Tan Dun and Beethoven -- in (and out) of China

The Composer's Datebook from American Public Media
Thursday, September 14, 2017

On this date in 1973, Eugene Ormandy conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra in music by Mozart, Brahms, and the American composer, Roy Harris. The program itself was nothing out of the ordinary, but the concert happened to take place in Beijing in the People's Republic of China. That concert marked the FIRST time an American symphony orchestra had performed in Communist China. The orchestra was invited to China following the famous visit of President and Mrs. Nixon and secretary of state Henry Kissinger. In the audience for one of the Philadelphia Orchestra's subsequent concerts was a young student of traditional Chinese music named Tan Dun. When Tan heard the Philadelphians perform Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, a work he had never heard before, he decided then and there to become a composer himself. In 1986, Tan Dun came to New York City, but rather than abandoning his Chinese roots, he managed to combine elements of East and West into his own musical works. In 1987, for example, he composed this work: a violin concerto entitled "Out of Peking Opera," which draws on both Chinese and European traditions. His work since then has won both critical and popular acclaim. In addition to prestigious awards and commissions from major foundations and orchestras, in March of 2001, Tan Dun won an Oscar for his film score to the Ang Lee film, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."