Critically acclaimed for his lush and distinctive musical voice, Grammy-nominated composer Zhou Tian seeks inspiration from different cultures and strives to mix them seamlessly into a musically satisfying combination for performers and audience alike.
Described as “absolutely beautiful” and “utterly satisfying” (Fanfare), and “a prime example of 21st-century global multiculturalism,” his compositions have been performed by major orchestras and performers in the United States and abroad, such as the Pittsburgh Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra, Houston Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony, Hong Kong Philharmonic, Ireland’s RTÉ National Symphony, pianist Yuja Wang, violinists Chloë Hanslip and Caroline Goulding, violist Roberto Díaz, flutists Jeffrey Khaner and Mimi Stillman, guitarist Jason Vieaux, Arditti, Dover, Jasper, and American string quartets, Empire Brass, Eroica Trio, and Tanglewood Festival Chorus.
His recent work, Concerto for Orchestra—commissioned and premiered by the Cincinnati Symphony and Music Director Louis Langrée—was nominated for a 2018 GRAMMY Award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition. Described as “stunning” and “tonal and engaging” (The Cincinnati Enquirer), the work was released in the orchestra’s latest recording Concertos for Orchestra.
Other recent commissions include Trace (“Lush, neo-impressionistic” —The Cincinnati Enquirer) by the Cincinnati Symphony, conducted by Mei-Ann Chen; Violin Concerto (“Magical...this is new music I’d love to hear again and again.” —Palm Beach Arts Paper) by the Atlantic Classical Orchestra, conducted by Stewart Robertson and featuring violinist Caroline Goulding; First Sight by the Minnesota Orchestra, conducted by Sarah Hicks; A Thousand Years of Good Prayers (“Exquisite, thoroughly successful”—The Examiner), by the Green Bay Symphony, conducted by Christoph Campestrini; and Red Trees, Wrinkled Cliffs by the Curtis Institute for its concert tour around the world led by Grammy-winning guitarist Jason Vieaux and president Roberto Díaz.
His The Grand Canal, a kaleidoscopic large-scale work mixing together two traditional Chinese instrumentalists (erhu and ruan), a Chinese opera singer, and a full symphony orchestra with chorus, was performed during a nationally televised celebration of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. It received its US premiere by Princeton (NJ) and Columbus (OH) symphonies under Rossen Milanov, and its European premiere by RTÉ National Symphony under Jiamin Song at the National Concert Hall in Dublin, Ireland.
Zhou's current season features works as diverse as Broken Ink, a 30-minute, multi-movement meditation on Song Dynasty poetry premiered by Princeton Symphony under Rossen Milanov; Petals of Fire, a fierce rhapsody inspired by American artist Cy Twombly’s 1989 painting, premiered by Michigan State University Wind Symphony under Kevin Sedatole at the 2017 CBDNA National Convention; and Viaje (voyage) for flute and strings—featured on American Public Media’s Performance Today®—of which the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote “[it] fused the composer's Chinese American sensibility with the lore of ancient Spain so convincingly that the exotic flute solos for [Mimi] Stillman sounded like the most natural thing in the world.”
Other noted orchestral performances have come from the Pittsburgh Symphony conducted by Daniel Meyer, Minnesota Orchestra and Osmo Vänskä, Houston Symphony and Christoph Köenig, Indianapolis Symphony and Christoph Eberle, Hong Kong Philharmonic and Rossen Milanov, Reno Philharmonic and Laura Jackson, Spokane Symphony and Eckart Preu, Asheville Symphony and Daniel Meyer, Winston-Salem Symphony and Matthew Troy, Hawaii Symphony and Sarah Hicks, Curtis Symphony and Benjamin Shwartz, and American Composers Orchestra conducted by Paul Dunkel.
Zhou’s music has been performed repeatedly at prestigious venues around the world such as Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center in New York, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C., National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing, Seiji Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood Festival, Ecoles d'Art Américaines de Fontainebleau in France, Usedomer Musikfestival in Germany, and Mozarteum Brasileiro in Brazil. He has served as composer-in-residence with the Green Bay Symphony and Chicago's Music In the Loft Concert Series. His works have been broadcast on NPR, PBS, and recorded on Cedille, Innova, and Pacific records.
Among Zhou’s many awards and honors are first prize in the Washington International Competition for Composers, first prize in the ASCAP/Lotte Lehmann Art Song Competition, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra Glick Award, the Minnesota Orchestra Composers Institute, Symphony in C Composers Award, American Composers Orchestra Underwood Readings, Presser Music Award, three ASCAP Morton Gould awards, and an Excellence Award of Large Symphonic Work in the 16th Musical Composition Award given (every five years) by the Ministry of Culture of China. In 2013, the recording of his String Quartet No. 2 “The Great Wall” was nominated for Best Classical Album at the prestigious Golden Melody Awards in Taiwan. His recording of “The Grand Canal” was included in the 100 Important Audio and Video Publications of 2009 by General Administration of Press and Publication of China, and exhibited at MIDEM, the world’s leading international event for the music industry in Cannes, France. Many of his commissions were supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Outside of the Classical arena, Zhou has composed music for film, dance, and crossover. Although trained as a Classical pianist, he started playing in numerous recording sessions and arranging all kinds of music when he was 12, often working with his father who was a busy commercial composer in China. When he was 17, his interest in Jazz led to the creation of Duet for flute and piano, which earned him an Honorable Mention at 1999 Julius Hemphill International Jazz Composition Awards. His score for Eternal Beloved, a major Chinese feature film about love and afterlife—described as "a pristine look and delicate tone…that’s beautifully matched by Zhou Tian's warm, restrained score” (Variety)—has received critical acclaim since the premiere at 2009 Shanghai International Film Festival. His award-winning crossover albums put Chinese folk music on a spin by mixing performance and technology.
Born in 1981 into a musical family in Hangzhou, China, Zhou attended Shanghai Conservatory before immigrating to the United States. He holds music degrees from the Curtis Institute of Music (B.M.), the Juilliard School (M.M.) and USC Thornton School of Music (D.M.A.). He studied composition with Jennifer Higdon, Christopher Rouse, Stephen Hartke, Richard Danielpour, and Donald Crockett, and held Composition Fellowships from Tanglewood Music Center, Aspen Music Festival, Henri Mancini Institute, and American Conservatory at Fontainebleau. He taught at Colgate University since 2011, and joined Michigan State University College of Music as associate professor of composition in 2016.