The Pacific Composers Conference

“We are not students here,” expressed Chou Wen-chung as he welcomed composers ranging in age from 23 to 74 and representing locations throughout the Pacific region from Australia to Korea and the Philippines to Peru. The occasion was the opening session of the first comprehensive conference for composers of Pacific heritage to be held in Asia. Chou continues, “we are all artists and we’re here to exchange viewpoints.” The tone was established for what was about to become a ten-day sharing of artistic concerns, ideas, and experiences for forty-six composers. 

During the course of a busy conference schedule, composers He Xuntian, Qu Xiao-song, Chou Wen-chung, and Franki Raden (left to right) find time for informal discussion
During the course of a busy conference schedule, composers He Xuntian, Qu Xiao-song, Chou Wen-chung, and Franki Raden (left to right) find time for informal discussion

After a year of planning, the Center for U.S.-China Arts Exchange held the Pacific Composers Conference (PCC) from June 30 to July 10, 1990, in coordination with the Pacific Music Festival (PMF) in Sapporo, Japan. When Chou Wen-chung began to evaluate which composers would be most appropriate for performance at a Pacific festival, a unique set of criteria evolved and the idea to create a conference exclusively for composers began to materialize. The PCC became an event that would be open to both seasoned and amateur composers committed to writing works that reflect the musical influences of their native heritage. Qualified participants would include those who had lived, taught, or become established in the West as well as those who had never, in their musical career, lived outside of their native country.

In the process of examining over two hundred applicants from more than twenty-five countries, musical competence did not take exclusive precedence. With the generous assistance of a final selection panel consisting of composers George Crumb, Mario Davidovsky, and Chinary Ung, applicants and those who were recommended by guest and senior composers were judged according to their ability to contribute in Sapporo to what would become a rich, multi-faceted representation of composers. Professor Chou Wen-chung, serving as artistic director, designed the conference to provide an opportunity for composers of Pacific heritage and varying musical styles, philosophies, and careers to interact, explore, and compare views in an atmosphere that would reflect their own cultural background.

Several artistic questions were raised during individual composer presentations and discussion sessions led by Guest Composers and Composers-in-Residence. Preselected topics included musicology and research, music theory, imagery, and the definition of a Pacific composer. One-on-one dialogues between senior and fellow composers were also a popular part of the conference curriculum, as well as music listening sessions, contemporary music concerts, a special session on the future of Chinese music, and two panel discussions—one an historical overview of regional developments in music, and the other a summation of the PCC itself. 

One composer participant, Francisco Feliciano of the Philippines, articulates the Center’s subtle but significant goals in the planning of an exclusively “Pacific” conference: ” I look at the conference as a stage in the development of music composition in the region…a liberating process.”

The PCC’s Artistic Director Chou Wen-chung and the Center for U.S. China Arts Exchange extend sincere appreciation to composers George Crumb, Mario Davidovsky, and Chinary Ung for their time and dedication to selecting PCC participants; Composers-in- Residence, Jose Maceda and Isang Yun, who offered countless suggestions and recommendations; Toru Takemitsu, who offered thoughtful and valuable advice (although because of prior commitments, was unable to attend); Guest Composers Eugene Lee, Peter Sculthorpe, Chinary Ung, and Joji Yuasa, whose recommendations and research made it possible for a number of talented Fellow Composers from a wide range of countries to participate; Guest Composers Francisco Feliciano, Toshio Hosokawa, and Qu Xiaosong for their generous contribution of knowledge and experience; Senior Fellows Tetsuo Amemiya, Chen Yi, Shyh-Ji Chew, Alexina Louie, Frankie Raden, and David Tsang, whose assistance in Sapporo made each event possible; Betsy Glans, who coordinated activities for the PCC; and finally, all the participating composers themselves, for volunteering their valuable insight and energy during our short time together.

Participating Composers


  • Chou Wen-chung, China/USA
  • Jose Maceda, The Philippines
  • Isang Yun, Korea/Germany

Senior Guest Composers

  • Eugene Lee, Korea/USA
  • Peter Sculthorpe, Australia
  • Chinary Ung, Cambodia/USA
  • Joji Yuasa, Japan/USA

Guest Composers

  • Francisco Feliciano, The Philippines
  • Toshio Hosokawa, Japan
  • Qu Xiaosong, China


Tetsuo Amemiya, Brenton Broadstock, Victor Chan, Chen Xiaoyong, Chen Yi, Chen Yuanlin, Shyh-ji Chew, Bruce Crossman, Brent Davids, Conrado Del Rosario, Suguru Goto, James Harley, He Xuntian, Melissa Hui, Hung Yu-Chien, Hiroyuki Itoh, Gee-Bum Kim, Sung- Ki Kim, Kui-Im Lee, Alexina Louie, Lu Pei,* Satoshi Minami, Catherine Nez, Kilsung Oak, Robert Priest, Franki Raden, Valerie Ross, Ian Shanahan, Bright Sheng,* Jose Sosaya, Minako Tokuyama, Josefino Toledo, David Tsang, Tzeng Shing- Kwei, Sinta Wullur, Ye Xiaogang, Zhou Long, Zhu Shirui.

*Unable to attend

The Pacific Music Festival

The first annual Pacific Music Festival (PMF) took place in the summer of 1990 in Art Park, in Sapporo, Japan, under the direction of Leonard Bernstein, Michael Tilson Thomas, and the London Symphony Orchestra. The PMF was made possible through the efforts of Harry J. Kraut, Executive Director of Video Music Productions; Japan’s New Art Service Agency (NASA); and the Center for U.S.-China Arts Exchange. The Festival brought together young instrumentalists and composers, ages 18-29, from regions bordering the Pacific Ocean including Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, and the West coast of the United States. Festival activities included a rigorous schedule of classes, rehearsals, instrumental demonstrations, and music performances.

Over the period of three weeks from June 26-July 13, through the charismatic leadership and extraordinary energy of Maestro Leonard Bernstein and the London Symphony Orchestra’s principal conductor, Michael Tilson Thomas, the young international representatives came together to form the Pacific Music Festival Orchestra (PMFO). The Center played a significant role not only in the design and organization of the PMF 1990, but also in the recruitment and selection of the 123-member youth orchestra from 500 applicants. Needless to say, a multitude of languages could be heard at each activity and rehearsal, but conductors and participants relied mostly upon English…and the language of music.

The PMFO prepared to perform three concerts for local audiences in Sapporo, and two additional concerts—one in Tokyo and one in Yokohama. Three young conductors assisted in the efforts of Bernstein and Tilson Thomas to train and shape the orchestra—Leif Bjaland, Resident Conductor of the New World Symphony in Miami; Yutaka Sado, a Japanese conductor who in June of 1990 was residing as a freelance conductor in Vienna; and Marin Alsop, then the Music Director of the Eugene Symphony and the Long Island Philharmonic. The generous assistance of conductor Eiji Oue, who in 1990 was the Associate Conductor of the Buffalo Philharmonic and the selected Resident Conductor of the PMFO, was also vital to the success of the festival. 

Enhancing the experience for young orchestra members as well as local audiences, several groups from the Pacific region were invited to offer traditional music performances at the festival. Korean drummers, Japanese Gagaku court musicians, Maori dancers, and an Indonesian Gamelan orchestra articulated the festival’s international flavor.

All expenses, including room and board, tuition, and international airfare for the PMFO musicians were covered by the chief sponsors, Nomura Securities, as well as the co-sponsors— Sony, Toyota, Japan Air Lines, and many individual donors.

Setting the Stage for the PMF

The plans for the Festival had their antecedents in an invitation issued during the winter of 1978 by Chou Wen-chung to Maestro Leonard Bernstein, one of the Center’s original Advisory Council members, to join the first Center delegation to China. Although the Maestro was unable to schedule a trip then, Bernstein’s concert tour of Japan, planned for the summer of 1990 with the LSO, offered the perfect opportunity to take advantage of China’s open invitation and the Center’s extensive network there. In 1987 the Center began planning for Bernstein’s 1990 visit and for the organization of an all-China youth orchestra.

The Center prepared by traveling to China to meet with representatives from Beijing’s Central Philharmonic, the Shanghai Conservatory, and other key individuals, and conducting extensive correspondence with organizers there. Yet despite the time and effort invested by both the Americans and Chinese involved, the political events in China in June of 1989 necessitated a change of project plans. Through a joint decision among Maestro Bernstein, Bernstein’s management, the London Symphony Orchestra, funders of the project, the Center, and other principal parties, this musical event was moved to Sapporo, Japan.

After the change in location, the event was named the Pacific Music Festival and the project’s entire scope was broadened. The original plan to organize and arrange for an all-China youth orchestra that would have a three-day residency in Beijing evolved into the creation of a Pacific youth orchestra, which would incorporate young musicians from all countries in the Pacific region. As the sole recruiter for the Pacific youth orchestra, the Center used its twelve years of experience and Chou Wen-chung’s personal contacts to identify and consult with an extensive network of conservatories, youth orchestras, individuals, and other musical organizations in the Pacific region. As a result, the Pacific Music Festival Orchestra would include the most highly qualified young musicians whose roots, work, study, or homes were located in Pacific areas, including Pacific Asia, the South Pacific, Australia and New Zealand, the Pacific border countries of Latin America, the West coast of the United States, and even the East coast of the Soviet Union. Despite the change in location and political conditions, through the Center’s efforts, three young musicians from the Xi’an Conservatory in China, Xie Min, Guo Hongdou, and Meng Xiaoxi, were also able to participate.

As a result of the changes of PMF’s size and character, other aspects of the festival evolved as well. With the Center’s encouragement, during the restructuring process a conference strictly for composers—the Pacific Composers Conference (PCC)—was incorporated into the festival agenda. The PCC added a component of philosophical development and artistic creativity to the Pacific Music Festival. Aside from the PCC, with the Center’s assistance other educational activities, modeled loosely after activities of the Tanglewood Music Festival in Massachusetts, were also designed and incorporated into the festival schedule.

Leonard Bernstein

From 1981 on, three years after the Center’s inception, we were honored by Leonard Bernstein’s dedicated service as a member of our Advisory Council.

Leonard Bernstein, PMF.

We are grateful to have had the opportunity to work with Maestro Bernstein toward the realization of his goal, the Pacific Music Festival in Sapporo, Japan, his last major musical project. It was an invaluable experience to witness the effect of his energy, compassion, and love for music on young international orchestra members as well as on guest conductors and others who assisted in festival activities.

Because of our own long-term relationship with Maestro Bernstein, and our recent collaboration on the festival, we wish to express, as have countless others since his death in October of 1991, our deep respect for this friend, inspiration, and musical leader.

Working With Tradition

While looking over the score of a young composer from Peru, Jose Maceda, Filipino composer and ethnomusicologist, exclaims; “I’m amazed at what’s going on in South America, particularly because this music represents what we’re doing here [in Asia]! There’s a certain universality…a unidirection in musical composition and I don’t know whether it’s a good idea or not.” In his thought-provoking discussion entitled “Musicology, Research, and Real Tradition,” Maceda encouraged composers to look at music from different angles— at fundamentals specific to one’s native region—so that composers are not led into unilinear thinking, as they were by Beethoven, or are today by electronics.

Sharing the opportunity to address composers' questions in depth, Chinary Ung, lsang Yun, Chou Wen-chung, Joji Yuasa, and Peter Sculthorpe (left to right) lead the opening session of the PCC
Sharing the opportunity to address composers' questions in depth, Chinary Ung, lsang Yun, Chou Wen-chung, Joji Yuasa, and Peter Sculthorpe (left to right) lead the opening session of the PCC

Maceda articulated the importance of being aware of tradition and presented detailed comparisons of musical roots and influences throughout Asia—all evidence of his own extensive musical research. ” I don’t know that we are conscious of how much of our traditions are part of ourselves or how much tradition we use while composing,” he suggests. Maceda simultaneously emphasized the importance of musical information worldwide. For a large number of young, up-and-coming composers at the conference, such discussion proved challenging.

Composers exchanged conflicting opinions as they evaluated what kind of emphasis should be placed on tradition. At the start of the conference, Hiroyuki Itoh, a young composer from Japan, questioned the usefulness of evaluating one’s musical traditions so extensively. Yet at the conference, upon comparing his music to new music of the Western United States, Itoh discovered consistent parallels and similarities, and quickly saw the necessity for such in-depth analysis. Australian composer, Ian Shanahan, observes of Asian composers, “…this tradition, these thousands of years that you have in your past…make you feel as though you have to refer to that somehow in order to express yourself as a composer. But…it’s the past and you are now in the 20th century, and you are flooded with every kind of influence. Has this created some sort of identity crisis”

For many young Asian/Pacific composers, this is a dilemma. During the PCC, the composers’ limited understanding of local musical tradition was a crucial point of concern mentioned throughout the discussion sessions. A few senior composers even described this realization as “shocking.”

Musical instruments and the question of how they should be properly recognized and incorporated was also considered. Can a composer experiment with new approaches to the use of traditional instruments or should older instruments be respected “traditionally” by acknowledging only their historical or “built-in” characteristics? Composers understood that this question could not be approached in an overly simplistic manner, as it involves much more complex ideological questions that remain yet unanswered for many.

Young composers Gee·Bum Kim, Franki Raden, and Ye Xiaogang (right to left), eager to learn and attentive to the experiences of Composer-in-Residence Chou Wen-chung (for left).
Young composers Gee·Bum Kim, Franki Raden, and Ye Xiaogang (right to left), eager to learn and attentive to the experiences of Composer-in-Residence Chou Wen-chung (for left).

Guest Composer, Francisco Feliciano of the Philippines, pointed out the benefits of identifying one’s tradition simply for one’s own personal growth: “The Asian composer has an advantage because we can look into the old tradition in trying to search for what we really are and how we connect to our country….” Composer-in-residence Chou Wen-chung describes his support for Feliciano’s point: because traditional Chinese music is historically related to other areas of the arts and philosophy, Chou draws on the rich resources of fields other than music while composing. Chinese calligraphy and the pronunciation of Chinese words, for example, are vital in his musical composition and have been a source of inspiration for Chou Wen-chung. Chou offered insight to those less convinced of a composer’s responsibility to tradition:

“We are a living tradition, a part of tradition, but this is not enough. The artist has to be conscious of how tradition can further grow through his or her own efforts. Tradition has meaning only because of the contribution of individual artists! That is why this conference is significant for the tradition of Asian/Pacific music. I trust that our living composers will contribute to the future of music.”

During the conference, the complexity of diverse traditions—Chinese, Chinese-American, Korean, Japanese, Australian, Southeast Asian, and North and South American — became a catalyst for much intellectual reflection. The outcome of such reflection, however, evident in two of the many letters written to the Center following the conference, was positive: Melissa Hui, a Hong Kong born Canadian, describes composing after the conference: “Although I had obviously pondered the Asian heritage questions before, I think the exposure to more ‘Asian thinking’ and Japanese music/culture had an effect on me while I was composing my new work.”

American composer Catherine Nez writes, “…indeed the resources of the various old and treasured traditions remain yet to be realized more consciously.”

Canadian composer James Harley describes his discoveries: “The conference has helped me both to see the connections that exist between my identity and the identities of the other composers from around the Pacific, as well as to be more aware of my own distinctiveness.” …How can one pick up and work with tradition?

This question was debated and explored during the PCC, yet as compositions by Pacific composers gain more exposure in Europe and the United States, and artists become more in touch with the effects of cultural influence. Pacific composers will undoubtedly begin to discover their own solutions.

Musical Dichotomy

“Artistic liberation”—escaping the dominant influence of Western music and naturally incorporating one’s own Pacific roots while composing—was discussed in great detail by both experienced and novice composers who participated in the PCC. Knowledge of Western music was a bond among the composers, since, aside from sharing a Pacific heritage, a great number of PCC participants have another experience in common: a Western education.

Composer Qu Xiaosong (second from left) and conductor Yutaka Sado (far left) work together with a small ensemble to prepare Qu Xiaosong's "Mong Dong" for performance at one of the three PCC concerts
Composer Qu Xiaosong (second from left) and conductor Yutaka Sado (far left) work together with a small ensemble to prepare Qu Xiaosong's "Mong Dong" for performance at one of the three PCC concerts

The conference’ s intellectual and artistic climate was enhanced by the diverse backgrounds of participating composers. Of the forty-six composers involved in the PCC, thirty-one, in pursuit of an education or an alternative environment, had spent a significant period in the West. Furthermore, a large number of these composers remained in the West, therefore about fifty percent of the PCC participants were artists living within a culture much different from their own culture of origin. With this in mind, it is not surprising that the works of many composers reflect the influence of their Western teachers and the countries where they were educated. In contrast, however, there are a few composers who, despite a decision to remain in their native countries, create music atypical of their region: an advisor to the conference, Toru Takemitsu, for example, received his entire education in his home country of Japan, yet is widely recognized in the West as well as in Asia, and represents a style compared to that of great composers of France.

Japanese composer, Minako Tokuyama, pointed out one of the consequences of dual influences: “We as Asian composers know less about each other’s countries, traditions, situations than we know about Europe. That is shocking for me; we must know each other more.” Composer Franki Raden of Indonesia reiterates this point: “…the young generations in Asia need to hear what [we] have said during our conference, so they can save their precious time for something more valuable than working under the ‘voice’ of Western masters ….” 

According to Guest Composer Joji Yuasa, it would be the “biggest happiness” for the experienced composers and educators if young composers would develop their individuality and compose works unlike anything typically Western or commercially ‘Asian’.”

How to develop this unique form, however, was a question worth deliberating, particularly for the composers with more experience in balancing two contrasting musical traditions. Guest Composer Chinary Ung stressed the importance of cultivating one’s potential: “I realize and understand more and more the term ‘education’…and not necessarily that of a classroom setting. I believe more and more that education is the only medium that can induce the realization of our music making. Composing is not really the question of intelligence and talent—everyone here has both—I think it has to go beyond that….”

Composer-in-residence Jose Maceda of the Philippines—known both for his knowledge of traditional Asian music, incorporating indigenous, non-Western instruments and for the tremendous influence he has had upon his students—also supports the idea of education as well as an awareness of movements in the West: “Whether we’d like to depart [from Western music] or continue with it, either way we still have to know it.”

“My view is that if you have an Asian background and want to be a composer, you have no choice; you have to be at least bi-lingual—not just technically, but culturally,” adds Chou Wen-chung. “My prediction is that within a decade or two, Western composers will also have no choice but to be ‘bilingual.'”

Participants examined some of the technical differences between Western and Eastern music: the different approach to the incorporation of the pentatonic scale; the unique aspects of original Asian court music; the contrasts in color, unity, and harmony; and fundamental elements of music, such as pitch and pitch order. Large and small group discussions explored philosophical diversities as well, including examples of Chinese thought and how music can be expressed through Taoist concepts; “There is music you can listen to with your ears, but there is music you can listen to with your mind or your heart. That’s what ‘Tao’ is, the kind of internalization that is needed,” explains Chou Wen-chung.

Senior Guest Composer Joji Yuasa, professor of composition at UCLA (far left), shares his insight with composers Satoshi Minami, Hiroyuki Itoh, Suguru Goto and Brenton Broadstock (left to right)
Senior Guest Composer Joji Yuasa, professor of composition at UCLA (far left), shares his insight with composers Satoshi Minami, Hiroyuki Itoh, Suguru Goto and Brenton Broadstock (left to right)

Composers from all locations identified specific musical and cultural influences in their own region. Composer Tzeng Shing-Kwei from Taiwan referred to Taiwan’s political and economic history and how the arts in Taiwan have been shaped by historical evolution. In the Philippines, explained Jose Maceda, ninety percent of the people have led lifestyles similar to the Spanish or South Americans. Their culture is influenced by Christianity, and the products of these influences on present-day Philippines is considered a “dilemma” for Filipino composers.

Other Filipinos felt less burdened by the effects of outside influences on their own composing. In a country continually absorbing American, Chinese, Southeast Asian, as well as Christian influences, the following viewpoint may become commonplace: “…what excites me at the moment is that everything that is happening (in music)—this globalism—is what’s happening in the Philippines; there are so many different influences at the same time, and I use all of it now and will do so in the future.”

Composers together defined the strength and presence of the Western voice, and were active in deliberating its impact on their music. Although some composers in the Pacific have made impressive progress in relating their own musical traditions to those of modern Western culture, many have the tendency to compose music that reflects a mere collage of Western and Eastern sound, and a few composers still struggle with the dominance of Western styles.

The dichotomy of Western and Eastern music remained a significant and most thought-provoking theme throughout much of the discussions during the PCC.

The Role of the Pacific Composer

A provocative area was investigated in the course of debating the effects of Western influence on “the voice” of a Pacific composer: what role does the Pacific composer play in modern society? What are his or her responsibilities? Responses contrasted greatly, a testimony to the diverse history of each Pacific region and the varying experiences of each Pacific composer. Composer-in-Residence Isang Yun, native of Korea now residing in Germany, explains:

“…now all of us, in Europe and Asia, have much experience behind us. I don’t think that in the future very significant techniques will be discovered. Tonality, atonality, sound, composition, minimal music—we have all that we need to compose. But I think many of you here don’t know what you can find, and this is your task: you must sincerely find your own styles, using old techniques, but not by imitating. The twenty-first century will then be absolutely different from the twentieth. What kind of music does mankind need from us? More than Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms….”

But how can a composer find his own style, choose his own unique voice when he doesn’t even have his own musical language or culture? There is no absolute answer to this question, asserts Chou Wen-chung, but experienced composers, nevertheless, have made their own personal resolutions:

“Now it is time for us to find our own way—be the new Boulez, Stockhausen, the new Nono from Asia….” —Isang Yun, Composer-in-Residence

“It’s a subjective choice,” observes Japanese-born, University of California music professor, Joji Yuasa, as he touches on the assortment of influences on his own musical background, “we should choose whatever aspect we like and intend to develop….”

Composer-in-Residence Isang Yun continues: “Originally I would have said I compose for myself. Now it’s changed. Now I write for myself and for the world—for people— because the world has changed. We have many social, political, and ecological problems, so we composers cannot write only for our own aesthetics….”

One of the discussion sessions, led by Guest Composer Peter Sculthorpe, was devoted specifically to defining a “Pacific composer.” Sculthorpe’s own position on writing works that reflect the artistic experience of an Australian, illustrates the Australian composer’s search for a music with its own local identity: “I choose to write music for me…music that belongs here. I’m happy when people enjoy my music, therefore there are no compromises,” he asserts.

Because of the numerous and complex musical influences in Asia, the question was raised as to whether a Pacific composer should be expected to understand the theories behind the traditional music of Pacific countries. In his discussion of music theory, Eugene Lee from Korea asks, “To what extent should a composer be involved in musical research of non-Western music and ethnomusicology?” Composer Jose Maceda believes a Pacific composer should be fully involved. “Fieldwork and ethnomusicology uncover musical concepts…so far removed from modern technology that they become fresh attributes,” he asserts. Yet some composers, although they support this view, don’t feel their own responsibilities include extensive research. Francisco Feliciano of the Philippines, for example, admits “I’ve been influenced by Maceda’s being an ethnomusicologist;…but for me I love to compose more than do research!” 

What is the degree of obligation to know and understand local culture? Upon discovering what young participants didn’t know about local music, senior composers unanimously stressed the importance of doing more listening—identifying one’s roots—in order for one’s music to become universal or ascend beyond a simple ‘local’ identity.

In order to find one’s individual voice and simultaneously fulfill a cultural responsibility, each composer was encouraged to contemplate his or her own situation. Taiwanese composer Shyh-ji Chew, a graduate of Columbia University’s musical composition program, explains why: “Asian composers don’t really get into how music evolved, and that is the danger;…under the shadow of capitalism, if you don’t want to pick up the most advanced technology or techniques, you feel behind…a lot of the music I’ve heard is a reflection of that mentality. We don’t really question the individual, originality, what we want to be, why we pick up this style, technique, whatever. We live in the present tense.”

Although composers each evaluated their own responsibilities differently, most agreed they felt some sense of obligation. A mutual perception of the Pacific composer’s role in the future is expressed clearly by Isang Yun: “The twenty-first century will be the age of the Asian composer. This is our obligation, to provide leadership, especially in the arts.”

Pacific Composers Conference Agenda

Participating composers were sent a list of questions to explore prior to their arrival in Sapporo. The questions were designed to enhance the PCC symposiums by stimulating the composers’ thoughts in advance, and preparing composers for more provocative questions and a lively exchange of ideas at the conference.

Below are a few of the prepared questions.

  • What direction do you feel contemporary music in the Pacific region will take as we move into a new century?
  • Do you feel the development of Western music has been influenced by non-Western ideas?
  • How do you consider your musical language: is it Western or an admixture of influences from different cultures?
  • Is the reflection of cultural values a concern in your music? If not, what is important in your music?
PCC Discussion Sessions
  • Chou Wen-chung, Introduction
  • Eugene Lee, “What does music theory mean to the composer?”
  • Jose Maceda, “Research and Rural Tradition”
  • Peter Sculthorpe, “The Pacific Composer or should there be a Pacific Composer?”
  • Michael Tilson Thomas, “Personal Notes on Conducting, Composing, and the Future of Contemporary Music”
PCC Composer Talks
  • Chou Wen-chung, “Aesthetics and Musical Composition”
  • Toshio Hosokawa, “Composing for Traditional Instruments—Possibilities and Dangers”
  • Jose Maceda, “Ambiguity and Precision in Eastern and Western Music”
  • Peter Sculthorpe, “The Australian Character and Landscape as a Source for Musical Composition”
  • Chinary Ung, “Imagery in Composition”
  • Joji Yuasa, “Traditional Thoughts on Advanced Technology: Computer Music”

In Retrospect…

The positive responses we have received at the Center from PCC participants have been a source of encouragement and inspiration for us. Here, in their own words, are some of the participants’ reactions.

“One could have thought at first that a PCC would limit one’s thinking into a narrow, regional way. But the PCC has opened our minds to new and limitless possibilities that will now enhance our creative thinking.” — Conrado del Rosario (Philippines/West Germany)

“Too few conferences and festivals are held in the Pacific area and we need them, without having to travel to places where minds and ideas have been closed for decades….Such a conference as the PCC can create new ideas, new challenges and possibilities—a new environment free from the ideological fetters of Europe and parts of the USA.” — Brenton Broadstock (Australia)

“The PCC was unlike any other music festival or conference in that it was tailored to the needs and aspirations of the region, and specifically for the young composer. It was a conference that looked to the future, and there was a sense that there is a new beginning….” — David Tsang (Hong Kong/United States)

“How talented the young composers are!…How different the Pacific composer is from the European composer!…How powerful the Chinese composers are!…How interesting for me, a woman in the Pacific, to compose!…I met many people I didn’t know, but at the same time, I met MYSELF too.” — Minako Tokuyama (Japan)

” …The results and effects of such an undertaking simply cannot be quantified except to say that this will have tremendous impact in the years to come.” — Francisco Feliciano (The Philippines)

” [The PCC] was indeed a very important experience for all of us, especially as Asian composers. Hopefully we all can learn and develop some important ideas in the future from what we shared and discussed during the conference.”  — Franki Raden (Indonesia)

“For me, the PCC served as an eye opener to all the beautiful musical traditions that surround me, my culture, my heritage. I am in every sense a Western educated musician having studied in Britain, and always felt I had no roots in my homeland. Perhaps it’s too early to say, but I have found some answers to my musical search.” — Valerie Seo Bing Ross (Malaysia)

“This conference reaffirms the necessity of a profound investigation of the diverse types of music in my country …an investigation that lamentably, until now, has been incipient.” — Jose Sosaya (Peru)

“Thank you very much, and CONGRATULATIONS!” — Tetsuo Amemiya (Japan/United States)

“I am firmly convinced that PCC has brought a fecund result to all the participants not only to hopeful young composers but also to senior composers like us.” — Joji Yuasa (Japan/United States)

“…I started writing a new work for orchestra right after the conference, when all the things we discussed and the music that we listened to were still very fresh in my mind. The work was finished last October and premiered by the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra last November.” — Josefino Toledo (The Philippines)

“The composers at the PCC were very refreshing—thank you for inviting me! It was, for me, very important as now I feel the need to move into a new dimension with my music….” — Toshio Hosokawa (Japan)

“[The PCC’s] effects on me are still being felt. In thinking about composition I have pondered and meditated on some of the many issues so heatedly debated. I feel very fortunate to have been part of it….” — Ketty Nez (United States)

“I was grateful to be a part of the PCC because Peru doesn’t offer possibilities for composers to improve their music. What a beautiful experience it was in Sapporo-I will never forget it.” — José Sosaya (Peru)

“I can honestly say that my time in Sapporo was one of the most stimulating and gratifying experiences in my life!” — Robert Priest (United States)

“I can’t help feeling the sense of historical significance and the dimension of the importance of this conference….” — Kilsung Oak (Korea /United States)

“After reviewing the concepts discussed at the PCC, I recognized that it is very important for me to make a composition of my own, standing on the ground of the present-day, 1990, in Hokkaido where I am now.” — Satoshi Minami (Japan) 

“Without thinking deeply while composing, the composer will often imitate others blindly. The most important thing, to me, is to learn the essentials in music of various cultures and then use the most natural language possible to express my own musical imagination.” — Chen Yi (China)

“The informal sharing of composers as individuals and human beings was a mutual encouragement to all. That is, knowing that I am not alone in the artistic struggle for expressions means that I feel other people are persisting, thus, so can I.” — Wallace Bruce Crossman (New Zealand)

“How do you look for your own musical language? Searching for novelty or seeking out a shortcut is not the answer. The only way to establish yourself is by using a combination of your own cultural traditions and the best of outside cultures.” — Zhou Long (China)

Advisory Council Changes

The Center officially welcomes three new Advisory Council Members: Michael Morris, President, Asia/Pacific, Burson-Marsteller, comes to the Center after three years in Hong Kong and extensive travel and work experience in the Asia/Pacific region. His experience and advice will be invaluable to the Center in this period of sensitive relations between the United States and China. Dr. Douglas P. Murray, President of the Lingnan Foundation, and Dr. David Michael Lampton, President of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations have also agreed to serve on the Center’s Advisory Committee. We are grateful for this opportunity to be represented and supported by such esteemed members of the China field.

The Center would like to express our best wishes and sincere appreciation to Richard Holbrooke, Robert M. Hormats, I. M. Pei, Cynthia Polsky, and Larry Snoddon for their generous contributions and dedicated service during their terms on the Advisory Council.

Staff Changes

The Center welcomes two new fulltime members of the staff. Molly Kinney joined us as the Program Assistant in November 1990, after spending two years in Tainan, Taiwan, where she studied Chinese at Cheng Kung University, volunteered at the YMCA as an English teacher, and later served as the YMCA’s English department coordinator. Molly received her B.A. in English from Santa Clara University in California.

In September of 1991, William Cossolias was hired for the Center’s new position of Office Assistant. A native of San Diego, William received his B.A. in Religion from New York University.

Since the summer of 1989, student interns and part-time assistants have included Yu Jian, Sharon Huang, David Tsang, Deborah Isser, and Erhyu Yuan. Cathy Hong, a junior at Columbia College, is the Center’s most current student intern. Mitchell Mensch is the Center’s financial consultant. □

In Short

Pacific Music Festival/Pacific Composers Conference

The Center for U.S.-China Arts Exchange devoted much of its energy from June 1989 through June 1990 preparing for the Pacific Music Festival and Pacific Composers Conference 1990, after postponing all China exchanges following the tragic events of Tiananmen in June of 1989. Our efforts involved recruiting applicants for a youth orchestra and a composers conference, processing applications, traveling back and forth to Japan, and providing coordination and administration for both the Pacific Music Festival Orchestra and the Pacific Composers Conference.

Policy Update

In December of 1990, Chou Wen-chung took his first post-Tiananmen visit to China. The trip was made to evaluate a potential project to preserve and reinvigorate minority arts and living traditions in Yunnan Province (a preliminary study funded by The Ford Foundation) and also to touch base with friends and contacts in Beijing, Chengdu, Shanghai, and Xi’an. Chou Wen-chung reports that while culture is in suspension and today’s artistic and intellectual climate in China is far from the openness of 1987-1989, cultural exchange must continue between the United States and China. Therefore the Center’s current policy is to reinstate select past programs and institute certain new ones.

Nationality Arts in Yunnan Province

The Center’s future plans include designing and coordinating a multiyear, multi-faceted project in China’s Yunnan Province for the continuation and development of the arts of minority nationalities. With funding from The Ford Foundation’s Beijing Office, the Center’s director traveled to Kunming and Luxi County in December 1990 and June 1991 to determine the feasibility of this project. With the enthusiastic cooperation of the cultural leadership in Yunnan, the project has been scheduled to begin in January 1992.

The Center will work with the major arts and nationality institutes in Kunming, various rural districts, and the local cultural and educational bureaus and departments on projects that will promote cultural research, preservation, curriculum development, teacher education, and community outreach.

The Center will provide professional, experienced consultation by sending a series of American and Asian specialists to Yunnan as advisors. Select Chinese specialists will also study and explore, on a short-term basis, relevant projects in the United States and in those Asian communities that provide useful examples for the Chinese setting. The ultimate goal will be to assist local Chinese organizations foster an understanding of and appreciation for regional arts among both minority and Han populations, to develop ways to prevent the erosion of regional artistic traditions, and to creatively meet the challenge posed by a great increase of tourism to the area. We anticipate that this project will be broad enough and accessible enough to serve as a model for other Chinese provinces.

Pacific Composers Project

Because of our positive experience with many friends and contacts at the PCC, and the significance of the musical goals articulated there, the Center has decided to undertake a program for the active promotion of young Pacific composers. The selected composers, including those who have been exposed to Western education and Western cultural influences, are dedicated to identifying and preserving the musical influences of their own native countries.

“We are not students here… we are all artists and we’re here to exchange viewpoints.” — Chou Wen-chung, Artistic Director, Pacific Composers Conference

The Pacific Composers Conference allowed composers the chance to learn much about each other's music, style, and personality. Sharing a laugh, Ye Xiaogang and Chou Wen-chung (left to right) show how dinner breaks became a valuable time for composers to relax together
The Pacific Composers Conference allowed composers the chance to learn much about each other's music, style, and personality. Sharing a laugh, Ye Xiaogang and Chou Wen-chung (left to right) show how dinner breaks became a valuable time for composers to relax together

The Project tasks include gathering complete resources (scores, biographies, program notes) of Pacific composers whose exposure in the West has been somewhat limited, and making scores, recordings, and information available to Western performance groups. In the future, we hope to create a more complete reference Center for modern Pacific music by including information on established Pacific composers as well. Ultimately, through recordings, concerts, and other events, this project will help make Pacific music known to Western audiences as well as performers.


The Center would like to correct a mistaken photo caption on the back cover of our last newsletter. The caption, describing a conference held in August 1988 on “Tradition and the Future of Chinese Music,” should read “ten composers from the Mainland and ten composers from Taiwan meet with Mayor Edward I. Koch at City Hall.”


The Center is grateful to the following organizations and individuals for general support, program grants, and contributions received from summer 1989 through April 1991:

Support Grants and Contributions
  • J. Aron Charitable Foundation, Inc.
  • Asian Cultural Council
  • Linda and Edwin Faber
  • The Ford Foundation
  • The Harris Foundation
  • Walter and Esther Hewlett
  • The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
  • Hewlett-Packard Company
  • Barbara Stewart Johnson
  • The Albert Kunstadter Family Foundation
  • The Henry Luce Foundation
  • Mr. and Mrs. George D. O’Neill
  • Philip Morris International, Inc.
  • Rockefeller Brothers Fund
  • Norman A. Ross
  • The Starr Foundation
  • The United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia
  • Video Music Productions, Inc.

The Center thanks the following organizations and individuals for contributions of materials, services, and hospitality that enriched its 1989-1991 programs:

  • Tetsuo Amemiya
  • Apple Computer International, Ltd.
  • The Asia Society
  • Australian Music Center
  • Jack Body
  • Boosey & Hawkes, Inc.
  • Bernadette Butler
  • CBS Records, Inc.
  • Kuan Chang
  • Yi-an Chou
  • Composers Recordings Incorporated
  • Crystal Records
  • The Cultural Center of the Philippines
  • Gannett Foundation Fellowship Program
  • Beate Gordon
  • Dan Gustin
  • The Harris Foundation
  • The Hopewell Foundation
  • The Donald Keene Center for Japanese Culture
  • Earl Kim
  • Harry J. Kraut
  • Paula Lawrence
  • Eugene Lee
  • Mario Lim
  • Alexina Louie
  • Ma Shui-Long
  • Mitchell Mensch
  • New World Records
  • Richard Ortner
  • Francine A. Ovios
  • C. F. Peters Corporation
  • Theodore Pressor Company
  • Franki Raden
  • Mike Ross
  • Norman A. Ross
  • Ralph Samuelson
  • Nancy Shin
  • Richard Tsang
  • Chinary Ung
  • U.S. Office of Policy Developments & Research International
  • Michelle Vosper
  • Waiteata Press Music
  • Kuei Pin Yeo
  • Joji Yuasa

A special thank-you to the following individuals for their time and assistance in the Pacific Composers Conference:

  • Chen Yi
  • Chew Seok-Kwee
  • Chew Shyh-Ji
  • George Crumb
  • Mario Davidovsky
  • Jean Long
  • Melanie Thompson
  • David Tsang
  • Zhou Long 

Purpose and Organization

The Center for United States-China Arts Exchange is a not-for-profit national organization affiliated with the School of the Arts at Columbia University. The Center was founded to promote mutual interest and understanding in the arts of the United States and China and to promote creativity in both countries. The Center’s geographic reach has since expanded to include the entire Pacific region.

Established on October 1, 1978, with support grants from the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and a research grant from the Henry Luce Foundation, the Center receives contributions of office space and university services from Columbia, where it is headquartered. The Center is not a funding organization; it relies on contributions of money materials, and services from foundations, corporations, and individuals to carry out its programs.

The Board of Managers and the Advisory Council, both created in the spring of 1981, oversee the Center’s programs and policies.

Board of Managers
  • Michael I. Sovern, Honorary Chairman
  • Jonathan R. Cole
  • Peter Smith
  • Chou Wen-chung
Advisory Council*
  • Robert E. Armstrong
  • Joan W. Harris
  • Esther B. Hewlett
  • Geraldine S. Kunstadter
  • David M. Lampton
  • Ming Cho Lee
  • Robert A. Levinson
  • Cho-Liang Lin
  • Yo-Yo Ma
  • Porter McKeever
  • Arthur Miller
  • Michael Morris
  • Douglas P. Murray
  • Waldemar A. Nielsen
  • Russell A. Phillips, Jr.
  • Joseph W. Polisi
  • Arthur H. Rosen
  • Norman Ross
  • Harrison E. Salisbury
  • Larry E. Snoddon
  • Isaac Stern
  • Audrey Topping
  • *as of January 1992
Officers and Staff
  • Chou Wen-chung, Director
  • Susan L. Rhodes, Associate Director
  • William Cossolias, Office Assistant
  • Ken Hao, Assistant to the Director
  • Molly C. Kinney, Program Assistant
  • Elizabeth Mintz, Administrative Assistant
Student Interns
  • Cathy Hong
  • Deborah Isser
  • Erhyu Yuan

Newsletter/Special Issue
  • Editors: Susan L. Rhodes and Henry Hoffman
  • Staff Writer: Molly C. Kinney
  • Design/Layout: Office of University Publications, Columbia University

The Center for US-China Arts Exchange
Columbia University

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