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A Grand Performance in Beijing

A Grand Performance in Beijing
A performance of USC Thornton student Zhou Tian�s piece The Grand Canal Symphonic Suite was nationally televised in China.

While memories of the Beijing Olympics linger, there are tangible reminders in China’s capital of the historic games.

New buildings are spread across the city. The titanium and glass National Centre for the Performing Arts, informally known as “The Egg,” hosted its first concert in December 2007 as a warm-up to the summer games. Designed as the new face of performing arts in China, the building’s neighbors include the Great Hall of the People and the ancient Forbidden City.

On April 8, the Hangzhou Philharmonic Orchestra performed USC Thornton School of Music student Zhou Tian’s piece The Grand Canal Symphonic Suite at the National Centre for the Performing Arts. The concert was another highlight for Tian’s composition. In 2009, the work was performed during a nationally televised celebration in China of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

The Grand Canal Symphonic Suite is a seven-movement, 45-minute work for Chinese instruments, opera singer, mixed chorus and full orchestra. It was commissioned by the Chinese government to celebrate the Grand Canal in China, the longest and oldest canal in the world.

“The piece is a musical journey representing different views from different angles on the canal,” Tian said. “The second movement, ‘The Beginning of a Dream,’ for example, tells a musical story of how the canal got started. It has a Chinese opera singer narrating texts by Jiyi Gong and the Chinese traditional instrument erhu, all accompanied by a full-sized Western symphony orchestra and chorus.”

“It’s a huge project,” said Donald Crockett, chair of the composition department at USC Thornton. “We’re always happy to see our students interact with the world. Zhou is in his third year at Thornton, and he’s one of our outstanding graduate teaching assistants. He was very active in teleconferencing, sending files back and forth, and traveling to China to work on the piece.”

Born in 1981 in Hangzhou, China, Tian earned degrees from the Curtis Institute of Music and the Juilliard School before enrolling at USC Thornton. A recipient of numerous awards, his compositions have been performed in venues such as Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center in New York and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Currently composer-in-residence for the Green Bay Symphony, he is a doctoral candidate in composition at USC Thornton.

“The composition faculty at USC is one of the best in the world,” Tian said. “After getting my degrees from Curtis Institute and the Juilliard School, I really felt that USC was the next step in my musical journey. Working with professors such as Stephen Hartke and Donald Crockett has truly been inspiring. As a composer, I’m very happy about this decision, and I’m grateful for what Thornton has given me.”

A CD recording of The Grand Canal Symphonic Suite released in June received major recognition in China, including its selection as theme music at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo and a nomination for China’s Golden Recording Award.

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