Monday, October 22, 2012

Composer Tan Dun 谭盾 [tʰǎn tu̯ə̂n] [ the "John Cage" of China ] "Crouching Tiger Composer/Conductor"


Tan Dun (simplified Chinese谭盾

traditional Chinese譚盾pinyinTán DùnMandarin pronunciation: [tʰǎn tu̯ə̂n]) (born August 15, 1957, Si Mao, Hunan) is a Chinese contemporary classical composer, most widely known for his scores for the movies Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero.



[edit]Early life in China

Tan Dun was born in the village of Simaonae, Changsha in the Hunan province of China. As a child, he was fascinated by the role of the shaman in his village, who conducted rituals and ceremonies, often set to music made with organic objects such as rocks and water. However, as a child in the midst of China's cultural revolution, he found this kind of "backward thinking" frowned upon, and he was sent to work as a rice planter on a government commune.

That, however, had little effect on his affinity for music. He created his own musical group, utilizing peasants in the village playing whatever they could, sometimes just banging on pots and pans. It was from these peasants that he began to learn to play traditional Chinese string instruments. He went on to play the viola for the Beijing Opera Orchestra.[1]

It was from there that his escape from the agricultural commune came in the form of a government-sponsored touring company of the Beijing opera. When a ferry full of performers capsized near the commune, killing several of them, Tan was employed by the troupe and left the commune.

From there he went to the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, and studied with musicians such as Toru Takemitsu, who strongly influenced his musicianship and his sense of musical style.

[edit]Move to America

In the 1980s he moved to New York City as a doctoral student at Columbia University, studying composition with Chou Wen-Chung, who had studied with and assisted the composer Edgard Varèse. It was there that Tan discovered the music of experimental musicians such as Philip GlassJohn CageMeredith Monk and Steve Reich. He gradually realized he could incorporate all these disparate influences - his upbringing in Hunan, his classical training at the conservatory and the contemporary experimental composers in New York - into his compositions.

[edit]Musical style and compositions

Tan Dun is widely recognized for using non-traditional and organic instruments in his compositions. His piece Water Passion After St. Matthew employs amplified bowls of water in lieu of traditional percussion, and his Paper Concerto (2003) relies solely on the manipulation of paper to create music. He is also recognized for adding multimedia aspects to his performances, such as orchestras that interact with video, or audience participation.

For the official ceremony for the transfer of the sovereignty of Hong Kong on July 1, 1997, he was commissioned to write Symphony 1997: Heaven Earth Mankind, for cello soloist (who was Yo-Yo Ma during the first performances), the recently unearthed ancient bianzhong bells, children's choir and orchestra.

In 1998 he was awarded The Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts by the Council for the Arts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In 1999 he was selected by the Glenn Gould Foundation as the recipient of the 1996 City of Toronto - Glenn Gould International Protégé Prize in Music.

In 2000 Tan, along with Sofia GubaidulinaOsvaldo Golijov, and Wolfgang Rihm, was commissioned by Helmuth Rilling and theInternationale Bachakademie Stuttgart to write a piece for the Passion 2000 project in commemoration of Johann Sebastian Bach. His contribution was the Water Passion After St. Matthew. The piece was widely performed in Europe and was subsequently given its American premiere by the Oregon Bach Festival, also under Rilling's direction.

Tan's adaptation of the Chinese folk song Molihua (meaning Jasmine Flower), which he co-authored with Wang Hesheng, was played before, during and after each of the 302 medal ceremonies at the Beijing 2008 Olympics. Tan described the piece as, "a gift from the Chinese people to the world's athletes." [2]

In late 2006 Tan Dun premiered “Zen Shaolin” an outdoor production near Shaolin Temple in Henan, China.[3]

In 2008, he was commissioned by Google to compose "Internet Symphony No. 1 'Eroica'" to be performed collaboratively by the YouTube Symphony Orchestra. That same year, he was commissioned by New York Philharmonic for Lang Lang to compose his First Piano Concerto, subtitled "The Fire".[4]


  • The First Emperor, received its world premiere performance on December 21, 2006 in New York City at the Metropolitan Opera, which had commissioned the work, with the composer conducting. The libretto, by Tan and Ha Jin, is based on the life of the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, who unified the country and built an early version of the Great Wall. The production is by film director Zhang YimouPlácido Domingo sang the title role, with Elizabeth Futral as the emperor's daughter and Paul Groves as the musician Gao Jianli. The opera was reprised at the Metropolitan Opera (again with Plácido Domingo in the title role), two years later, and has also been produced 2008 as European premiere at the opera house of Saarbrücken, Germany.


No comments: