Chen Yi and Zhou Long

2018 Honorary Members

Dr. Chen Yi (violinist-composer) and Dr. Zhou Long (composer) are Chinese-American musicians and life partners whose compositions have stretched the boundaries of both Chinese and Western musical traditions. They currently serve as professors at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Conservatory of Music and Dance. Their achievements, extraordinary by any measure, only grow in magnitude when one considers the personal struggles and career derailment they both experienced during China’s Cultural Revolution.

Zhou and Chen came to the U.S. in 1985 and 1986, respectively; both studied with Chou Wen-Chung at Columbia University, who endorsed their efforts to integrate Chinese and Western musical elements and instruments. It was a strategy that led to unimagined success for both composers.

As many listeners and most critics have pointed out, Dr. Chen’s compositions are marked by a fusion of traditional Chinese elements, particularly those of Beijing Opera, and European contemporary techniques. In the words of New York Times critic Bernard Holland, she creates a third musical world that looks neither to Europe nor to Asia and yet is a distant mirror for both. She has received the Charles Ives Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters; she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; she has received numerous fellowships, among them from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts; and numerous honors, such as first prize from the Chinese National Composition Contest, the ASCAP Concert Music Award, and the Elise Stoeger Award from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. Her works have been recorded on a variety of labels and published by Theodore Presser.

Zhou Long is likely best known for his Pulitzer Prize–winning opera Madame White Snake, which was premiered by Opera Boston in 2010, with a libretto in English by Cerise Lim Jacobs. The prize officials characterized it as “a deeply expressive opera,” and Zhou himself noted that it was a genuine mixture: “Chinese influences combined with Western operatic writing and orchestration, recitation combined with singing, tonal or atonal, and an international cast of Chinese and American singers.” (https://www.wqxr.org/story/13971-madame-white-snake/)

In fact, all of Zhou’s music is deeply grounded in the entire spectrum of his Chinese heritage, including folk, philosophical, and spiritual ideals. Throughout his career he has explored how to transfer the idiomatic sounds and techniques of ancient Chinese musical traditions to modern Western instruments and ensembles. In so doing, he has created a genuinely new kind of music.

Other of Zhou’s honors include the Academy Award in Music from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, commissions from the Koussevitzky Music Foundation, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundations, among many others.

For their innovations in creating new musical worlds whose colors and rhythms captivate, for their prolific list of works, their adventurous programming, their work as artistic directors, and their roles as cultural ambassadors and educators, the Society for American Music confers upon Chen Yi and Zhou Long our Honorary Membership.