Press Release

Common Sense Society Commissions Chinese Freedom Fighter To Compose Work To Be Performed By Palm Beach Symphony

December 20, 2022

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Common Sense Society (CSS), a leading international educational network, announced its first music commission in partnership with the Palm Beach Freedom Institute (PBFI). Together, the organizations engaged Chinese composer and freedom fighter Bright Sheng to produce a symphonic overture on the theme of liberty which will premiere at the Palm Beach Symphony’s fiftieth anniversary season opening concert in November 2023.

Bright Sheng is the Leonard Bernstein Distinguished Professor of Music at the University of Michigan and a celebrated composer of contemporary classical music. His compositions have been performed by almost every major orchestra, and his work has been commissioned by the White House and the Olympic Games, among other prestigious venues and institutions. Alongside his many other honors, Sheng is a two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Music and has been awarded a MacArthur Foundation “genius” fellowship, fellowships from the Rockefeller and Guggenheim Foundations. 

“Bright Sheng is one of our greatest living composers, and our relationship goes back many years,” said Gerard Schwarz, the Symphony’s music director. “He has always stood for the highest level of music making and has a unique and remarkable voice, combining his Chinese and American heritage. All of us at the Palm Beach Symphony are so excited to premiere his new work.”

Born in China, Sheng cultivated his music skills from the age of four and completed his formal studies at Shanghai Conservatory. He suffered relentless persecution during the Cultural Revolution, including the theft of his family’s piano by the Red Guards, restrictions on the music he could study, and years of exile. In 1982, Sheng immigrated to the United States—but here, too, he faced controversy and cancel culture. While teaching a course at the University of Michigan, Sheng screened a 1965 film version of Othello, in which Laurence Olivier played the titular character in blackface. Dozens of students and faculty demanded that Sheng be fired. He was removed from his position and subjected to a disciplinary investigation by the university’s Title IX office for alleged “discriminatory harassment.” Mainstream media outlets raised concerns about academic freedom, but still condemned Sheng for screening the classic film. After a public outcry, the investigation was dropped, and his faculty position was reinstated. 

“It is a mark of shame on our higher education institutions that Bright Sheng left Communist China only to face similar attempts to restrict his freedom of expression at the University of Michigan,” said CSS President and C.E.O. Marion Smith. “Bright has courageously continued to champion artists’ freedom of expression. It is our honor to promote liberty, prosperity, and beauty alongside Sheng and PBFI through the commissioning of the freedom overture.”

“What happened to Bright Sheng at the University of Michigan was an outrageous case of the cancel culture that is poisoning our society, destroying our academic institutions, and threatening all of our freedoms,” PBFI president Paul du Quenoy said. “We are thrilled that we could bring Bright’s case to national attention and force his vile persecutors to back down from the same despicable tactics he experienced in his early life in Communist China.”

Common Sense Society (CSS) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that promotes liberty, prosperity, and beauty through education and public discourse. The fellowships, curriculum resources, publications, cultural programs, and national campaigns of CSS illuminate the enduring ideas that have transformed the course of human history for the better. CSS does not accept funding from governments or political parties.


For more information, contact Emily Soper at

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