As a young boy, the composer Tan Dun wanted to be a shaman and transform the mystical into the reality of his remote village in rural China.
Today, with both a Grammy and an Academy Award for his scoring of Ang Lee's movie "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," he may indeed be translating an ephemeral world into a sensory one, as he brings a multimedia version of the film's music to the concert hall.
Tan Dun will conduct the New York-based EOS Orchestra in concerts in New York on Saturday and Washington on Monday that will feature the "Crouching Tiger Concerto" accompanied by a montage of images produced by the Academy Award winning film's director, Ang Lee, and screenplay writer, James Schamus.
"I used to want to be a shaman to hold the rituals, because when I was a child I always thought the shaman could visualize the last life and the next life," Tan Dun told Reuters.
"Then I find being a composer more of an advantage than a shaman because I transform my reality, my vision of the last life or next life into a sound, into a color, to hear it with an audience," he added.
The metaphor is appropriate for a composer hailed as "the Chinese composer of Western music," and winner of two Grammys.
The former rice planter and refugee of the Chinese "cultural revolution" also won the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for his opera "Marco Polo," and was named one of the "Classical Musicians of the Year" by The New York Times in 1997.
Tan Dun, who has been living in Manhattan for the last 20 years, dismissed the labels, saying, "I have no boundaries. I am caught cold by the beautiful things in our life -- not just concert work, but also through beautiful fashion shows, modern art and contemporary modern music."
The other performances on the program reflect Tan Dun's artistic range, including the silent piece "4'33"" by composer John Cage, who was noted for his lecturing style at Harvard University. Cage, a strong influence on Tan Dun's work, would write out the words on index cards, shred the cards into strips and then read the lines vertically.
Tan Dun's own "Elegy: Snow in June," will be performed as a tribute to the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.
The piece, which originated as a tribute to the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, is based on a 13th century Chinese drama.
Maya Beiser, the solo cellist featured in the "Elegy" and the "Crouching Tiger Concerto," describes Tan Dun as a multidimensional artist she had been working with for several years.
"He has this great gift to see things and combine them to connect with all the different mediums that exist in art these days -- he doesn't put himself in one little corner. Tan collaborates with great film directors and great stage directors, besides the fact that he writes beautiful music," Beiser said.
(China Daily April 27, 2002)