Faculty Spotlight Colgate Welcomes Composer Zhou Tian

Among the chords of piano playing and voices of faculty and students alike, a new source of musical creation can be heard in the Dana Arts Center here at Colgate Uni­versity. This fall, the music department wel­comed a new professor, Zhou Tian. Many on campus are unaware of Zhou’s status as an international celebrity. Professor Zhou was born in China in 1981 and studied mu­sic at the Julliard School and the University of Southern California.

“I started piano when I was 8, a rather late start by professional standard … After the pre­miere of my first string quartet, I knew I wanted to be a composer. I was 17,” Zhou said.

Professor Zhou first studied at The Curtis Institute.

“Curtis was fantastically small and filled with talents,” he said.

Recalling the schools he himself attended, Zhou was drawn to Colgate’s excellent music department, supportive academic environment and, in his words, “engaging students,” after teaching a demo class here last year. At the begin­ning of this fall semester, Zhou began teaching as an assistant professor in the music department.

“It reminds me a little of the schools I’ve been to. It feels right,” he said.

Colgate certainly gains enormously from Zhou Tian’s presence. In fact, the University Orchestra is performing one of his pieces en­titled “The Palace of Nine Perfections.” It was inspired by 12 painted scrolls by a Qing Dynas­ty Chinese painter, Yuan Jing, that depicted the emperor’s palace and the enchanted landscape. The upcoming performance in the chapel fol­lows quite an impressive list of orchestras who have performed Professor Zhou’s compositions. Many major orchestras have performed his works, including Minnesota Orchestra, Hous­ton Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony, Hong Kong Philharmonic, American Composers Orchestra and the Hangzhou Phiharmonic, to name a few. Professor Zhou recalls the standing ovation at the end of one of his work’s perfor­mance with the Indianapolis Symphony as his proudest moment as an artist.

In addition, his symphonic suite was per­formed during the televised celebration of the sixtieth anniversary of the People’s Republic of China. This same suite was chosen as the theme music for the 2010 Shanghai World Expo’s Zhe­jiang Pavilion. He also composed the score for a Chinese film, Eternal Beloved. Professor Zhou has explored many facets of composition. Where does he get such inspiration for these pieces?

“Mostly from vari­ous forms of art, lit­erature and personal experiences. I also get inspired by just sounds, like a person’s voice, sound of wind, ocean or sounds from a big old factory. Composers are constantly inspired by other pieces of music as well. I’m no exception,” Zhou says.

Zhou’s list of awards and accomplishments is cer­tainly impressive. But like anyone so accomplished, certain teachers over the years have inspired him.

“I was fortunate enough to have two Pu­litzer-winning and four Grammy-winning composers as my private teachers. My ex­perience with them laid the groundwork of how my music sounds today as a composer. They also influenced me on non-composi­tional things, like being a communicator and a lifetime learner,” Zhou said.

Luckily, Colgate students can now work with Professor Zhou.

“I hope the students get inspired by my classes and stay curious and appreciative of good music throughout their lives,” he said. To be sure, this is only the beginning of Zhou Tian’s influence here at Colgate.

Contact Margaretta Burdick at [email protected].