Few composers can shift effortlessly between writing music for the concert hall and writing music for film, but Tan Dun is one of them. His symphonic works have been performed all over the world, and earlier this year, the Los Angeles Master Chorale performed his powerful and moving Water Passion After St. Matthew. (Audiences, however, may know him best for his Oscar-winning score to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.) Tomorrow night, August 13, Tan will take to the podium as he leads the LA Philharmonic in an evening of his film work at the Hollywood Bowl.
In addition to Crouching Tiger, Tan will be conducting music from Hero (2002) and The Banquet (2006). “In the last 12 years, I wanted and planned only to do these three films,” Tan reveals. “In each one, [the music is] played by a trio of piano, cello and violin. In the finale they come together as a triple resurrection.” Tan likens the progression of his work to Richard Wagner’s operatic triptych, The Ring Cycle. “It’s magical actually,” he says. “I had all these motifs to link them together. For example: the love motif, the soar motif, the fight motif, the dream motif, and the water motif, all going back and forth across the films, across different stories linked as one.”
During tomorrow night’s concert, scenes from each of the three movies will play in conjunction with the music. “We will have 30 minutes of each film to highlight the music and the storytelling in each film,” the composer says. “It’s not a mish-mash montage multi-media effect with melody. It’s going to be modern media and story, and the most powerful images will be together with sound, retelling the story.”
Tan schedules his life so that he can spend equal amounts of time writing and conducting. “I write one month, I conduct one month,” he offers. “I always learn composing from conducting and conducting from composing. But physically, after one month conducting, you need to go back to meditational writing; after one month writing, you need some exercise. Conducting is a wonderful way to exercise. Sometimes I treat conducting like working out in a gym.”
Through his work, Tan finds inspiration in nature. He articulates the goal of his music in just those terms. “I wish people, when they leave from my music, they return to that kind of feeling in the very beginning point of life. They start to realize that nature—the sound of water, the sound of wind, the sound of your dreams—is actually still there. Maybe you never thought that was so important in your whole life. I wish my music could always remind you of that.”