Mourning for Chinese-American composer, 96

The composer Chou Wen-chung, who synthesised eastern and western modes in a modernism redolent of his New York teachers Otto Luening and Edgar Varèse, has died at a great age.

Tim Page describes him well.

Chou Wen-chung: Composer of Confluence from Spiralis Music Trust on Vimeo.

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  • RIP to a true gentle-man and composer from an era long gone by. I had the honor of meeting him at his home (actually, Edgar Varèse’s home) in Greenwich Village a few years ago, where he lived with his wife Yi-An, an accomplished pianist. Both were enormously cultured on a myriad of topics. In addition to his many compositions, his diplomatic efforts were seminal in making the visits of Isaac Stern and Pavarotti possible to China.

  • Just as a point of possible interest to this blog: My wife and I live directly across the street from Chou Wen-Chung and had seen him w/ his wife numerous times on the streets in the area, the last time as recently as 4 days ago. We never spoke to him as my wife (from Beijing, whose daughter is a Juilliard and Manhattan School of Music piano graduate) was told he doesn’t like to be approached and won’t engage in idle conversation.

  • He was a frequent visitor in Amsterdam in the 1970’s and 80’s. He asked me to perform his percussion work ‘Echoes from the Gorge’ at a Gaudeamus concert. His approach to percussion instruments was unlike any other I’ve ever encountered. Textures, colours and subtle phrasing nuances replaced the driving rhythmical elements of many percussion works.
    R.I.P

  • A legend, and someone who helped a whole generation of Chinese composers come to the U.S. (even if he had his doubts about how “east and west” were sometimes blended in their music). A wonderful composer and generous mentor.

  • Professor Chou was a brilliant, but also a truly kind man. I’m not sure where the person who posted above got their information that he was unapproachable, in my experience, not true. That said, I was initially introduced to him via a mutual friend. One day about eight years ago Professor Chou invited me to spend the afternoon with he and his wife at their town home on Sullivan Street. The very home that at one time belonged to his mentor Edgar Varese. He delighted in giving me the grand tour, including his studio with all of the exotic instruments he had obtained on his travels. But in particular he proudly showed me Varese’s studio on the top floor, which he had turned into a Varese museum with showcases of various manuscripts, letters and objets; though most of his papers and trappings had long been sent to the Sacher in Switzerland. He told me that his constant source of amusement were the Zappa fans who would stand in front of his home early in the mornings and as he described it “venerate themselves”. (Zappa considered Varese a musical god.) I asked him if that bothered him and he told me he would be more concerned if they stopped coming.

    You see, Professor Chou, thought of Varese as a father figure and that it was part of his life’s work to insure the composer’s work and influence on music was never forgotten. As he guarded the composer’s legacy through a Foundation, where he controlled the intellectual property, my concern is who next will take up the mantel and insure the legacy endures. They will have big shoes to fill.

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