He Said, She Said: Zhou Long and Chen Yi
Edited and transcribed by
Frank J. Oteri and Lyn Liston
Video presentation by
It was around Valentine’s Day last year when we first got the idea for NewMusicBox to feature a pair of composers who are married to each other. There seem to be so many prominent composer couples in American music these days—Michael Gordon and Julia Wolfe, Bernard Rands and Augusta Read Thomas, Joan La Barbara and Morton Subotnick, etc. And if you embrace a broader definition of marriage than our current crop of politicians want us to, the list gets significantly longer. But no matter how you define marriage, it’s certainly a sea change from the days when Robert Schumann and Gustav Mahler insisted that Clara and Alma give up composition. Still, having two composers in the same household is tricky business.
How two composers can cohabitate without driving each other crazy was what I initially wanted to explore with Zhou Long and Chen Yi, two composers whom I have admired individually for decades. But, given their insanely busy schedules, getting them together turned into a daunting task. After meeting up with Zhou Long and Chen Yi separately in February and April of this year, I finally captured them together at a restaurant in May. In fact, the ensuing conversation presented here has been consolidated from these three different conversations. What was interesting about talking with them separately and together, however, is how they so often are of the same mind even though they are frequently thousands of miles apart from one another.
The story of how they cope with each other’s schedules and interact with each other as composers as well as spouses is a story in and of itself and people may choose to skip ahead to read only that and walk away with a simulacrum of our original Valentine’s Day idea. Others, however, will probably want to dig deeper and discover how they have come to write such unique cross-cultural music and probe their thoughts on the growing interconnectivity of China and America. The more intrepid analytical-types, and you know who you are, will undoubtedly want to know the technical details of how they put their music together: how they seamlessly blend Chinese and Western classical compositional philosophies and sonorities. Warning, there’s a lot to read here; that’s what happens when you talk with two composers married to each other!
[Ed. Note: This conversation was consolidated from talks at three different times:
1. Zhou Long at home in Brooklyn, NY, on Thursday, February 2, 2006, at 4:00 P.M., in advance of the New York premiere of his orchestral composition The Enlightened at Juilliard's Focus! Festival;
2. Chen Yi at that same Brooklyn apartment on Wednesday, April 19, 2006, also at 4:00 P.M., only days after her status as a 2006 Pulitzer finalist was announced;
3. Zhou Long and Chen Yi at a tiny Cantonese restaurant, Hoy Wong, at 81 Mott St (between Canal and Bayard) in Manhattan's Chinatown, on Sunday, May 7, 2006, over a long dinner that began at around 8:00 P.M.]