arranged by Julian Yu for piano. There are also 15 other piano pieces, a mixture of arrangements of well-known Chinese songs and original compositions. All 65 are played by pianist Ke Lin.


Old and Yu: The clarinet music of Julian Yu, Volume 2

A series of catchy short pieces composed for clarinet and string quartet, and piano by Julian Yu. Often playful, these pieces are based on oddly familiar classical themes. Chinese folksongs, Dvorak and Mozart are also featured. The track titles will give you some idea of what to expect.



Cutetudes (‘cute’ + ‘études’) is a set of 20 short classically – related, humorous piano pieces which pianist Ke Lin commissioned Julian Yu.


70 More Variations on "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star"

The tune "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" has fascinated and irritated composers through the ages. In this second collection Julian Yu has commissioned a staggeringly diverse cornucopia of stylistic arrangements of the tune. Michael Kieran Harvey tackles scores from the frivolous to the frenetic, the fragile to the fragrant, the popular to the profound.


126 Variations on "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star"

Michael Kieran Harvey performs 126 variations by Julian Yu on the theme Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star. Julian Yu's project presents the tune in an immense range of styles, many of which develop out of well-known classical pieces, as well as jazz and folk music.


China Wind: the clarinet music of Julian Yu, Volume 1

The five works on this CD, for clarinet with strings, piano, and flute, demonstrate Julian Yu’s remarkable versatility, emotional breadth and mastery of compositional style and technique, as he taps into the inner structure and mental processes of his Chinese musical tradition rather than superficially borrowing its raw material.



Australian piano music by Gifford, Gould, Ford, Yu and Michael Kieran Harvey. Elektra is an experiment in extending acoustic piano sound via computer, and was a collaboration with sound engineer Michael Hewes, who surfed the piano resonances in real time.



Recorded during the Asian Composers' League Festival in 2007, this new recording showcases works by prominent Australian and NZ composers performed by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Kenneth Young.


Pictures at an Exhibition: Reflected and Refracted

Unique orchestral arrangements of Pictures at an Exhibition, Gliere's Coloratura Concerto for Oboe and Orchestra, Glinka's The Nighingale, and two movements from Tchaikovsky's The Seasons.


Classical Allusion

Julian Yu takes famous pieces from the Western musical tradition and ornaments them in the manner of Chinese folk music.


20th Century Piano Trios

This CD by highly acclaimed Trio Melbourne features a stunning collection of 20th Century piano trios, including two never-before recorded pieces by Australian composers Sculthorpe and Yu.


Julian Yu also appears on

Scent Of Time

This new CD features the diverse works of six Australian composers that have taken Asian instruments and voices beyond the boundaries of their own traditions. From dan tranh to sheng, from shakuhachi to erhu, this fascinating recording is cross-cultural music at its best.

Performer: Vocals