Ming Tsao appointed as Birge-Cary Professor of Music Fall 2024

Ming Tsao.

The University at Buffalo Department of Music is very happy to announce the appointment of composer Ming Tsao as the Birge-Cary Professor of Music beginning this fall. Professor Tsao most recently served as Visiting Professor of Composition at the Hochschule für Musik, Theater, and Media in Hannover, Germany, and as Professor of Composition at the Academy of Music and Drama at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.

A composer of chamber, orchestral, operatic and choral works, Ming Tsao has spent the last 15 years active in Europe where his works are regularly performed by leading ensembles, orchestras and opera companies including the Arditti Quartet, ELISION Ensemble, ensemble ascolta, ensemble recherche, Ensemble KNM Berlin and Ensemble SurPlus.  He has had significant premieres at the Darmstadter Ferienkürse, Donaueschinger Musiktage, MaerzMusik Berlin, Wien Modern and the Wittener Tage für neue Kammermusik.  Recent operas and symphonic works have been performed by Staatsopera Stuttgart and Gothenburg opera, and he's currently at work on a new opera, Mudan Ting (The Peony Pavilion) for the Mannheim National Theater. Four profile recordings of his work exist on the Kairos and Mode record labels.

Dr. Tsao was born and raised in Berkley, California and is a PhD graduate of the University at California San Diego where he studied with Chaya Czernowin, Brian Ferneyhough and Philippe Manoury. Prior to his studies at UCSD he completed Masters studies in Ethnomusicology and Math at Columbia University and San Francisco State University, respectively. He holds a Bachelors of Music degree from Berklee College of Music.

Ming Tsao’s music “arises out of a focus on the inherent qualities of sound – what the composer calls its “materiality” – coupled to an extreme formal rigor and a highly precise, finely-crafted compositional style. In the foreground of his music is a contemporary conception of musical lyricism, which is fractured, multi-faceted and problematised to reflect the modern experience.” (MingTsao.net)

In explaining his creative work, Associate Professor Stephanie Vander Wel, who directed the faculty search, says: “Ming places his work among larger social and ecological concerns.  His practice decenters the authority of the composer, influenced by Roland Barthes’ ideas of the death of the author, pointing to the legacy of experimental music, such as Cage’s indeterminate practices[…]broadening concepts of what constitutes music, and placing the aesthetic practices of Western art music in dialogue with other practices far removed from it, such as ancient Chinese poetry.”

Professor and Chair of Music Eric Huebner explains that “the appeal of Ming’s music comes from its unique expressive gesture and sensitive musicality. In his works he draws the listener into a highly organic sound world. When I listen to his music, I am always impressed by the musical cohesion and sonic textures that continually surprise and I find myself intent on following exactly how the work is unfolding.”

Professor Huebner says he’s excited to start work with Dr. Tsao on implementing his ideas for the development of the composition program. “We’ve had numerous conversations concerning our shared goals for the program and the ways we hope to position composition as a research and creative pursuit which draws inspiration from the other disciplines represented in our department: performance, musicology and music theory.”

Ming Tsao is married to the filmmaker and visual artist Luisa Greenfield. The couple has a daughter and together they are looking forward to returning to the United States and exploring Buffalo and its various neighborhoods in advance of their move from Berlin.

Of his appointment, Ming Tsao says: “I am very excited to join the faculty of the Department of Music at the University at Buffalo, which has a long history of promoting contemporary music. It will continue to be a place – an oasis of sorts – where students can experiment, explore, think in new ways, and most importantly, reinvent the idea of music.”