Born in Beijing and formerly a pipa soloist with the Central Orchestra of Chinese Music in China, Cheng Yu is a renowned pipa lute and guqin zither virtuoso, ethnomusicologist and specialist in Chinese music. She studied the pipa from the age of 7 from her father (a Pudong pipa master) and the guqin zither from the age of 14, graduated with distinction from the Xi’an Conservatory of Music and won several top prizes for her pipa performances. Based in London since the 1990s, she gained scholarships for her MMus and PhD degrees in ethnomusicology at SOAS, University of London. She is a co-founder of the UK Chinese Music Ensemble (1998), the London Youlan Qin Society (2003) and the award-winning Silk String Quartet (2007).
Cheng Yu has been actively involved in contemporary and cross-culture/genre music collaborations with musicians such as pianist Lang Lang, Cellist Matthew Barley, Damon Albarn and composers including Tan Dun, Zhou Long, Philip Glass, Peter Wiegold and Gabriel Prokofiev. Her project (2005-7) to recreate the 5-stringed pipa (lost since the 8th century) with new music has won her awards from ACE, AHRC and Women in Music and premiered in London, Beijing, Seoul and Taipei.
She established the UK’s first China-West Mixed orchestra – the Flowing Water Ensemble – with a new work premiered in London’s Hackney Empire Theatre. In summer 2018, she successfully directed the week-long First London International Guqin Festival, which was awarded funding from several organisations, including Arts Council England, and drew musicians and scholars from over a dozen countries. She lives in London and teaches pipa and guqin music at SOAS, University of London.