Chou Wen-Chung Centennial Concert


Joel Sachs, conductor & piano
Renée Jolles, violin
Stephanie Griffin, viola
Kristina Reiko Cooper, cello
Emily Duncan, flute (Continuum debut)
Moran Katz, clarinet

Chou Wen-Chung — In the Mode of Shang (1956, American premiere)
Chou Wen-Chung — The Willows are New (1957)
Chou Wen-Chung — Yü Ko (1965)
Chou Wen-Chung — Twilight Colors (2007)
Chou Wen-Chung — Ode to Eternal Pine (2009)

This centennial event celebrates the life of pioneering composer Chou Wen-chung: the first Chinese-born American composer to achieve international acclaim. His unique style – subtly expressive and yet always of the moment – brought together Chinese traditional music and Western modernism in a reciprocal symbiosis.

Chou taught for decades at Columbia University, heading its composition program. His Center for US-China Arts Exchange brought young Chinese composers to the United States for graduate study in the 1980s, in the febrile times that followed Mao’s death.

A short, informal conversation between Chou’s sons and musical associates will follow the intermission.

Sponsored by Spiralis Music Trust in cooperation with Columbia University Department of Music.


Chinese-born composer Chou Wen-Chung (1923 – 2019) came to the United States in 1946. He studied with Nicholas Slonimsky at the New England Conservatory of Music, and later moved to New York City where Edgard Varèse became his teacher and mentor. In the early 1950s, he did graduate work at Columbia University under Otto Luening, and studied with Bohuslav Martinů and musicologist Paul Henry Lang. This began a long career (1964 – 1991) at Columbia, where he developed an internationally renowned composition program and, for 13 years, was in charge of academic affairs for all the creative arts.

In 1978, Chou founded the Center for United States-China Arts Exchange, which has collaborated with specialists and institutions from East/Southeast Asia on projects such as the Pacific Music Festival in Sapporo, Japan (1990); an arts education program in China spanning 15 years; and an ongoing project, begun in 1990, for cultural conservation and development in Yunnan, one of the most culturally diverse regions in the world.

Chou was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, an honorary member of the International Society for Contemporary Music and Asian Composers League, and recipient of the Officier des Arts et Lettres.


Winner of the Siemens international prize and four ASCAP awards for Adventuresome Programming, New-York-based Continuum has been a major presence in the new music world since it was founded in 1966.

Continuum has performed across the United States, including at the Kennedy Center and the Library of Congress; toured Europe dozens of times, and made numerous trips to Asia and Latin America.

CBS-TV, National Public Radio, the Voice of America, and European networks have broadcast Continuum events. The ensemble has recorded nearly two dozen titles and in 2024 records music by Roberto Sierra and Ursula Mamlok. Its concert programs embrace the entire range of music from 20th-century classics such as Ives, Joplin, and Webern, to today’s composers from all over the world.