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Arts & Culture

Professor Wang Lu honored by WQXR Radio

Lu’s musical compositions reflect environmental, romantic themes, promote responsibility

Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 25, 2017

When music touches on the real-world implications of cultural heritage, the environment and popular culture, people are sure to notice. And they have — WQXR Radio in New York City included the work of Assistant Professor of Music Wang Lu among the “Top New Music-Moments of 2016.­” The list aimed to celebrate “some of the most uplifting, imagination-gripping and breathtaking musical achievements of the past year,” according to the radio station’s website.

In addition to many other honors, Wang is a 2014 Guggenheim Fellow and the recipient of two ASCAP Morton Gould Awards. “She seems to be blowing up now,” said Ian MacDougald ’17, who has taken three classes with Wang and is currently her thesis advisee. Despite her recent honors, Wang said she cares more about composing itself than the titles. I’ve “just got to write the music, whether I’m on the list or not.”

When Wang was growing up in the 1980s, a period of economic reform in China, families would come together to buy a piano, she said. Many saw the investment as a sign of a cultured life at home. “It’s an escape, it’s a fantasy, it’s moving forward,” Wang said. She, like many of her childhood friends, played piano from a young age. She began training at five, studying a strict Western repertoire focusing primarily on French and Russian works. Early in her adolescence, she began composing with the encouragement of her teacher. Wang then went on to receive her undergraduate degree at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing.

Outside of formal training, music surrounded Wang — both her father and grandmother sang opera. Before she began playing piano,  singing was her passion — she can still perform excerpts from the Beijing and Qinqiang Operas, she said.

After receiving her undergraduate degree, Wang went on to earn her doctoral degree in composition at Columbia. She then lived in Rome and Chicago, composing alongside her husband. Her work often focuses on environmental crises, inspired by her experiences living around the world, Wang said. Recent compositions incorporate the heart rates of extinct animals played alongside footage of air quality warnings.

“What interests me and moves me is … the world we live in — the social, political and environmental,” Wang said. In China, many rely on the air quality index to determine whether or not they will go out that day, she said.

“As an artist, or as a human, we should all be aware and be responsible,” Wang said.

For Wang, this message plays a formative role in her creative process. “You think about how the crisis is affecting who you are, and it will translate into your music. It is important to not just write music because you like the sound,” Wang said. “I feel like everyone has a way to spread a message. For me, I’m a musician.”

Wang draws her inspiration from many sources, whether that be early Chinese rock and roll, free jazz or classical piano­ — even, on one occasion, her students’ Tinder notifications. “Some of my students told me about Tinder,” she said. “I had never heard of Tinder, so I wrote this piece using notifications sounds together with romantic quotations.” Through these materials, Wang addressed “what romance means.”

Having taught at Brown for one and a half years, Wang said she’s fascinated and impressed by undergraduate students. “Some of them are learning for the first time, and they can just get it,” she said. “They make me think; they give me my favorite songs.”

Her students are likewise impressed with her. “Talking to her is like taking a shot of espresso — engaging and inspiring,” MacDougald said.

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