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Tan Dun: A Genius in Music

Currently based in New York, Tan Dun was born in Simao of Hunan in 1957. After serving as a rice-planter and performer for the Peking Opera during the Cultural Revolution (1965-1975), Tan later studied at the Central Conservatory in Beijing.


He was offered a fellowship at Columbia University in New York in 1986 and graduated with a Doctor of Musical Arts degree. 


The composer, who had never heard even the names, let alone the music, of Bach, Beethoven or Mozart until he was 19, is now a winner of today's most prestigious musical honors including the Grawemeyer Award for classical composition, a Grammy Award, an Academy Award and Musical America's "Composer of The Year".


The composer's remarkable success should be attributed to his ceaseless study and efforts. "I will never be satisfied with what I have achieved," said Tan.


Born with an enterprising spirit, Tan embarked on a journey from Hunan to Beijing and later to the musical melting pot of Manhattan, learning to transcend the musical genres of Hunan Drum Opera, Peking Opera and western music.


"If there is a conservatory on the Moon, I will definitely apply to go there and learn Moon melodies," said Tan.


With his music being played throughout the world by leading orchestras, opera houses, international festivals, and on radio and television, Tan Dun was instantly known by global audiences for the music he produced for the Academy Award-winning martial arts fantasy Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, directed by Taiwan-born director Ang Lee in 2001.




"I joined Ang Lee's production by chance and it was really difficult to produce the music for a 90-minute film in two weeks," said Tan.


Following the musical success of Crouching Tiger, Tan produced another piece for famous Chinese director Zhang Yimou's Hero, a Kong Fu film released in 2002.


Tan said Crouching Tiger is his "daughter" because it is more "feminine", while Hero is more "masculine" more like a "son".


As a musician whose primary interest over the past 20 years has been materializing concepts of multiculturalism and multimedia through music, Tan Dun has also encountered sporadic criticism on his meaningless, unreasonable and haphazard combination of different art forms.


"I respect any criticism, which usually come from my best friends and can remind me of things that I sometimes fail to realize," said Tan.


Always excited by the challenges of music production, Tan has become increasingly involved in connecting tradition with modernity through his music. 


Some of Tan's musicals like The Map are much more like a cultural-heritage protection project than orchestra because Tan Dun vividly recorded the endangered music of Chinese ethnic minority groups and used them as inspiration to write melodic lines for cello and the orchestra.


A staff member from the Beijing Representative Office of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said that The Map helps people to reconceptualize themselves and their own cultures and enables the world to experience beautiful Chinese melodies in the generations to come.


"Music is the wellspring of internal feelings and my music is completely based on the Chinese culture," said Tan.


"I am always a Chinese-Chinese in all aspects. I have never been and will never become a Chinese of other countries."


(chinaculture August 25, 2006)

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