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Operatic dream blossoms

Updated: 2013-01-14 15:07:18
China Daily

Full circle

Although Tan is best known for his Oscar-winning score for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, he regards his recent project as the fulfillment of a dream. And his musical career began modestly with a few crucial, life-changing experiences.

"I have a few important turning points in my life," he says.

"The first one goes back to when I moved myself from my hometown in Hunan province to Beijing to study at the Beijing Conservatory, which was the first step for me to realize my dream of becoming a professional musician."

He moved to New York in 1986 to study for a doctorate in composition at Columbia University. He was taught by renowned composer Chou Wen-Chung and soon discovered the beauty of experimental music.

There was no overnight success for Tan. He spent many days busking, playing the violin in front of a bank in Manhattan's Greenwich Village, where people would toss quarters into his can.

That's also how he met three important passersby, each of whom gave a generous $20, Tan recalls: ground-breaking composer John Cage, avant-garde choreographer Merce Cunningham and Nam June Paik, arguably the world's first video artist.

"Moving to New York from Beijing has definitely made my stage bigger," Tan says.

He regards the current The Peony Pavilion as another turning point.

"By presenting the show in gardens, I have found a way to awaken the sleeping beauty - the Chinese gardens. I want everywhere to be China's Zhujiajiao."

Tan travels frequently between China and the US. Asked where he considers home, his answer is characteristically ethereal yet focused. "Where the garden is, and where the opera is - that's where home is," he says.

"The garden is my home, and opera is my home. I always think about this: culturally, I'm unabashedly Chinese. Dream-wise, I want to be a world citizen and pursue art without boundaries - geographical, racial, political."

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