Watch a selection from Tan Dun's The Map, conducted by the composer and performed by cellist Anssi Karttunen and the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra. "Flying Song" is described as an "antiphonal song of love." The live performance was recorded in 2003 in the ancient city of Fenghuang in China's Hunan province.
Composer Tan Dun grew up in Mao's China. As a boy, he saw his parents sent away for so-called "re-education." He remembers being a wild child, living alone, running up mountains barefoot — and being "intoxicated only by music."
hide captionTan Dun won an Oscar and a Grammy for his score for the 2000 film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Tan Dun won an Oscar and a Grammy for his score for the 2000 film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
He was 20 when he first heard Bach, whose music Tan Dun says was a "spiritual medicine" on the heels of the Cultural Revolution.
"You are standing on the ruins. Everything's been destroyed. Family's been destroyed, culture [has] been destroyed. And nobody [was] allowed to touch anything Western or ancient. And suddenly you heard Bach. It's like a medicine curing everything you were suffering."
Tan Dun says his own Water Passion is an answer to Bach's St. Matthew Passion — "the water representing the tears, the resurrection, the circling, incarnation."
Drawing from China's shamans, Tan Dun often turns to what he calls organic instruments: a pair of stones, bamboo, a leaf. Or in the case of Water Passion, cups of water dipped into a basin.
Organic sounds also turn up in his film score for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and a concerto he wrote for Yo-Yo Ma.
Features in this series are produced by David Schulman and NPR's Jeffrey Freymann-Weyr.