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Chou Wen-chung

Chou did his graduate work at Columbia University under Otto Luening, 1952-1954, and served as his assistant and Vladimir Ussachevsky’s at the predecessor of the historic Electronic Music Center. Among Chou’s other teachers were Nicholas Slonimsky, Bohuslav Martinu, and the musicologist Paul Henry Lang at Columbia.

Chou taught composition to an increasingly international student body at Columbia University from 1964 to 1991. He succeeded Luening in 1969 and developed the composition program into an internationally renowned institution. He was responsible for the design and coordination of the curriculum for doctoral candidates in music composition. He designed the one-year course “Twentieth-century Styles and Techniques” as a basic required course for doctoral and master candidates in musical composition (1965) and the graduate course “Chinese Music” (1969); and designed the course content on East and Southeast Asian music for the course “Asian Humanities in Music” as well as coordinating the overall design of the course, including the music of South and West Asia (1982). Concurrently, he was also in charge of academic affairs at Columbia’s School of the Arts. He supervised curricular planning and the revision for the Master of Fine Arts programs in film, theater, visual arts and writing (1975 to 1987). In the 1980s, he discovered many young Chinese talents and brought them to the United States to study at Columbia.

As the first Fritz Reiner Professor of Musical Composition, Chou established the Fritz Reiner Center for Contemporary Music at Columbia in 1984 to foster new music and encourage young composers. He revitalized Columbia’s Electronic Music Center by converting it to the present Computer Music Center. He has worked continuously on behalf of many cultural institutions, most notably as President of Composers Recordings, Inc. from 1970 to 1975.

To undertake crucially needed cultural projects throughout East and Southeast Asia, where he has been visiting since 1966, Chou established the Center for United States-China Arts Exchange in 1978 at Columbia University, which has since conducted many sustained projects in diverse cultural fields, involving thousands of professionals at a time. Some examples of the Center’s projects are the Pacific Music Festival and the Pacific Composers Conference in Sapporo, Japan, in collaboration with Leonard Bernstein and the London Symphony Orchestra, 1990; the decade-long arts education program in China, begun in 1980, funded by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund; and the ongoing comprehensive program on conservation and development of indigenous cultures of Yunnan, China, begun in 1990, funded by the Ford Foundation. Chou and the Center also collaborated with Isaac Stern on his first visit to China and the filming of From Mao to Mozart in 1979; and with Arthur Miller on the historic Asian premiere of Death of a Salesman, in Beijing, 1983. [sic] In 1994, at the invitation of the Nationalities Institute of Yunnan, he designed the fundamental concept for a four-track (indigenous minority, majority Chinese, pan-Asian, and modern Western) curriculum for a new arts department (music, dance and visual arts) in consultation with José Maceda.