Zhou Long was born in 1953 in Beijing, China. As a youth, his earlier artistic influences came from his parents who painted and taught vocal music. Though he began piano lessons at a young age, he was unable to escape the fate of most of his generation in China whose education was halted during the Cultural Revolution. He was sent to a state farm in a remote area where the natural scene roaring winds and fierce land fires made a profound impression on him. It was music which helped him to survive this difficult life. In 1973, Zhou resumed his musical training, studying composition, music theory, and conducting as well as Chinese music with Luo Zhongrong, Li Yinghai, Fan Zuyin and Yan Liangkun. When the school system was reinstated in 1977, Zhou enrolled in the exclusive Central Conservatory in Beijing to study composition under Su Xia. After graduation in 1983, he was appointed Composer-in-Residence with the Broadcasting Symphony of China. Zhou came to the United States in 1985 under a fellowship to attend Columbia University. There he studied composition with Chou Wen-Chung, Mario Davidovsky and George Edwards and received his doctorate in 1993. Currently, Zhou Long is the Music Director of Music From China and Composer-in-Residence with New Music Consort in New York City.
During his years as a composer in China, Zhou drew heavily on the traditional Chinese methods in which he had been immersed, first while living in rural China and later while studying at the Conservatory. While folk-like melodies and tonal harmonies do characterize much of his writing during this period, the works in the years leading up to his arrival to the West show a modernist, experimental musical sensibility already in development. His string quartet Song Of The Ch'in from 1983 transfers to the modern string quartet the idiomatic sounds and techniques of the ch'in, a seven-string instrument dating from the Tang dynasty (618-906). The work received First Prize in the Chinese National Composition Competition in 1985 and has been recorded by the Shanghai Quartet on the Delos label. The Los Angeles Times described it as "an evocative, eight-minute tone painting applying sophisticated compositional techniques to what sound like fragments of traditional Chinese melodies."
In 1984, the China Record Company produced a disc of Zhou's original compositions for traditional Chinese instruments. Among his many works in this genre is Valley Stream (1983) for a quartet of Chinese instruments (di, guan, zheng and percussion). The composer described his goal in the work as "to preserve the idiomatic nuances of traditional Chinese music while experimenting with instrumentation, performance techniques, rhythm and sonority." Ethnomusicologist Qiao Jianzhong remarked: "In Valley Stream, composer Zhou Long has dealt a blow to the established formulas of Chinese music of the last thirty years."
Though Zhou Long considered his compositional profile to be well established before his arrival in the U.S., his techniques and means of expression have since undergone many changes. He is now concerned primarily with a merging of Eastern and Western cultures through music. That has meant, specifically, the combining of ancient Chinese musical traditions and free atonal composition into a coherent and personal statement. Zhou has compared his integration of Western musical theory into his essentially Chinese compositions to the accretion of Buddhist principals into Chinese culture during the Tang dynasty. Buddhist thought itself has been a direct influence in a number of his works including Wu Ji, Ding and Dhyana. Zhou Long draws on the entire spectrum of his Chinese heritage, including folk traditions and philosophical and spiritual ideals, as well as musical instruments and gestures.
The milestone achievement of the sextet The Ineffable, composed in 1994 with support from the Koussevitzky Music Foundation, is more simply stated than explained. Here Zhou accomplishes a profound synthesis transcending the kitsch and artifice to which such hybrid exercises are prone. The two Chinese plucked instruments are the 21-string horizontally held zheng, resembling the Japanese koto, and the vertically held, four-string pipa, Zhou's favorite for its flexibility of range and timbre, and capacity for vocal inflection. The Western instruments are flute (with the performer doubling on piccolo and alto flute), violin, and cello. The sixth performer, a busy percussionist, deploys a battery including glockenspiel, marimba, vibraphone, and xylophone, plus a variety of bells and drums. Though there is some pairing of flute and percussion, pipa and zheng, and violin and cello, the net effect is not one of dialogue or juxtaposition. Rather, with his creative recourse to quarter tones, to varied vibratos and glissandos, Zhou has stretched the Western instruments eastward, the Chinese instruments westward, to achieve a volatile common ground. In his recent work Poems From Tang, a four movement concerto for string quartet and orchestra, inspired by the works of four poets of the Tang dynasty, he has conceived of the string quartet as an expanded chin, an ancient seven string Chinese zither. Throughout, there are musical traits directly reminiscent of China: sensitive melodies, expressive glissandi in various solo statements, and, in particular, an undercurrent of tranquillity and meditation.
Zhou's works have been performed and recorded by the Central Philharmonic Orchestra of China, the London Symphony Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra, the Sacramento and Virginia symphonies, the Russian Philharmonic, the Kronos, Shanghai, Chester and Ciompi String Quartets, Chanticleer, New York's New Music Consort, the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, Music From China and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie among others and have been performed at many important venues through out Asia, North America and Europe. Zhou Long has been a guest composer at the Pacific Music Festival in Japan, the Ravinia Festival, and the Holland Festival, among others. His recent activities include guest lecturing at Columbia University, Cornell University, Duke University, Wesleyan University, Manhattan School of Music, UC Berkeley, San Francisco Conservatory, San Francisco State University, and Peabody Conservatory, and serving on the judging panels of composition competitions and commissioning programs for such organizations as ASCAP, NEA, and American Music Center. Honours include: Masterprize (BBC, EMI, London Symphony), 1998; American Academy of Arts and Letters Fellowship, 1997; Mary Cary Trust and Aaron Copland Fund For Music Recording Grants, 1994/1997; National Endowment for the Arts (USA) Fellowships, 1993/1996; Brooklyn Philharmonic commissions, 1995; John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, 1994; Winner, Barlow International Competition, 1994; Winner, 4th (1985), 13th (1994) Chinese National Composition Competition, Beijing; Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship, 1994; Fromm Music Foundation Commission Award, Harvard University, 1993; Meet The Composer Commission Awards, 1993; Koussevitzky Music Foundation in the Library of Congress (USA) Commission Award, 1993; Kronos Quartet commission, 1992; Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble commission, 1992; Winner, 5th International Composition Competition in d'Avray, France, 1991; Winner, The Dr. Rapaport Prize, Columbia University, 1991; Winner, Ensemblia Composition Competition, Monchengladbach, Germany, 1990; ASCAP Composers Awards, 1987-; New York State Council on the Arts Commissions, 1986/1994. He is married to composer Chen Yi.