Tan Dun  (1957 -   )

Composer/Conductor Tan Dun's music is celebrated for its "Vivid drama...wonderfully expressive harmonies...imaginative colors" (London Times). He has been heralded as "possibly the foremost contemporary composer to have emerged from China...in decades" (The Telegraph), and this was confirmed with his receipt from Toru Takemitsu in February 1996 of the City of Toronto-Glenn Gould Prize in Music and Communication.

Tan's distinctive music reaches large audiences throughout the world at prestigious venues such as the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Lincoln Center in New York, Suntory Hall in Japan, the Proms and at Royal Festival Hall in London, and the Bastille in Paris. The Kronos Quartet has toured his Ghost Opera around the world and recorded it for Nonesuch. Tan's opera on the spiritual journey of Marco Polo, commissioned by the Edinburgh Festival, with libretto by Paul Griffiths, premiered in May 1996 at the Munich Biennale, with subsequent performances at the Holland Festival and Hong Kong Festival. Tan's guitar concerto, Yi2, received its first performance in October 1996 with Sharon Isbin at the Donaueschingen Music Festival; Red Forecast (Orchestral Theatre III) premiered in November 1996 with soprano Susan Botti at the Huddersfield Music Festival and was then televised by the BBC.

In July 1997 Tan premiered excerpts from a major new work at ceremonies commemorating the historic transfer of Hong Kong to China. Commissioned by the "Association for Celebration of Reunification of Hong Kong with China," Tan's 70-minute Symphony 1997 (Heaven Earth Mankind) featured cellist Yo-Yo Ma, the Hong Kong Philharmonic and Asian Youth Orchestra, the Imperial Bells Ensemble (playing a set of sixty-four 2500 year-old Chinese bells), and Yips' Children's Choir, with Tan Dun conducting. The world premiere of the complete Symphony 1997 took place in Hong Kong on July 4th, and the concert was repeated the following night in Beijing, at the Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square. A CD of the work has been released on Sony Classical, with whom Tan recently signed an exclusive contract. Also available on Sony is Marco Polo, for which Germany's Oper Magazine cited Tan Dun as "Composer of the Year" in 1996.

Highlights of Tan's 1997-98 season include performances of Marco Polo at the New York City Opera (American premiere) and in Tokyo, Japan; a week-long focus on his music at the Toronto Symphony with Jukka-Pekka Saraste conducting; and the American premieres, in New York, of his Symphony 1997, with Yo-Yo Ma and the Orchestra of St. Luke's at Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center, Tan conducting; Death and Fire with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and James Levine conducting at Carnegie Hall; and Red Forecast with Susan Botti and the American Composers Orchestra in Carnegie Hall, Tan conducting.

In demand throughout the world as a composer and conductor, Tan's works were performed and recorded, in the past two years alone, by the London Sinfonietta, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Toronto Symphony, BBC Scottish Symphony, London Philharmonia, Helsinki Philharmonic, Tokyo Symphony, Netherlands Radio Symphony, Arditti String Quartet, Kroumata, Orchestre National de France, the Munich Chamber Symphony, Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie, Contrechamps (Geneva), Los Angeles New Music Group, Ensemble Modern, Nieuw Ensemble, Shanghai Symphony, and Central Philharmonic of China, among others. As a conductor he is known for programming distinctive and compelling 20th-century works; his recent appointment as Resident Composer/Conductor with BBC Scottish Symphony gives him a platform for this work.

In addition to his classical compositions, Tan Dun is known for his experimental projects such as his music for ceramics, for water, for paper, and for stones, and often collaborates with visual and performance artists, choreographers, theater and film directors. He also performs as soloist in his own works. He has composed the soundtrack for Warner Brothers' recently released feature film "Fallen" (a psychological thriller starring Denzel Washington, Gregory Hoblit directing) and is collaborating with stage director Peter Sellars on a new theatre piece, based on ancient Chinese opera, entitled Peony Pavilion, which opens at the Vienna Festival in May 1998.

Tan Dun has received many international awards and commissions, and in 1993 became the youngest composer ever to win the prestigious Suntory Prize Commission from Toru Takemitsu. In 1994, he was invited by Hans Werner Henze to serve on the jury for the International Music Theatre Awards at the Munich Biennale. His works have been selected for major festivals around the world and often broadcast by National Public Radio (USA), the BBC, German Radio and Radio France. His music has been the subject of television and film documentaries by Finnish Television (featuring Lutoslawski and Tan), the BBC (Tan's orchestral and experimental), and Dutch television (featuring Adams, Lachenmann, Tan, and Vries). In 1994, the recording of his orchestral music On Taoism (from Koch Schwann) was selected by BBC as one of the best CDs this year.

Tan Dun was born in 1957 in Hunan, China. After planting rice for two years during the Cultural Revolution, then working as an arranger in the provincial Peking Opera troupe, Tan was selected for the Central Conservatory in Beijing where he spent eight years. In 1986, a fellowship at Columbia University brought him to New York City, where he completed the doctoral program in music composition, studying with Chou and Davidovsky. Tan currently lives in New York. His music is published by G. Schirmer.

(See A Review of Ghost Opera)