Chou Wen-chung


Chou Wen-chung


Chou Wen-chung was born in Yantai, China, in 1923, and moved to the United States in 1946. His earliest work, Landscapes, written in 1949, is often cited as the first composition in music history that is independent of either Western or Eastern musical grammar. The piece premiered in 1953 with the San Francisco Symphony, conducted by Leopold Stokowski, and launched the young composer onto a career which steadily gained in momentum over the next two decades.

His unique canon of work, a contemporary expression of the principles of traditional Chinese aesthetics, has had a momentous impact on the development of modern music in Asia and in post-colonial cultures. He exhorts young composers to study their own cultural heritage and warns: “If you don’t know where you came from, how do you know where you are going?” His students represent an international mix of accomplished composers, including the acclaimed Tan Dun, Zhou Long, Chen Yi and Bright Sheng. His vision for the music of the future, however, extends far beyond the preservation of any particular heritage. He foresees a flourishing of creative output, benefitting from a “confluence” of many cultures, but grounded in an understanding of the history and traditions of each.

Chou’s orchestral compositions such as And the Fallen Petals, All in the Spring Wind and Landscapes have been performed by the Chicago Symphony, Philadelphia Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic, Orchestra National (Paris), Japan Philharmonic Symphony (Tokyo) and the Central Philharmonic in Beijing. Chamber works including Echoes from the Gorge, Windswept Peaks, Pien, Yü Ko, Yün, Cursive and Beijing in the Mist have been performed in festivals in Tanglewood, Darmstadt, Venice, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Sapporo. Two retrospective concerts of Chou’s music were held in New York in 1989 and 1993, featuring three prominent East Coast ensembles: Boston Musica Viva, New Music Consort and Speculum Musicae. In 1992, Concerto for Violoncello and Orchestra premiered at Carnegie Hall with cellist Janos Starker and in 1996, his String Quartet No. 1 “Clouds” was premiered at Lincoln Center by the Brentano String Quartet. His Eternal Pine series was written between 2008 and 2013.

Chou’s accomplishments have been recognized with countless awards in the fields of music, education and international cultural exchange. He is a life member of the Academy of Arts and Letters and in 2001 was named Officer of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Order of Arts and Letters) from the Ministry of Culture in France.

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