Biography

Tan Dun (pinyin: Tán Dùn, 譚盾; born August 18, 1957) is a Chinese contemporary classical composer, most widely known for his Grammy and Oscar-award winning scores for the movies Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero.

Early life in China:

Tan Dun was born in the village of Simao, Changsha in the Hunan, China. As a child, he was fascinated by the role in his village of the shimao, 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 and 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.

His escape from the commune came in the form of a government sponsored touring company of the Peking 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 China Conservatory of Music, and studied with musicians such as Toru Takemitsu, who strongly influenced his musicianship, and his sense of musical style.

Move to America:

In 1985, 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 Glass, John Cage, Meredith Monk and Steve Reich. He gradually realised 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.

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” 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 at the first performances), the recently unearthed ancient bianzhong bells, children’s choir and orchestra.

In 1994 he was awarded The Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts by the Council for the Arts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In 1996 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 Gubaidulina, Osvaldo Golijov, and Wolfgang Rihm, was commissioned by the Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart project to write a piece for the Passion 2000 project in commemoration of Johann Sebastian Bach. His contribution was the Water Passion After St. Matthew.

Operas:

* Marco Polo, was first shown at the Münchener Biennale, in Munich, on May 7, 1996.

* Peony Pavilion, premiered at the Wiener Festwochen, in Vienna, on May 12, 1998.

* Tea: A Mirror of Soul, with a libretto by Tan and Xu Ying, was commissioned by Suntory Hall in Tokyo, Japan and was given its world premiere performance there on October 22, 2002. The opera will receive its US premiere during the 2007 season of the Santa Fe Opera.

* 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 Yimou. Plácido Domingo sang the title role, with Elizabeth Futral as the emperor’s daughter and Paul Groves as the musician Gao Jianli.

Edited by benxander on 30 Dec 2014, 14:17

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Formed in
  • 1985
Founded in
  • Hunan, China

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