UC San Diego music teacher wins prestigious award


Lei Liang, music professor at UC San Diego, in front of a display screen at the Qualcomm Institute.

The American Academy of Arts and Letters has announced that University of California San Diego professor Lei Liang will receive a major music award at the academy’s official virtual ceremony on May 19. He is one of two composers to have received Goddard Lieberson Scholarships in Music for 2021.

Liang is a Professor in the Music Department at UC San Diego and, since 2018, Research Artist in Residence at the Qualcomm Institute, the UC San Diego division of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2). Previously, he was Composer in Residence of the Qualcomm Institute from 2013 to 2016.

The Goddard Lieberson Fellowship and the $ 15,000 Prize honor mid-career composers “of outstanding gift.” Liang is only the second UC San Diego music teacher to receive this award: fellow professor Chinary Ung received the scholarship in 1981. (Cambodian Ung was also elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and letters in 2020.)

Liang had previously been nominated twice for the award, originally in 2011. “I am very honored,” the composer told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “I just wish I could celebrate in person with some of my good friends who have helped me through the pandemic over the past year. “

Among other notable awards, in 2020 Liang received the $ 100,000 Grawemeyer Prize for Music Composition – popularly dubbed the “Nobel Prize for Music” – for “A Thousand Mountains, a Million Streams”. The orchestral work was commissioned by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and premiered in 2018. The climate change-themed work was developed during Liang’s residencies at the Qualcomm Institute.

Liang’s other accolades include a 2015 Koussevitzky Foundation Prize, the 2011 Rome Prize, a 2009 Guggenheim Fellowship, and an Aaron Copland Prize 2008. His saxophone concerto “Xiaoxiang” was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2015. In 2020, Liang also received a chair endowed with a distinguished professor from the chancellor of UC San Diego.

Born in Tianjin, China, Liang moved to the United States as a teenager, then graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music and received his doctorate. from Harvard University. He joined UC San Diego faculty in 2007.

At the Qualcomm Institute, Liang worked on several interdisciplinary projects at the intersection of music, science and technology. His “Hearing Landscapes” combine a contemporary musical composition by Liang with high-resolution multispectral scans of 12 rare Chinese landscape paintings by 20th-century artist Huang Binhong. In collaboration with engineers from the Institute’s Cultural Heritage Engineering Initiative, led by professor of structural engineering and computer science Falko Kuester, scans at various wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum (ultraviolet, infrared , etc.) illuminated the painter’s creative process as a complement to Liang’s composition. The project also resulted in a short documentary, “Deriving Worlds”, which premiered in 2015.

“Lei Liang’s work is an example of interdisciplinary collaboration and how he can cross new frontiers in an area, said Ramesh Rao, director of the Qualcomm Institute. “He and his collaborators combine musical composition and innovative technology in truly unique ways – allowing all of us to explore and immerse ourselves in everything from changing ecosystems to rare painting.”

As the institute’s research artist in residence since 2018, Liang has continued to collaborate with engineers from QI’s Sonic Arts and Cultural Heritage R&D groups, as well as scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “Hearing Seascapes” is a collaborative seminar on coral reef sonification in which graduate students use oceanographic data to compose interactive multimedia performances combining sound, images and movement.

Most recently, in the spring of 2020, Liang taught a virtual collaborative course called “Hearing Earth” in collaboration with Falko Kuester, visualization and virtual reality professor at Calit2, in addition to leading QI’s cultural heritage program. In it, teams of students – at an appropriate distance due to the pandemic – used the sounds of earth processes, including erosion and sedimentation, as inspiration for their compositions. Liang also collaborates with Scripps Oceanography postdoctoral fellow Joshua Jones and Professor John Hildebrand, as well as the recent Doctor of Music from UC San Diego. Graduate and electronic composer Theocharis Papatrechas and PhD candidate Nicholas Solem under QI’s Sonic Arts R&D program, led by fellow music teacher Shahrokh Yadegari.

“These collaborations have been the highlight of the year since the pandemic, Liang said. “We continue to have weekly meetings with the team, and it is these collaborations that have kept me through this difficult time.”

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