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  Tan Dun Profile  CT News at 12:38 on 06 May 2008

New York Times today has a feature on Tan Dun, discussing his past and what it means to be a Chinese composer in today's world. Particularly abrasive are some comments by English composer Alexander Goehr:

“Actually,” Goehr said, “what I warned them against was to do a Chinese version of Western music. Unfortunately my warning had little effect. They have become Western composers with a few temple bells.”

I repeated something Tan said about the need for modern Chinese artists to retain a certain innocence. Tan told me how he had tried to avoid being too sophisticated. “If you are too sophisticated,” he said, “you lose courage.” Theory, he maintained, “makes for more boundaries. Competing with the Europeans, by being more sophisticated, is to resist yourself. One plus one makes one. Yin and yang, inside and outside, honesty and pretension. I have practiced this philosophy for the last 20 years.”

Goehr sighed over the phone and said: “Yes, that is what I had hoped as well, that they would keep a freshness, find something different out of their own experience, like Janacek or Mussorgsky. But that hope was a little innocent, too. In fact, because of their success in every other field, the Chinese are now in the same state as people who are not Chinese. They know what the trends are. They are technically excellent, but the overall popularism, which is commercial in origin, will lead to kitsch.”

  Re: Tan Dun Profile  Misuc at 16:08 on 06 May 2008

Very interesting. How wise Alexnder Goehr's words! I didn't realise that it was he who played such a large part in the musical renaissance (if that is what you can call it) in China. Yes. it is a pity that Tan Dun went the commercial way and not the Mussorgsky or Janacek way, but his collaborator, the wonderful writer: Ha Jin, is not like that at all. Nothing if not alert, savage and realistic... (in the Mussorgsky and Janacek manner that Goehr would have approved. perhaps tan has another side?) And CT members will perhaps be aware of Kee Yong Chong, who has brought a deeper, finer, more sensitive and richer dynamic unity between the ancient cultures of China and the 21st century traditions of the west - maybe this is the equivalent of what Mussorgsky and Janacek were trying to do. Goehr himself wrote two wonderful Japanese inspired short opera-essays: "Kantan" and "Damask Drum" which are models of one way to approach this task.