Chou Wen-chung

Biography of Chou Wen-chung


As the first Fritz Reiner Professor of Musical Composition, Chou established the Fritz Reiner Center for Contemporary Music at Columbia in 1984 to foster new music and encourage young composers. He revitalized Columbia’s Electronic Music Center by converting it to the present Computer Music Center. He has worked continuously on behalf of many cultural institutions, most notably as President of Composers Recordings, Inc. from 1970 to 1975.

To undertake crucially needed cultural projects throughout East and Southeast Asia, where he has been visiting since 1966, Chou established the Center for United States-China Arts Exchange in 1978 at Columbia University, which has since conducted many sustained projects in diverse cultural fields, involving thousands of professionals at a time. Some examples of the Center’s projects are the Pacific Music Festival and the Pacific Composers Conference in Sapporo, Japan, in collaboration with Leonard Bernstein and the London Symphony Orchestra, 1990; the decade-long arts education program in China, begun in 1980, funded by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund; and the ongoing comprehensive program on conservation and development of indigenous cultures of Yunnan, China, begun in 1990, funded by the Ford Foundation. Chou and the Center also collaborated with Isaac Stern on his first visit to China and the filming of From Mao to Mozart in 1979; and with Arthur Miller on the historic Asian premiere of Death of a Salesman, in Beijing, 1983. [sic] In 1994, at the invitation of the Nationalities Institute of Yunnan, he designed the fundamental concept for a four-track (indigenous minority, majority Chinese, pan-Asian, and modern Western) curriculum for a new arts department (music, dance and visual arts) in consultation with José Maceda.

Chou Wen-chung was born in Yantai, China in 1923 to a family steeped in the wenren tradition. He came to the United States in 1946. Chou is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and honorary member of the International Society for Contemporary Music and of the Asian Composers League. He was honored in 2001 by the French government with the order of Chevalier des Arts et Lettres. In 2005, he received the Robert Stevenson Prize for research on the relationship between ethnomusicology and composition.

Chou lives in New York City with his wife Yi-an. He has two grown sons, Luyen and Sumin, and two grandchildren.

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