Tan Dun (pinyin: Tán Dùn, 譚盾 (谭盾）) (born 1957, Si Mao, Central Hunan) is an Academy Award winning Chinese contemporary classical composer, most widely known for his scores for the movies Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero.
Tan Dun was born in the village of Simaonae, Changsha in the Hunan province of China. As a child, he was fascinated by the role of the shimaon in his village, who conducted rituals and ceremonies, often set to music made with organic objects such as rocks and water. However, as a child in the midst of China's cultural revolution, he found this kind of "backward thinking" frowned upon, and he was sent to work as a rice planter on a government commune.
That, however, had little effect on his affinity for music. He created his own musical group, utilizing peasants in the village playing whatever they could, sometimes just banging on pots and pans. It was from these peasants that he began to learn to play traditional Chinese string instruments.
His escape from the commune came in the form of a government sponsored touring company of the Beijing opera. When a ferry full of performers capsized near the commune, killing several of them, Tan was employed by the troupe and left the commune.
In the 1980s he moved to New York City as a doctoral student at Columbia University, studying composition with Chou Weng-Chung, who had studied with and assisted the composer Edgard Varèse. It was there that Tan discovered the music of experimental musicians such as Philip Glass, John Cage, Meredith Monk and Steve Reich. He gradually realised he could incorporate all these disparate influences - his upbringing in Hunan, his classical training at the conservatory and the contemporary experimental composers in New York - into his compositions.
Tan Dun is widely recognized for using non traditional and organic instruments in his compositions. His piece Water Passion After St. Matthew employs amplified bowls of water in lieu of traditional percussion, and his Paper Concerto (2003) relies solely on the manipulation of paper to create music. He is also recognized for adding multimedia aspects to his performances, such as orchestras that interact with video, or audience participation.
For the official ceremony for the transfer of the sovereignty of Hong Kong on July 1, 1997, he was commissioned to write Symphony 1997: Heaven Earth Mankind, for cello soloist (who was Yo-Yo Ma during the first performances), the recently unearthed ancient bianzhong bells, children's choir and orchestra.
In 1998 he was awarded The Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts by the Council for the Arts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In 2000 Tan, along with Sofia Gubaidulina, Osvaldo Golijov, and Wolfgang Rihm, was commissioned by Helmuth Rilling and the Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart to write a piece for the Passion 2000 project in commemoration of Johann Sebastian Bach. His contribution was the Water Passion After St. Matthew. The piece was widely performed in Europe and was subsequently given its American premiere by the Oregon Bach Festival, also under Rilling's direction.
In late 2006 Tan Dun premiered “Zen Shaolin” an outdoor production near Shaolin Temple in Henan, China. cite- http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/30/arts/dance/30tan.html?_r=1
In 2008, he was commissioned by Google to compose "Internet Symphony No. 1 'Eroica'" to be performed collaboratively by the YouTube Symphony Orchestra. That same year, he was comissioned by New York Philharmonic for Lang Lang to compose his First Piano Concerto, subtitled "The Fire".