The works of Korean composer Unsuk Chin will be the centrepiece of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s Metropolis New Music Festival this year. Here she talks about studying with Ligeti, her influences, and what she’d tell young composers now.

Unsuk Chin, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Metropolis Unsuk Chin. Photo courtesy of Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

What did you learn from studying with Ligeti as a young composer?

Independence of mind. Ligeti’s classes were completely unconventional – we’d analyse new music (with a special preference for outsiders), jazz, traditional music from outside Europe, Renaissance music, Mozart, even pop music, and he’d talk about literature and the natural sciences. He was an extremely strict teacher, but his approach was open-minded. I learnt from him that it is possible to create something new without turning one’s back to tradition, and how crucial it is to be self-critical and never to start copying oneself.

Who have been your strongest influences as a composer?

It’s very difficult to say. Of course, I am a composer trained in the so-called Western classical music, with a particular emphasis on contemporary modern styles, but it’s very difficult to single a particular composer out. I try to keep...