Composers Festival Spotlight: Zhou Long

Zhou Long

It’s an honor to have Zhou Long as one of the two guest composers at this year’s Mizzou International Composers Festival.

Currently the Distinguished Professor of Music at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance, Zhou won the Pulitzer Prize in music in 2011 for his opera “Madame White Snake.” He graciously agreed to serve as one of this year’s guest composers on short notice after Beat Furrer, who originally had been scheduled to appear, was unable to attend for medical reasons.

During the MICF, he will give a public presentation about his music; instruct and interact with the eight resident composers in individual and group sessions; and work with Alarm Will Sound on the performance of his composition “Bell Drum Towers,” which they’ll play as part of their concert on Thursday, July 24 at the Missouri Theatre.

Zhou is recognized internationally for creating a unique body of music that brings together the aesthetic concepts and musical elements of East and West. Drawing deeply on his Chinese heritage, he is a pioneer in combining the idiomatic sounds and techniques of ancient Chinese musical traditions with contemporary Western ensembles and compositional forms.

Born in 1953 in China, he began piano lessons as a young child, but his musical studies were interrupted by the Cultural Revolution, the movement started in 1966 by Mao Zedong that attempted to enforce communism in the country by suppressing capitalist, traditional, cultural and intellectual influences.

Zhou was sent to drive a tractor on a rural state farm, where the bleak landscape, roaring winds and ferocious wild fires made what he describes as “a profound and lasting impression” on him. He was able to resume his musical training in 1973, eventually enrolling in the first composition class at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing when it reopened in 1977. After graduating in 1983, he was appointed composer-in-residence with the National Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra of China.

Zhou first came to the United States in 1985 to study music at Columbia University, where he earned a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in 1993. After more than a decade as music director of Music From China in New York City, he received ASCAP’s Adventurous Programming Award in 1999, and its prestigious Concert Music Award in 2011.

He has taught at UMKC since 2001, and has been the recipient of many honors and awards, including the 2012-2013 Elise Stoeger Prize from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center; the 2003 Academy Award in Music from the American Academy of Arts and Letters; the CalArts/Alpert Award; and first place in the Barlow International Competition, with a performance by the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Zhou has received fellowships from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundations, and numerous others, and has been commissioned to compose new music by major presenting organizations, ensembles and orchestras all around the world.

Recent works include 2012’s “University Festival Overture” and “Beijing Rhyme – A Symphonic Suite,” commissioned by the Beijing Symphony Orchestra and recorded on EMI in 2013; the solo piano work “Pianobells,” premiered at the Musica Nova concert in the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance; and a chamber work, “Cloud Earth,” which was commissioned and premiered by the New York New Music Ensemble.

In 2013, Zhou composed an evening-long symphonic epic “Nine Odes,” based on poems by Qu Yaun (ca. 340 BCE – 278 BCE), for the Beijing Music Festival Arts Foundation. He also recently completed a new work for the Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society, and his piano concerto “Postures,” was premiered on July 4 by the Singapore Symphony and will be performed in September at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

Zhou Long’s music has been recorded on Warner, Naxos, BIS, EMI, CRI, Teldec (1999 Grammy Award), Cala, Delos, Sony, Avant, Telarc and China Record. He is published exclusively by Oxford University Press.
You can hear some samples of his music and see a brief feature about the Pulitzer-winning “Madame White Snake” in the embedded videos below.

“The Rhyme of Taigu” performed by Singapore Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Lan Shui and recorded in October 2010 at the Philharmonie in Berlin.

“Pianogongs,” performed by pianist Chi-Ling Lok

“Five Elements,” recorded by the Thailand Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Jeffery Meyer with Luisa Sello (flute), in July 2012 during the Thailand International Composition Festival at Mahidol University in Bangkok, Thailand.

“Dhyana,” performed by Contemporary Enclave with James Ogburn, conductor, on July 10, 2012 at the Thailand International Composition Festival.

The Birth of “Madame White Snake”

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