professor Zhou Tian

Music professor and composer Zhou Tian and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra on March 22, 2013.

While smog in China continues to make news, one of that nation’s newest composers is providing American audiences with a breath of fresh air.

Colgate Music Professor Zhou Tian premiered his newest work, “Poem from a Vanished Time,” with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO) on Friday, March 22. The performance was repeated on Saturday and Sunday. The CSO commissioned the piece, which harkens back to China’s pre-industrial heritage as a country full of magic and beauty.

The Cincinnati Enquirer called the performance, “one of the most creative — and most enjoyable — concerts heard at Music Hall this season.”

Zhou was born in Hangzhou, China, where rapid industrialization and modernization have taken a toll on art, architecture, and culture. “The price of such growth in such a short period of time is exceedingly high,” Zhou said. “Many small, ancient cities and landmarks have been destroyed, the environment severely damaged, and many traditional cultural values lost.”

Through new works like “Poem,” as well as previous works like “A Thousand Years of Good Prayers” and “The Grand Canal Symphonic Suite,” Zhou has attempted to reclaim his cultural inheritance and remind his audiences of China’s rich, complex past.

“The cumulative effect,” said the Enquirer, “was one of joy, never sorrow…Zhou, 30, was present to receive the crowd’s warm applause.”

Mei-Ann Chen conducted the piece, and concertmaster Timothy Lees provided the violin solo for the CSO — the latest in a long list of ensembles to perform Zhou’s compositions. The Pittsburgh Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra, Houston Symphony, Hong Kong Philharmonic, and others have also played his scores. Last October, “Grand Canal” received its U.S. debut with the Princeton Symphony Orchestra, and the Dover String Quartet played a pair of pieces while in residence at Colgate on February 10.

Zhou’s music can be heard next during the Society of New Music’s Vision of Sound concert series at Civic Center, Syracuse (Mar 30), Hochstein Hall, Rochester (Apr 6), Hamilton College (Apr 7), and Jan Hus Presbyterian Church, New York City (Apr 13).