MSU Professor Nominated for Grammy Award
Zhou Tian, an associate professor of composition at Michigan State University College of Music, has been nominated for a 2018 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition for his “Concerto for Orchestra”.
Zhou, a native of Hangzhou, China, immigrated to the United States in 2001. Zhou first studied in the US at the Curtis Institute of Music, continued his studies at The Juilliard School for his masters, and completed his education with a doctorate from the University of Southern California.
Zhou joined MSU’s College of Music in the Fall of 2016.
“I was completely surprised because there were no notifications beforehand, so I didn’t know,” Zhou said. “I was on my way driving to MSU to teach that day and people started calling because many people learned before me. So that was a really awesome feeling but I was caught completely surprised.”
Zhou’s “Concerto for Orchestra” was originally commissioned to be performed by the Cincinnati Symphony.
“Concerto for Orchestra” is a very new genre. A traditional concerto, like a violin or a piano, only features one soloist with the orchestra accompanying.
“Concerto for Orchestra” essentially makes the entire orchestra be a soloist,” Zhou said. “A composer can make all instruments of the orchestra as a soloist on demand. At any giving moment, I could have a flute concerto, I could have a concerto, concerto, or I could have a trumpet concerto it’s completely up to me.”
Zhou credits more than his classical music education to influencing his work. His father’s work as a commercial composer, creating music for TV and movies, influenced his work heavily. He also credits modern Hip-Hop and R&B as source of inspiration.
“So I grew up, even though training as a classic composer, I always went to the studio and did sessions and numerous recording gigs just improvising on the piano for different shows with my dad,” Zhou said. “I’m also interested in non-classical music, so it’s always awesome to, you know, if possible mingle with Jay-Z and get a selfie with Cardi-B.”
Zhou is among the group of new hires who are pushing the Music College further into the national spotlight.
“Zhou Tian is one of the leading composers of his generation and he brings a fresh voice to orchestral and chamber music,” Dean of the MSU College of Music, James Forger said. Forger has been with MSU since 1979 and plays the saxophone. “The assessment of the quality of his work is validated by the fact that he is one of five nominees’ for Grammy award for best work for orchestra. We couldn’t be more thrilled that he is on our faculty.”
Forger said he is ecstatic about the work currently being produced and performed by the MSU College of Music.
“We had the great pleasure of hiring four new professors, two years ago, and they each bring a distinctive voice. Professor Zhou Tian brings a background in new music, and is grounded in tonality, but has great complexity and marvelous tone color,” Forger said. “In this particular peace, I think he is a masterful orchestrator and it showcases the orchestra and its various capabilities to great success.”
Zhou does plan on attending the Grammy Awards in New York this coming Sunday. Zhou admits he might be a little starstruck from the entire experience.
“I’m excited to be there because it’s such a great honor,” Zhou said. “I have so many events to go to it’s virtually impossible to go to them all. It’s very exciting to meet industry leaders, both in classical music and beyond.”
Forger and his colleagues will be following the Grammys very closely. He is excited for what this recognition could mean for the future of The MSU College of Music.
“I think weather he ends up winning or not, to be in a very small group from an international pool recognizes, to me, that he is a winner in his own right and we look forward to showcasing his works on campus,” Forger said. “With each new hire with someone who is at the top of their profession, all boats rise and the college becomes ever more competitive and becomes a destination for those seeking to study.”
Whether Zhou comes home with or without a Grammy, he will continue to do what he loves, compose and create new music.
“It’s been such a great journey at MSU so far, we have a great composition program for new music, and I’m talking about new music of all kinds,” Zhou said. “We have a vibrant new music community at MSU and I’m so glad that this award will surely raise our profile in the national and international level.”