Dun Tan

born on 18/8/1957 in Changsha, Hunan, China, People's Republic

Tan Dun

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Tan Dun (simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ; pinyin: Tán Dùn (born 1957, Si Mao, Hunan) is an Academy Award winning Chinese contemporary classical composer, most widely known for his scores for the movies Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero.

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 shimaon 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.

His escape from the 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.

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 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 (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 Gubaidulina, Osvaldo Golijov, and Wolfgang Rihm, was commissioned by Helmuth Rilling and the Internationale 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, which he co-authored with Wang Hesheng, was played before, during and after each of the 302 medal ceremonies at the Beijing 2008 Olympics.[1]

In late 2006 Tan Dun premiered Zen Shaolin an outdoor production near Shaolin Temple in Henan, China. cite- http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/30/arts/dance/30tan.html?_r=1

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".[2]


  • Marco Polo, with a libretto by Paul Griffiths was first shown at the Münchener Biennale, in Munich, on May 7, 1996, as well as winning the 1998 Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition. The opera was returned to De Nederlandse Opera in Amsterdam on November, 2008.
  • Peony Pavilion, based on a text by on a text by Tang Xianzu 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 premiered in the United States on July 21, 2007 at the Santa Fe Opera in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
  • 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. The opera was reprised at the Metropolitan Opera (again with Plácido Domingo in the title role), two years later, and has also been produced at the opera house of Karlsruhe, Germany.


  • Don't Cry, Nanking (1995)
  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, or Wo hu cang long (2000)
  • Hero, or Ying xiong (2002)
  • The Banquet, or Ye yan (2006)


  1. Classical piece will ring in ears of winners - China Daily
  2. Work information: Tan Dun : Piano Concerto: The Fire. Schirmer Inc. Retrieved on 25 January 2010.
  • Kennedy, Michael (2006), The Oxford Dictionary of Music, 985 pages, ISBN 0-19-861459-4

External links

  • Tan Dun official site
  • Tan Dun interview
  • Art of the States: Tan Dun Nine Songs (1989)
  • Photograph of Tan Dun
  • Video of discussion with Tan Dun on China's art, Asia Society, New York, 11/2/09
This page was last modified 27.10.2010 00:52:52

This article uses material from the article Tan Dun from the free encyclopedia Wikipedia and it is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.