About [Liu Sola & Friends] Ensemble

In 1997, with the help of celebrated New York artist, director, and playwright Sister Joanna Chen, Liu Sola founded the Sola & Friends band, collaborating with top jazz musicians such as Amina C. Myers, Fernando Saunders, and Pheeroan aKlaff. In 1999, she went back to China with her musicians for Beijing Jazz Festival, a live recording of this groundbreaking concert, [Sola & Friends], was released in 2000. 


In September 2000, she returned to China again and founded the New Folk Big Band, the first ever Chinese folk/jazz fusion big band. The debut concert was a revelation to the Chinese and international audience, as it represented the first successful attempt to create a new Chinese improvisatory music. In 2003, with support from HKW Germany, she founded the Liu Sola & Friends ensemble, made up mainly of top Chinese instrumental soloists, to perform her compositions. 


Over the last few years, Liu Sola & Friends ensemble has become a highlight group for many major festivals around the world. The ensemble also has performed Liu Sola's compositions for modern dance, film soundtracks, albums and operas such as Liu Sola’s chamber opera [Fantasy of the Red Queen], together with Ensemble Modern.


From 2012 -2015, with new members joining in, such as guitarist Liu Yijun (aka. Lao Wu of Tang Dynasty), and percussionist Gert Mortensen, the ensemble appeared in China for many major events. The virtuoso performances and the unique music style attracted many young Chinese people.

Liu Sola , composer , writer.

She was born in Beijing. In 1977, after the Cultural Revolution, Liu Sola passed the entrance examination for the Central Conservatory of Music, where she studied composition, and attained a master’s degree studying under the famous composer Professor Du Mingxin. After graduation, she taught fugue at the Central Minority Institution and also started to compose music for film soundtracks, TV, and theatre.

In the 1980’s, Liu Sola caught the attention of the Chinese cultural world with her debut  novella You Have No Choice ( Ni Bie Wu Xuan Ze ). The novella deals with a group of highly gifted and individualistic music conservatory students, part of that 80‘s generation in China that produced so many brilliant writers, filmmakers, and composers. The work won the National Best Novella Award for 1985, and has remained an essential and exemplary text, the unofficial manifesto of culture in the 80’s; a text that successive generations of young Chinese readers continue to rediscover. (In 2017, Nanjing University Publisher has published her early literary work You Have no Choice in Chinese - English bilingual edition.) That same year (1985) Liu published two other novellas: Blue Sky, Green Sea, about the lives of pop/rock musicians, and the complex In Search of the King of Singers which moves between urban and rural settings and focuses on a musician obsessed with trying to understand the power of Chinese folk music. These novellas, ranging in subject matter from classical to pop to folk music, constitute Liu’s ‘music’ trilogy and established her place in the history of contemporary Chinese literature as a writer with a unique voice and sensibility.

In spite of her natural talent for writing, Liu Sola thinks of herself as first and foremost a musician. Even her literary texts are consciously structured along ‘musical’ lines. In early 1988, Liu completed China’s first rock opera with a libretto based on her novella Blue Sky, Green Sea. Soon after, at the height of her fame and success, she left China because she felt she had much more to learn.

In 1987, a year before arriving in London, Liu Sola was invited by the United States News Agency to visit the US as an international visitor. She was taken on a tour of 7 cities, but it was only when she was taken to meet Junior Wells and his musicians and heard their performance live that blues music really took hold. In 1989, one year after arriving in London, Liu went on a trip to Memphis. She spent 21 intense days in Memphis, working with and learning from local blues musicians,. …she composed and recorded the first ever blues-influenced Mainland Chinese song entitled ‘Reborn’. She wrote about her life-changing Memphis experience a few years later in her award-winning essay ‘Memphis Diary’ (1993).

Liu Sola remained in London until 1993, During that period, she had many opportunities to work with different kinds of artists in London, including British musicians like Justin Adams, John Collins, and Clive Bill, and the theatre duo Martin Coles and Martin Gent with whom she collaborated on the music drama Memories From the Middle Kingdom. This drama premiered at the ICA and toured the UK in 1990. The next year, Peter Gabriel invited her to take part in the Womad Festival, and she collaborated with artists like Pól Brennan And Mari Boine. The song she recorded for the Womad Festival was entitled ‘No Name, No Meaning’.

 Though based in London, Liu never lost touch with art and music in China. In 1991, she went to Hong Kong to collaborate with director Danny Yung, who gave her a free hand to compose music for his avant-garde Zuni Theatre. Another project was the music she wrote for a modern dance drama June Snow created by choreographer Chiang Ching. 

Like her work in music, the novel that Liu wrote in London Chaos and All That both acknowledges cultural diversity and provides a darkly comic critique of it. (The English version by Richard King that appeared in 1991 won the British Comparative Literature Association prize for best translation.) 

In 1992, towards the end of her stay in London, Liu Sola was invited by Iowa University to join their famous Writers’ Program. She gave writing workshops in Iowa, and also lectured at other American Universities like Harvard, Cornell, Berkeley, Portland, and Minneapolis.

In 1993, Liu Sola left London for New York, a move greatly facilitated and enabled by her new manager Verna Gillis who had heard her perform in London, and she immediately arranged a series of important collaborations between Liu and some of New York’s best jazz and blues musicians. The first happy result of these collaborations was Blues in the East (Axiom Records/Polygram, 1995), her New York debut album. Bill Laswell was the producer, and twelve superb jazz and blues musicians including Henry Threadgill, James Blood Ulmer, and Umar Bin Hassan,  as well as Amina Myers and Fernando Saunders, performed on the album. Shortly before the studio recordings, Liu had a work session with Ornette Coleman, and what she learnt about free jazz from the session was as decisive for her music as what she learnt from the blues. 

Her next album China Collage (Avant Records, 1996) quite deliberately distanced itself from blues and free jazz, but only to demonstrate how thoroughly their influences have been absorbed. It is a work written for pipa and voice; but what appears to be a return to traditional Chinese music is in fact an uncompromisingly contemporary composition, as unfamiliar- sounding to Chinese as to Western ears. It is characterized by the singing, to a pipa accompaniment, of almost impossibly high-pitched notes and other strange sounds. In the first place, Liu is not just using her voice as an instrument; by taking singing to extremes, she is pushing the limits of voice as an instrument.

The following album Haunts ( 1998)  would take the next step in this line of  musical thinking, towards what she calls object-music. The scores she produced for tracks in this album like ‘Daddy’s Chair’ and ‘Witch’s Beads’ are visually striking, a radical departure from standard music scores. They can stand as examples of visual art in their own right. These scores take on the shapes of ordinary objects: a chair, a string of beads. However, it is important to understand that the aim here is the exact opposite of trying to bring music closer to representational art or to make it ‘less abstract’. Notating music as ‘object’ rather than on a standard grid formed of lines and chords already defamiliarises the way we can write music or follow a score. In 2017, the Tokyo Gallery (Beijing 798) commissioned as solo exhibition of her music score designs, curated by Yang Yingsheng. 


As for the literature she produced in New York, Liu Sola finished in 2000, the historical/mythological novel Little Stories of the Great Ji Family It was published in Hong Kong by Ming Bao Publishers, and it has been selected for the Twentieth Century Contemporary Chinese Literature Collection. It has been translated into Italian as La Picolla Storia Della Famiglia Ji ( Einaudi), and into French as La Grande Île des Tortues – Cochons ( Seuil).

The direction of Liu Sola’s work now took her back to China, where she wrote the opera Fantasy of the Red Queen(2006). The work was commissioned by Berlin’s House of World Cultures and  the Ensemble Modern, who in collaboration with the Liu Sola and Friends Ensemble gave the premier performance. Besides being the lead singer, Liu was also the dramaturge, the librettist, and the composer.

Her next chamber opera The Afterlife of Li Jiantong (2009), is both a deeply personal work and one where she develops further her understanding of Chinese music. The opera came about because the Barbican Centre in London, the Paul Hillier Theatre of Voice, and the Copenhagen Royal Opera House jointly commissioned a piece from her.

Besides the two operas, the project most important to Liu since her return to China has been the formation of Liu Sola & Friends Ensemble.  (However she has not stopped writing, and her publications during this period include a bestselling collection of essays Lipstick Talk and a sophisticated novel Lost in Fascination set in New York about social/sexual relations; she even acted in and wrote the music for Ning Ying’s film Perpetual Motion). The Ensemble is made up of some of China’s best musicians. Part of her process of thinking has been documented in a ‘photo book’ now in press called The Nomadic Life of Sounds.  The book, which also includes commentary and essays, reflects on her work with Chinese musicians and on how she gradually came up with guidelines for forming the Ensemble.


2017 also marks the first of a series of annual national tour by the Ensemble sponsored by the Poly Group/Poly Theatre. China.

World premiere for orchestra ensemble of LIU Sola’s “Goose and Crane Calling” by the New Juilliard Ensemble on January 19,  2018

National Tour Video Clips

[Drum Movement] - Composed by Liu Sola

[Spinning Image] - Composed by Liu Sola

[A Straight Line] - Composed by Liu Sola, the performing including improvise part by Chen Suchao and Yang Ji'Er

[Tiger Rabbit Swing] - Composed by Liu Sola

[Chicken Dog Dancing] - Composed by Liu Sola

[Bull Fight Tiger] - Traditional Chinese Percussion Piece