Recognized as one of the world's foremost classical composers, Tan Dun enjoyed popular acclaim with his lush score for the martial arts romance "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (2000), directed by Ang...
|Raised by grandmother in rural China|
|Penned "On Taoism", a significant orchestral work|
|Penned the original music for the PBS documentary "The Mao Years"|
|Studied for eight years at the Central Conservatory in Beijing|
|Wrote first symphony "Li Sao"|
|Composed the opera "Marco Polo"; premiered in 1996 at the Munich Biennale|
|Crafted "Water Passion after St Matthew"|
|Wrote "Heaven Earth Mankind (Symphony 1997)"; excerpts performed at ceremonies commemorating the transfer of Hong Kong to China in July; full symphony premiered in Hong Kong and repeated in Beijing|
|Wrote the haunting music for Ang Lee's martial arts romance "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"; reportedly completed 80-minute score in ten days; earned two Oscar nomination, for Best Original Score and Best Song|
|Composed the score for the feature documentary "China: The Wild East"|
|Wrote the orchestral piece "Death and Fire: Dialogue with Paul Klee"|
|Spent two years working as a rice planter during the Cultural Revolution in the mid-1970s|
|Created "Ghost Opera" with Kronos Quartet|
|Began collecting folk songs and music from local villagers in Hunan province|
|Had composition "Feng Ya Song" denounced by the Chinese government as "spiritual pollution"|
|Moved to NYC to attend Columbia University on fellowship|
|Composed "2000 Today: A World Symphony for the New Millennium"|
|Composed the opera "Nine Songs"|
|Created "Orchestral Theatre I-IV"|
|Worked as an ehru player and music arranger for the Peking Opera (dates approximate)|
|Provided the score for the TV documentary "China in Revolution: 1911-1949" (PBS)|
|Conducted the experimental "The Pink" in the nude; piece featured naked dancers playing instruments made out of cardboard|
|Had music included in a BBC-sponsored festival of Chinese composers held in Glasgow, Scotland|
|Composed the score for the feature film "Fallen"|
|Early experimental work "Soundshape"|
|Teamed with director Peter Sellars on the theater piece "The Peony Pavilion"; premiered in Vienna|
Tan Dun was born in Hunan province and raised in rural China by his grandmother. Exactly when he returned to live with his military officer father and doctor mother is subject to some controversy, with a few critics questioning the veracity of his claims. Tan claims he was nine when he moved back with his parents while his own father says he was six and already a musical prodigy, spending hours practicing the violin. Whatever the truth, the eccentricity and imaginative ability inherent in the young Tan would eventually be manifested in his compositions. During the Cultural Revolution of the 1970s, he was forced to spend two years toiling as a rice planter. In 1976, following a boating accident that resulted in the deaths of the entire Changsha Peking Opera orchestra, he was recruited to join the troupe as a music arranger and ehru (a two-stringed lute) player. Tan's success with the group allowed him to enroll at the Central Conservatory of Beijing where he spent eight years studying music and premiered his first major composition, the symphony "Li Sao" in 1980, and his controversial orchestral pieces, "Feng Ya Song"(1983), denounced by the state as "spiritual pollution", and "On Taoism" (1985). His music was condemned because he used traditional Chinese instruments to produce contemporary sounds which, despite the prizes it brought him from outside China, distressed the state.
In 1986, Tan moved to NYC to attend Columbia University on a fellowship but he found the restrictions imposed by academia tiring. Settling in Chinatown in NYC, he became aware of avant-garde writers like Steve Reich, Philip Glass and John Cage. Soon he was synthesizing the musical idioms of the two countries into his distinctive compositions that are noted as much for their use of incidental noise as they are for their employment of silences. Tan went on to produce several experimental pieces, like his 1989 opera "Nine Songs" which used ceramic instruments and began with a sample of his "shamanistic wailing", that made his a popular figure in Manhattan's downtown art scene. Perhaps his most outrageous creation was the dance piece "The Pink" (1993) featuring nude dancers playing instruments constructed of cardboard while Tan himself conducted in the nude.
Around the same time, Tan was crossing over into the mainstream with his "Orchestral Theatre, I-IV", a four-part series that was produced in association with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and included such odd gimmicks as an audience chant and a multimedia show. Tan was the youngest recipient of the Suntory Prize Commission in 1993 and his 1996 opera "Marco Polo" (with a libretto by Paul Griffiths) received critical acclaim at its premiere in Munich. One of the most important commissions the composer received was for the 1997 ceremonies commemorating the transfer of Hong Kong from Great Britain to China. Excerpts of Tan's "Symphony 1997" (a.k.a. "Heaven Earth Mankind") were played then with the full orchestral work debuting in both Hong Long and Beijing later in the year. Tan went on to collaborate with maverick theater director Peter Sellars on adapting the classic opera "The Peony Pavilion" which was produced at the 1998 Vienna Festival. His "2000 Today: A World Symphony for the New Millennium" was featured on PBS broadcast celebrating the year 2000.
While he was no stranger to film composition, having scored TV and feature documentaries, Tan made his American film debut as a composer with the jazz-influenced score for the thriller "Fallen" (1998). But it was his lush, romantic music for "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", Ang Lee's visually resplendent film that married historical romance and martial arts which brought Tan near unanimous praise, particularly for the mournful cello solos performed by Yo-Yo Ma. The end result of over four years of collaboration, the score for "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" was conceived for three orchestras: a traditional Chinese ensemble, a large-scale Western symphony and a small percussion group. Tan, who took only ten days to actually compose the music, has stated that his goal was to not only supplement the onscreen action, but also address the inner passions and desires of the characters. Clearly, he succeeded as many critics highlighted his contributions in their reviews, and he picked up several end-of-year prizes, including an Oscar.
|Jane Huang||Wife||met in 1993 after a perfomance of "The Pink", a piece in which Tan conducted naked; married in 1994|
|Ian Tan||Son||born c. 1998|
|Central Conservatory of Beijing|
|His web site is at www.tandun.com|
|On the purity of classical music versus film scores, Tan Dun told www.soundtrack.net: "I am a composer doing both, and I don't know what other people's experiences are, but I think honestly that there is no difference. Artistically, both are extremely creative, and technically, there are normal distinctions - it's not a big deal. When you write a chamber music piece or when you write an opera - they're the same, but they're different, of course. The same goes for writing for film. All of the people involved are humans and artists, and there's a soul that you need to reach. No matter if you're doing a symphony or a film - they all have the same goal."|
|"I don't really have any great interest in the east and the west as a dialogue. What I am interested in is trying to find a single language and distinctive style that is made up of many, many cultures and that can reach from many different diverse cultures." --Tan Dun quoted in The Guardian, September 9, 2000.|
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