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Tan Dun, a Musical Journey Back to Roots

Chinese-born composer Tan Dun staged a musical map linking west to east in his home country Friday night to show how his Chinese roots have continued to grow.

The internationally acclaimed musician brought Fenghuang Village in his home province of central China's Hunan his symbolic work The Map: Saving Disappearing Music Traditions.

The piece was premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and cellist Yo-Yo Ma with the composer himself conducting earlier this year, and was performed on Friday by the Shanghai Orchestra.

Wearing an orange sweater and blue jacket, the 46-year-old composer reflected his well-known musical repertoire spanning both Eastern and Western music with a dressing taste featuring drastically contrasting colors.

Tan, referring to Friday's show as a "thanks-giving" performance, was excited to present the Concerto for Cello, Video and Orchestra before an audience of 3000, most of whom were local Miao and Tujia ethnic minority people.

The orchestra's string section was accompanied by traditional Chinese instruments such as the bamboo flute and hand drum, and an ethnic Miao group.

Long Xian'e, a singer with the Miao ethnic group told Xinhua that the music moved her to tears after she performed a song with a male singer from the Tujia ethnic minority group as an accompaniment to the orchestra.

"We are thrilled to have our music back home after the piece has toured around the world," said the 25-year-old, who had never heard an orchestra before.

The Map was the product of Tan Dun's 1999 inspirational tour to the eastern part of Hunan Province, where many ethnic minority groups live.

In the orchestra, age-old Chinese ethnic minority melodies and modern western music were mingled with videotapes featuring remote and untapped natural landscapes in Hunan, making The Map a multimedia program crossing lines between classical and non-classical, East and West, avant-garde and indigenous art forms.

Currently based in New York, Tan Dun was born in Simao of Hunanin 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 Dun Friday in Hunan.

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.

Musical critics said The Map is much more like a cultural-heritage protection project than an 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 Friday in Hunan 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."

(Xinhua News Agency 24, 2003)

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