Born in Beijing in 1957, Julian Yu settled in Australia in 1985. He studied composition at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, later joining the teaching staff there, and from 1980 to 1982 studied at the Tokyo College of Music with Joji Yuasa and Schin-ichiro Ikebe. In 1988 Julian Yu was a Composition Fellow at Tanglewood where he studied with Hans Werner Henze and Oliver Knussen.
Julian Yu has won many awards for composition, including the 1988 Koussevitzky Tanglewood Composition Prize; the inaugural and consecutive Paul Lowin Orchestral Prizes of 1991 and 1994; the 1992 Vienna Modern Masters Composition Award; awards in the International New Music Composers' Competitions of 1987, 1988, 1989 and 1990; the 35th Premio Musicale Citta di Trieste, Italy 1988; the 56th Japan Music Concours 1987; the international Irino Prize Competition, Japan 1989; the International 'Piano 2000' Composition Competition, Japan; the Albert H. Maggs Composition Award 1988 and 2015; the Jacobena Angliss Music Award 1989; the Adolf Spivakovsky Composition Prize 1993; the Margaret Lee Crofts Fellowship (USA) 1988; and an Australia Council Composer Fellowship in 1995.
His work has been performed at many international music festivals including four times at ISCM World Music Days (Switzerland in 1991 and 2004, Mexico in 1993 and Luxemburg in 2000), five times in the Asian Composers' League (ACL) festivals, at the Huddersfield Festival, the Shanghai Spring Festival (2004), the Munich Biennale (1988), and the Melbourne International Festival (1996).
Yu's major works include Philopentatonia, commissioned by IRCAM for Ensemble InterContemporain and later performed by Ensemble Modern, the London Sinfonietta, and the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra conducted by Heinz Holliger; Three Symphonic Poems, performed by Sydney Symphony under Gunther Schuller; Great Ornamented Fuga Canonica, performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Oliver Knussen; Wu-Yu, performed by the Tanglewood, BBC, Luxembourg and Hiroshima Orchestras; puppet music theatre The White Snake, commissioned by Hans Werner Henze and performed at the second Munich Biennale International New Music Theatre Festival; Sinfonia Passacaglissima, performed at the Sydney Opera House by the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra under Markus Stenz; Marimba Concerto, performed by Evelyn Glennie; Not a Stream But an Ocean, commissioned for the BBC Proms; The Future of Water, commissioned by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra; and Willow and Wattle, commissioned by Melbourne Symphony and performed to great acclaim during their tour of China. Yu also composed music for the Beijing Olympic Games
Yu believes that quality and beauty in music come from something deeper than the sound produced: that they spring from the pattern of thought, the inner laws or structure of the music, and that it is this inner pattern which gives integrity and individual character to a work.