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China Now Music Festival Ends With Tribute to Three Generations of Composers Bridging U.S., China

The sixth season of the China Now Music Festival culminated in a grand finale on Sunday in a spellbinding concert at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City, paying homage to three generations of composers bridging the United States and China.

Titled “The Orchestra Now Celebrates the Music of Chen Yi and Zhou Long,” the concert featured major symphonic works by this legendary couple, two of the most influential Chinese-American composers and their renowned teacher at Columbia University, Chou Wen-chung, who passed away at the age of 96 in 2019.

With the addition of two pieces by their young students — Zhou Juan, a student of musical arts from University of Missouri-Kansas City and Li Shaosheng, a composer in residence at the China National Symphony Orchestra and Guangxi Symphony Orchestra, the program linked three generations of composers to highlight the generational musical bridge that Chen and Zhou have built between the United States and China.

Chen Yi and Zhou Long, both born in 1953, embarked on their musical odysseus during the 1980s at Columbia University under the tutelage of composer Chou Wen-chung, whose compositions, characterized by their deep connections to both Eastern and Western traditions, left an indelible mark on Chen and Zhou.

Inspired by their mentor’s fascination with exploring the intersection of diverse musical cultures, Chen and Zhou have, over the decades, seamlessly blended their cultural heritage with contemporary compositional techniques, spawning a unique and captivating musical language that resonates across borders.

The concert was presented by The Orchestra Now, a graduate-level training orchestra based at Bard College, conducted by Jindong Cai, artistic director of the festival, and Chen Bing, a professor in the Conducting Department at the Central Conservatory of Music (CCOM).

Before the performance, Cai, also director of the U.S.-China Music Institute of the Bard College Conservatory of Music, observed: “Music is a reflection of society. We want our own stories and music to be heard. We want our own culture and history to be shared with the rest of the world through music.”

This sentiment eloquently encapsulated the spirit of the event, as the audience thronging the theater embarked on a transcendent musical journey.

The celebration also extended beyond the realm of music, marking a pivotal moment in the history of cultural exchange between the United States and China.

“Today, we also celebrated the 50th anniversary of The Philadelphia Orchestra’s first visit to China in 1973 as the first American orchestra to perform in China under the conduct of Eugene Ormandy,” said Cai.

Since that historic visit, The Philadelphia Orchestra has made 11 visits to China, with its latest in 2019. The orchestra’s unwavering commitment to connecting people through the universal language of music has fostered profound and lasting connections with the Chinese people, transcending concert halls, educational institutions, and municipal settings.

In between the performances, the audience was treated to the announcement by Yu HongMei, CCOM’s professor and director of the Chinese Music Department, of Chen Yi’s prestigious recognition as a Distinguished Alumnus, a testament to her outstanding contributions to the world of music.

The concert concluded on a heartwarming note, as The Orchestra Now band serenaded the audience with a rendition of “Happy Birthday,” celebrating Chen and Zhou’s 70th birthday, a fitting tribute to the artists whose music has struck a chord with people around the world.

The China Now Music Festival is a joint endeavor by Bard College’s U.S.-China Music Institute and the Central Conservatory of Music in China.

Since its inception in 2018, it has been dedicated to building a cultural bridge between the United States and China through music. Each year, it hosts a series of thematic concerts and lectures, presenting exhilarating contemporary Chinese musical works.

Previous editions of the festival have attracted over 10,000 live attendees, with nearly 80,000 participating in online events.