Ming Tsao was born in Berkeley, California in 1966. Following his early musical studies, performing violin and viola with the Berkeley Youth Orchestra and the Young People’s Symphony respectively, he lived in Suzhou, China and studied the traditional guqin (Chinese zither) with the renowned guqin performer Wu Zhao-ji.

The music of Ming Tsao constitutes a “speculative turn” in music composition that posits possible worlds as a counterpoint to our contemporary understanding of place, where musical lyricism blended with noise suggests a sensitivity to relations between human impact and presence in the world. In making the connections between the materiality of sound, formal rigor, and extreme expressionistic abstraction, Tsao renews the idea of musical lyricism as fractured, damaged, multi-perspective, complex and problematized in order to negotiate the complexities of the surrounding world.

His performance projects include the opera Die Geisterinsel for the Staatsoper Stuttgart in 2011 and a full realization of Stockhausen’s Plus Minus successfully premiered in the Wittener Tage Festival 2013. His compositions have been performed by ensembles such as the Arditti Quartet, ensemble recherche, ELISION Ensemble, Ensemble SurPlus, Ensemble Ascolta in venues such as the Donaueschingen Musiktage Festival, Wien Modern, Wittener Tage Festival, Maerz Musik, Darmstadt New Music Courses. Music by Ming Tsao can be found on the labels Kairos Music and Mode Records. Books by Ming Tsao include Abstract Musical Intervals: Group Theory for Composition and Analysis. He is currently composing a large-scale opera Mudan ting that draws connections between German opera from the early 20th century and Chinese Kunqu opera from the Ming Dynasty and explores ways in which ideas of invention and progress can live alongside ideas of traditional refinement, cultivation and a respect for nature.

He was Professor of Composition at Göteborg University in Sweden and currently Visiting Professor of Composition at the Hochschule für Musik, Theater und Medien Hannover, Germany. He holds a PhD in Music Composition from the University of California, San Diego, an MA in Mathematics from the San Francisco State University, and an MA in Ethnomusicology from Columbia University. Further studies have included logic and philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley.


University of California, San Diego, 2000–2007
Doctor of Philosophy in Music Composition

Mathematical Sciences Research Institute, University of California, Berkeley, 1998–1999
CIRE Fellowship for Mathematical Research

San Francisco State University, 1995–2000
Master of Arts in Mathematics

University of California, Berkeley, 1993–1994
Bachelor Studies in Logic and Philosophy

Columbia University, New York, 1990–1992
Masters of Arts in Ethnomusicology

Berklee College of Music, MA., 1985–1988
Bachelor of Music in Traditional Music Composition

Suzhou University, China, 1984
Exchange Student in Traditional Chinese Music

Principal Teachers:

Music Composition: Chaya Czernowin, Brian Ferneyhough
Electronic Music Composition: Mario Davidovsky
Violin/Viola: Ron Erickson
E. Bass: Joe Satriani
Guqin (Chinese Zither): Wu Zhao-ji
Ethnomusicology: Dieter Christensen
Logic: Charles Chihara
Mathematics: James Smith, Alfred Tang, Sergei Ovchinnikov
Musical Acoustics: Gerald Balzano, F. Richard Moore
Film: Jean-Pierre Gorin
Poetry: Michael Davidson

  Ming Tsao Worklist (pdf)