If there's such a thing as a rock star composer, Tan Dun comes pretty close. In addition to winning an Oscar, a Grammy and the Grawemeyer Award, he's written music for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and a "Disney Symphony" for the opening of the company's new theme park in Shanghai, broadcast to an audience of more than 65 million.
On a somewhat less grand scale, Tan has amassed a large catalog of chamber and orchestral music, including (to date) five operas. Among these, his most ambitious has been The First Emperor, commissioned by the Met Opera in 2006. Based on the life of Qin Shi Huang, the emperor who united China in the second century BCE, the opera showcased Tan's characteristic blend of Chinese and Western music, as well as his unfortunate penchant for cloying melodies. Still, there's no denying the fact that Tan is box office: all seven performances of the run were sold out.
Recently, New York's other Met - the Met Museum - commissioned Tan to write a new work in conjunction with the opening of their landmark exhibition The Age of Empires: Chinese Art of the Qin and Han Dynasties, featuring archaeological treasures from China's early empire - including the famous terracotta warriors and other artifacts from Qin Shi Huang's mausoleum. Tan responded with two not-exactly-new works, both of which were premiered Friday night at the Met's Grace Rainey Rodgers Auditorium by the Juilliard Orchestra, with the Tan himself conducting.
Tan's Triple Concerto: Hero was repurposed from his score for the 2002 Zhang Yimou film Hero, primarily designed to accompany the fast-action martial arts scenes. Unfortunately - or, perhaps this was by design? - I was more focused on the film playing above the orchestra than the performance happening underneath by the three talented young soloists: pianist Robert Fleitz, violinist Ken Hamao, and cellist James Jeonghwan Kim. At the end, the largely partisan crowd gave both Tan and the soloists a warm ovation while I made a beeline for the exhibit upstairs (which opens to the public on Monday April 3.)
More pics on the photo page.