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Interview: Composer Zhou Tian on His Grammy Nomination for “Concerto for Orchestra”, Growing Up in China, and His 3 Biggest Influences

Our next featured guest is a musical genius. He’s an Associate Professor of Composition at Michigan State University and a highly sought after composer renowned for making beautiful orchestral art. He wrote the masterful “Concerto for Orchestra” for Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra which is nominated for a 2018 Grammy Award in the category of Best Contemporary Classic Composition. Please welcome to…Zhou Tian! First, Professor Zhou, our entire team here at LiquidAE congratulates you on your Grammy nomination!


Zhou Tian: Thank you very much! Once you finished composing “Concerto for Orchestra” did you foresee this type of accolade for the work?


Zhou Tian: No, not at all! This Grammy nomination came as a complete surprise. To be honest I didn’t know I was even in the running. I didn’t even know I was part of it until the morning of the announcement. And there was no notification beforehand. All my colleagues and students found out before me. It was a good start to the day, I guess. I was driving to school and people started calling.


08 ZhouTian (Mingzhao Zhou) To have a piece of your work garner this type of notoriety without you knowing, how does the awareness now affect your approach to your next project?


Zhou Tian: Well, it’s an incredibly encouraging thing. As a composer we spend a lot of time alone trying to write one piece of music. It often takes 5 to 6 months. During that time, especially if we’re writing for symphonic orchestra, we imagine the whole orchestra in our head. We don’t get to try out our ideas with a real orchestra. The entire process is quite monastic and lonely. This type of recognition really helps to be more confident, to trust our hearts, and to be more daring. Is it more important to have people purchase your music or attend your classes?


Zhou Tian: I think it doesn’t conflict with one another. People who take my classes will hopefully be interested in hearing my music. And maybe hearing my music will be the opportunity for people to seek to attend MSU. I hope people do both! You mentioned your students knew about the Grammy nomination before you did. Do you think it will change how they perceive you?


Zhou Tian: I hope they still see me as their professor, which is what I’ve been for the last 6 years. From a recruiting point, this is a great thing. If students are thinking about joining MSU as a composer and they’re looking to study with me, this is definitely helpful. My current students are very nice about it. They’re more…eager to discuss music with me! But I still teach the same way with the same quality of teaching. How do you make classical music attractive to someone who may not have given it a chance?


Zhou Tian: I do 2 things. One, be completely open minded. I truly believe we’re living in a world where the line between all genres has blurred. So what is classical music? That’s no longer easy to answer. The next generation composers will use more genre-bending rules like borrowing from jazz. I have students who really love making beats. They translate that into classical music. All kinds of influences will happen and I think they should happen. Number 2 is embrace the technology. Twenty years ago no one wrote on a computer. We all sort of wrote on the piano with a pen and piece of paper and our singing voices. Nowadays we not only use the classic notation software, but digital audio workstations like Pro Tools and Logic. Whatever works to create better music? Do that. Professor Zhou, for new music artists on the rise and those who may be considering a run in music, explain for them the difference between a producer and a composer.


Zhou Tian: A producer is more responsible for getting people together to put a creative team together. An actual composer, he or she writes the music. A producer, for example, could get a composer, performer and recording engineer together to do an album, but a composer’s job is purely creative unless it’s a composer/producer. A lot of those are happening. What aspect of your career that got you to where you are today deserves the most gratitude?


Zhou Tian: That’s a great question. I have my 3 biggest influences. They roughly coincide with 3 periods of my life. The first was when I was growing up as a kid in China, the Chinese tradition of music and art really inspires me to this day. They’re very important to me. The second is my own dad. He’s a composer/songwriter who encouraged me to play and appreciate all kinds of music, including jazz and Pop, while I was studying classical music. As I get older I look back to the period where he exposed R&B, jazz, and this great music to me when I was young. I really appreciate that! I put all those influences in my music now. The third influence that I really appreciate is the American symphonists, from Barber to Ives, to my many mentors such as Jennifer Higdon and Christopher Rouse. |


CREDITS Written by Jiddoe S’Phatt | Photos – Search Engine Exploration | Zhou Tian – as Himself | Producer – Liquid Arts & Entertainment | Creative Director – The Liquidation Committee | Editor – Mr. Joe Walker | Copy Editor – Mr. Joe Walker | Site Editor – Doug Sims | Webmaster – Doug Sims | Twitter – @LiquidAEMag | Instagram – @liquidmagazine

Liquid Arts & Entertainment is committed to presenting engaging conversations with top artists. We hope you enjoyed this interview with Zhou Tian.

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