Lei Liang

Photo by Alex Matthews

What projects are you working on now? My current projects include a large-scale orchestral work commissioned by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, and a chamber opera "Inheritance" that takes on the issue of guns and violence in American culture. The chamber opera is supported by Creative Capital and National Endowment for the Arts and will be premiered in 2018.

Tell us about your most influential teachers and mentors and how they influenced the composer you are today. My most important teacher at the New England Conservatory was Robert Cogan. I studied with him for about six years. I still regard him as an important mentor. He told me when I first started taking lessons from him, “a composer should grow like a tree.” I was very moved by this image. It made me realize that there is no shortcut to becoming a composer. In fact, one should avoid shortcuts in order to have deep roots and develop one’s music in a substantial and resourceful way. I also took lessons from John Heiss and Lee Hyla, they were both wonderful teachers. 

What is your greatest passion outside of music? I feel passionate about supporting immigrants. While a student at NEC, I was a waiter in a Chinese restaurant where I worked closely with undocumented Chinese immigrants. Their stories and experiences inspired me. I continue to work with organizations and foundations to protect immigrants and advocate for their cause, and I mentor young artists who are immigrants like myself.

What words of advice would you give current NEC student composers? NEC is such a special place where young composers can interact with so many amazing and passionate musicians. These interactions may be the start of life-long collaborations. For any young composer, there is no better gift than a community that inspires one's musical imagination, and nourishes one's artistic development.

About Lei Liang ’96, ’98 M.M.

Heralded as "one of the most exciting voices in New Music" by The Wire magazine, Lei Liang is a Chinese-born American composer whose works have been described as "hauntingly beautiful and sonically colorful" by the New York Times, and as "far, far out of the ordinary, brilliantly original and inarguably gorgeous" by the Washington Post. 
Lei Liang is the winner of the Rome Prize, the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Aaron Copland Award, a Koussevitzky Foundation Commission and a Creative Capital Award. His concerto for saxophone and orchestra “Xiaoxiang” was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Music in 2015.
Lei Liang was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic and Alan Gilbert for the inaugural concert of the CONTACT! new music series. Other commissions and performances come from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Fromm Music Foundation, Meet the Composer, Chamber Music America, MAP Fund, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, the Taipei Chinese Orchestra, the Scharoun Ensemble of the Berlin Philharmonic, the Arditti Quartet, the Shanghai Quartet, the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, the New York New Music Ensemble, and pipa virtuoso Wu Man. Lei Liang’s six portrait discs are released on Naxos, New World, Mode, Encounter and Bridge Records. As a scholar and conservationist of cultural traditions, he edited and co-edited four books and editions, and published more than twenty articles.
Lei Liang studied composition with Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Robert Cogan, Chaya Czernowin and Mario Davidovsky, and received degrees from the New England Conservatory of Music (B.M. and M.M.) and Harvard University (Ph.D.). A Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum, he held fellowships from the Harvard Society of Fellows and the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships. Lei Liang serves as professor of music and chair of the composition area at the University of California, San Diego where he also served as Acting Chair from 2015 to 2016. His catalogue of more than seventy compositions is published exclusively by Schott Music Corporation (New York).

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Lei Liang: Ascension (2008) for brass quintet and percussion