From Storytelling to Ideas of Sound and Vision: Lei Liang’s Composer Portrait at Miller Theatre


Ahead of a November 17 concert celebrating the works of Lei Liang (梁雷) that is part of Columbia University’s Miller Theatre’s Composer Portraits series, The New York Times profiles the Tianjin-born composer.

The profile traces the evolution of his music from his earlier works, among which is Pulitzer Prize finalist saxophone concerto Xiaoxiang, that were grounded in storytelling to his more recent forays into exploring soundscapes and using technology, as in Hearing Landscapes, to “transform [a] visual experience into an aural one” — the closest most of will get to experiencing synesthesia.

Joining Liang on stage at the performance at Miller Theatre are contrabassist Mark Dresser, mixed wind and brass ensemble loadbang, string ensemble JACK quartet, and conductor Steven Schick.  The program includes:

Lakescape V (2016) world premiere, Miller Theatre co-commission
Luminous (2014) New York premiere
Ascension (2008)
Serashi Fragments (2005)

The program notes introduces him with a description of his ability to cross cultures, stating “he is thoroughly at home in western culture, but he has at the same time engaged in research into Chinese and Mongolian musical traditions. The creative result is often music that does not sound specifically Chinese – or specifically western – at all, but sensitively combines ways of thinking that come from one sphere or the other. He breathes, so to say, from both his lungs.”  The notes then delve into how his practice developed by sharing highlight key experiences in his life that have shaped him and and his music.

Born in 1972, Liang won numerous awards as a child for his talent as a pianist and was named in 1989 by Beijing Youth Daily (北京青年报) as one of its ten “Persons of the Year”.  He continued studying piano after immigrating to the United States in 1990 but eventually shifted his focus to composition and studied with many renowned instructors.  This recipient of numerous prestigious international awards currently is an Associate Professor of Music at the University of California, San Diego.

Photo: U-T San Diego/Howard Lipin, from the composer’s website