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Zhou Long and Others

Courtesy of The Lyric Chamber Music Society of New York, I was able to hear last Wednesday three compositions by the Chinese-American composer Zhou Long (b. 1953). Long’s music had been recommended to me by composer Jeff Nichols, and the Lyric found room for it on an attractive program that opened with Debussy’s Cello Sonata and closed with Mendelssohn’s D minor piano trio. The players were the fearsomely solid Cho-Liang Lin (violin), Hai-Ye Ni (cello), and Helen Huang (piano).Two of Long’s compositions were “early” works from the 1980s: Taiping Drum (for violin and piano) and Wu Kui (for solo piano); the other was a piano trio from 2000 called Spirit of the Chimes. Like most Chinese-American composers, Long is clearly interested in developing a musical language that blends sounds from East and West: Taiping Drum, for instance, appropriates musical material from the “Er Ren Tai” – a song and dance practice from northeast China for two performers. It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, to learn that Long’s music – at least from the evidence of the selections on the Lyric’s concert – is marked by frequent and stark contrasts: the very high rubs shoulder with the very low, the very dissonant with the very consonant, the static with the mercurial.Walking home from the concert, it occurred to me that Chinese-American composers – of whom there’s a bevy right now it seems – haven’t turned up much in discussion on Sequenza21. What do people out there think of Tan Dun, Bright Sheng, Chen Yi (Mrs. Zhou Long, by the way), and Huang Ruo? Any others out there who deserve a higher profile? Naturally they’re composers first and Chinese second, but can their cross-cultural music be said to be initiating a style that can be appropriated by non-Chinese composers?



Comment from David Laganella
Time: February 5, 2007, 10:24 am

Yu-Hui Chang is composing very impressive music. We (Chamber Music Now) commissioned her for the world premier of a new piano work to be performed by Marilyn Nonken this friday (Feb.9) at Settlement Music School in Philadelphia. If your in the neighborhood at interested in attending shoot me an email and I’ll get you discounted tickets.

Comment from Alan Theisen
Time: February 5, 2007, 1:17 pm

Chen Yi recently visited my (current) hometown of Tallahassee, as she was the featured composer at Florida State University’s Festival of New Music.

Her music was well received by the crowds, students, performers, and fellow composers.

(From what I hear, she had some…uh…interesting things to say about Tan Dun.)

Comment from Steve Layton
Time: February 5, 2007, 1:31 pm

Well, not to state the obvious but my “Click Pick” #14 here from two weeks ago, Bun-Ching Lam, was an example.

Also look into Shih-Hui Chen, who’s down at Rice University in Houston. Her new CD is out on Troy/Albany:

And I do remember Samuel Vriezen mentioning two composers he found especially interesting, Qu Xiaosong and Chen Qigang.

Comment from David Rakowski
Time: February 6, 2007, 2:27 pm

It should be mentioned here that Chou Wen-Chung — who was a protegé (and literary executor) of Varèse — was instrumental in bringing a fair number of composers from Mainland China to Columbia University in the 1980s and 1990s — including those listed in the original post. Chou Wen-Chung’s music is definitely worth getting to know. Take out the spaces and hyphen and add “.org” and you’ve got a web page for him.

I second the mentions of Bun-Ching Lam, Yu-Hui Chang, and Shih-Hui Chen. I’ll add another to the list: Jing Jing Luo. There is also a group of second-generation Americans and Canadians of Chinese extraction that are worthwhile, not least among them Melissa Hui.

The question “can their cross-cultural music be said to be initiating a style that can be appropriated by non-Chinese composers?” is a bit broad for a firm answer right now. I’d say not yet. I hope that answer expires one of these days.

Comment from Suzanne Ford
Time: February 8, 2007, 3:04 pm

For a more complete picture of Zhou Long’s musical world, I would suggest listening to his orchestral music as well as his chamber works. Like many of the post-Cultural Revolution Chinese composers, he started writing works for Chinese and western instruments. Now, however, his preference is to write for western instruments. His orchestral works can be found on a BIS CD “Rhymes” performed by the Singapore Symphony under Lan Shui. “Poems from Tang” (commissioned by the Brooklyn Philharmonic and Kronos Quartet) presents the fullest statement of his musical language. Delos has released several recordings of his chamber music, most recently, “Tales from the Cave” performed by Music from China and others. One note about how to refer to him: Chinese names are traditionally: “family (last)” name first and “given (first)” name second. “Zhou” is his family name and “Long” is his given name. So he should be referred to as “Zhou” or “Dr. Zhou” or “Zhou Long” (both together); but not “Long”. This is also true for Chen Yi (“Dr. Chen” or “Chen Yi”). Further complicating things is that some Chinese émigrés have Westernized their names (reversing the order) so they will be referred to correctly. The problem for the rest of us (non-Chinese) is that we don’t always know which is which.