Kheng Sonam Dorji

Mr. Dorji’s new work will be premiered in the spring of 2020. It is connected to Beethoven’s Sonata no. 9 in E Major, Op. 14 No. 1.


Sonam Dorji, Executive Director of the Music of Bhutan Research Centre, is a master musician, vocalist, and composer who plays several instruments native to Bhutan and India. Originally from the village of Kaktong, Zhemgang district, Mr. Dorji moved to Thimphu as a child and studied Drangyen under the primary elders of Bhutanese folk tradition, including Dasho Aku Tongmi and Ap Dawpey. At 15 he began composing his own songs and he soon gained fame on national radio. After high school he spent ten years in India studying Indian music and graduated first in his class in the master’s degree music program at Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda. He also released a string of well-received lu-saar albums and composed the first-ever nationally broadcast song in Khengpa, his native language, which earned him the name “Kheng” Sonam Dorji.

International audiences know Sonam Dorji through his soundtrack contributions to the acclaimed Bhutanese film, Travellers and Magicians (2004), his 2014 CD release, [Music from the Mountains of Bhutan] on Smithsonian Folkways, and his appearances at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C. (2008) and in the pan-Asian ensemble led by Arun Ghosh at the London BT River of Music Festival for the Summer Olympic Games (2012).

As Director of MBRC Mr. Dorji identifies research topics, plans and oversees all projects, and manages field crews and archives staff. He brings to bear not only his deep musical knowledge and skill, but also his firsthand experience of Bhutanese ethnic and regional diversity, his facility in nine languages of the region, his background as intercultural interpreter, and his longstanding relationships with key tradition bearers. He has led documenting expeditions to Paro, Thimphu, Dagana, Punakha, Trongsa, Bumthang, Kheng Zhemgang, Mongar, Tashigang and Lhuntse.

Mr. Dorji’s connection with Beethoven began with a visit to the Beethoven - Haus in Bonn, Germany in 2012. He met pianist Yael Weiss during her visit to Bhutan in 2017, and it was on that occasion that their collaboration for the “32 Bright Clouds” project was born.