“Tan quickly gravitated to New York’s downtown scene, particularly to the world of John Cage. By combining Cage’s chance processes and natural noises with plush Romantic melodies, Tan concocted a kind of crowd-pleasing avant-gardism.
In March, at the Egg, he demonstrated that sensibility with a concert of “Organic Music,” with the China Youth Symphony; in “Paper Concerto” and “Water Concerto,” the Japanese percussionist Haruka Fujii crinkled paper and swished water in amplified bowls and other receptacles. In a further feat of packaging, Tan relates this music to shamanistic rituals of Hunan province, where he grew up. With such deft gestures of fusion, Tan has satisfied a Western craving for authentic-seeming, folklore-based music.”
“In the West, our situation as composers is very sad,” Chen Qigang told me. “In the nineteen-fifties, we lost command of the field, not just because popular composers took over but because we ceded the terrain. We ‘developed’ to the point where we no longer knew anything about the art of writing melody. We had a kind of nonexistence in musical life.” Nodding to his Olympics experience, he added, “Now I understand how hard it is to compose a cheery little song.”
No composer has embraced that challenge as eagerly as Tan Dun, whose submission to the Olympic ceremony is a radically bathetic pop ballad entitled “One World, One Dream.” Conceived in league with the songwriter and producer David Foster, Tan’s song has been recorded by Andrea Bocelli, the platinum-selling crossover tenor, and Zhang Liangying, another competitor from the 2005 “Super Girl” contest. “You are me and I am you,” they sing together, in English. Unfortunately, they don’t go on to say, “I am the walrus.”