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Tan Dun Profile

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.”


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