Tan Dun | Features
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New York Times: For One Night, China’s Great Hall of the People Reverberates With Music
Amy Qin / January 11, 2016

BEIJING — On a bone-chilling night in the Chinese capital, a giant Communist red star chandelier glistened amid the galaxy of ceiling lights as thousands of people filed into the main auditorium of the Great Hall of the People. But this was not your typical gathering in the colossal building on the western edge of Tiananmen Square. There were no solemn-faced bureaucrats in dark suits, no reports on economic growth targets to be delivered.

Instead, for more than two hours, China’s main legislative chamber reverberated on Saturday with the sounds of violins, electric bass, French horns and drums for a rare event: a joint concert by a group of the country’s leading classical and popular musicians.

“There is sort of an invisible rule in China that rock musicians cannot perform in big concert halls or opera houses,” said Tan Dun, the Oscar-winning composer of the score for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and de facto star of the concert. For the performance, Mr. Tan, 58, wrote, rearranged and conducted symphonic accompaniments to songs by three top headliners: the punk band Reflector, the Mongolian folk-rock group Hanggai and the folk singer-songwriter Song Dongye.

New York Times: Composer’s Personal History Is His Musical Muse
Joyce Lau / October 28, 2015

If you go by traditional Chinese belief, the composer Tan Dun did not have a very lucky childhood.

He was born in a village called Si Mao, or Silk Hair, named for trees that blanketed the countryside in flowing strands that were unusually white, the Chinese color of mourning. Because of this inauspicious landscape, other communities in Hunan Province designated Si Mao as the place to bring their dead.

“It was where old people were buried. It was very, very scary,” Mr. Tan, 58, said in an interview in Hong Kong last month.

“The plants had floating white hairs, and I grew up among crying songs, mourning songs.”

Robert Lipsyte and Lois B. Morris / June 26, 2005

The first fitting of “The First Emperor’s” new clothes was outsourced from New York to China last month in an unusual workshop for the most expensive and complex opera the Metropolitan Opera has ever commissioned…

As the music rose from the orchestra, alternately heroic, lyrical and haunting, Mr. Tan’s shoulders seemed to relax. Voices wove through the gongs, the bass flute and the plucked strings of ancient instruments as well as the orchestra’s standard violins and cellos, woodwinds and brasses.

Robert Lipsyte and Lois B. Morris / June 26, 2005

In mid-May, a Federal Express package containing three copies of a 226-page musical manuscript thumped on the desk of Sarah Billinghurst, the assistant manager for artistic affairs at the Metropolitan Opera. It was sent by Tan Dun, the Chinese-born avant-garde composer whom the Met had commissioned eight years ago to write an opera. Seeing the half score, Ms. Billinghurst said she felt “ecstatically happy.” …

It will be, Mr. Tan promises, invoking his favorite word, “fantastic.”

One thing is certain: it will be unlike anything that has ever been seen or heard on the Metropolitan Opera stage – and will contain sounds that many have never before realized could be music. If this ambitious and experimental project succeeds, it could widen the possibilities of opera as a whole, expanding its entire future. It may also allow the Met, an august institution with an aging fan base, to expand its own future by reaching out to a significant new audience. And the process of the opera’s creation will shed light on the ideas and methods of one of the most uncommon composers at work today…

Musical America: Composer of the Year Tan Dun
Alan Rich, Musical America / 2003

The scintillating sounds of his native China, intermingled with those of his adopted West, are flashing across the musical horizon everywhere you look and listen. Now that gleam is reflected in a shelf’s worth of acclaim that includes, so far, an Oscar, a Grammy, and the prestigious Grawemeyer award.

Suddenly Tan Dun is everywhere you look, everywhere you listen…

For the world beyond Tan Dun’s Hunan village, the process of discovery has worked in two ways. As Tan himself finds his place in the musical realm of Bach, Beethoven, and John Cage, worldwide audiences are discovering a richness in authentic Chinese musical sources that goes far beyond the sing-song choruses of Turandot and Ravel’s cracked teacup. Tan has been particularly skillful in blending authentic presences East and West without blurring their original nationalities.

UNESCO Press Release

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) today named renowned Chinese composer Tan Dun as its newest Goodwill Ambassador. UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said Mr. Tan was chosen because of his “efforts to promote intercultural dialogue through music, consciousness of the scarcity of natural resources such as water, and the diversity of languages,” as well as for his dedication to the ideals and aims of the UN.