Composers Datebook®

Tan Dun and Beethoven – in (and out) of China

Composer's Datebook - September 14, 2023


On this date in 1973, Eugene Ormandy conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra in music by Mozart, Brahms, and the American composer, Roy Harris. The program was nothing out of the ordinary, but the concert took place in Beijing and marked the FIRST time an American orchestra had performed in Communist China. The orchestra was invited to China following the famous visit of President and Mrs. Nixon and secretary of state Henry Kissinger.

In the audience for one of these historic concerts was a young student of traditional Chinese music named Tan Dun. When Tan heard the Philadelphians perform Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, a work he had never heard before, he decided then and there to become a composer himself. In 1986, Tan Dun came to New York City, and since then has managed to combine elements of East and West into his own musical works.

In 1987, for example, he composed a violin concerto titled Out of Peking Opera, which draws on both Chinese and European traditions. In addition to prestigious awards and commissions from major foundations and orchestras, in March of 2001, Tan Dun won an Oscar for his film score to the Ang Lee film, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Music Played in Today's Program

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827) Symphony No. 5 Royal Philharmonic; René Leibowitz, cond. Chesky 17

Tan Dun (b. 1957) Out of Peking Opera Cho-Liang Lin, violin; Helsinki Philharmonic; Muhai Tang, cond. Ondine 864

On This Day


  • 1737 - Austrian composer Johann Michael Haydn, in Rohrau; He was the younger brother of Franz Joseph Haydn (b. 1732);

  • 1760 - Italian composer Luigi Cherubini, in Florence (although August 14 is occasionally cited as his birthdate);

  • 1910 - American composer and eminent theatrical conductor Lehman Engel, in Jackson, Miss.;

  • 1910 - Swiss composer Rolf Liebermann, in Zurich;


  • 1854 - Bruckner: Mass in Bb ("Missa Solemnis") in St. Florian, Austria;

  • 1952 - Frank Martin: Concerto for Harpsichord, in Venice;

  • 1954 - Britten: opera "The Turn of the Screw," in Venice at the Teatro La Fenice;

  • 1968 - Shostakovich: String Quartet No. 12, in Moscow, by the Beethoven Quartet;

  • 1978 - Barber: Third Essay for Orchestra, by the New York Philharmonic conducted by Zubin Mehta;

  • 1994 - Richard Danielpour: Cello Concerto, commissioned and performed by San Francisco Symphony conducted by Herbert Blomstedt, with soloist Yo-Yo Ma;

  • 1996 - Stockhausen: "Freitag aus Licht" (Friday from Light), at the Leipzig Opera;

  • 1997 - Saariaho: "Graal Théâtre" (chamber version), in Helsinki, by the Avanti Ensemble and violinist John Storgards.

  • 2002 - David Amram: Flute Concerto ("Giants of the Night"), in New Orleans by the Louisiana Philharmonic conducted by Klauspeter Seibel, with James Galway the soloist;

  • 2002 - Colin Matthews, Judith Weir, Poul Ruders, David Sower, Michael Torke, Anthony Payne, and Magnus Linberg: "Bright Cecilia: Variations on a Theme by Purcell," at Royal Albert Hall in London, with the BBC Symphony, Leonard Slatkin conducting; This set of orchestral variations on a Purcell theme was commissioned by BBC Music magazine to celebrate its 10th anniversary;


  • 1731 - J.S. Bach performs organ recitals in Dresden on Sept. 14-21;

  • 1741 - Handel finishes scoring his famous oratorio, "Messiah," begun on August 22 (The entire work was composed in a period of 24 days); These dates are according to the Julian "Old Style" calendar (Gregorian dates: Sept 2 to Sept. 25);

  • 1914 - W. C. Handy copyrights his most famous song, "The St. Louis Blues";

  • 1973 - The Philadelphia Orchestra gives a concert in Beijing, the first American orchestra to perform in Red China; Eugene Ormandy conducts symphonies by Mozart (No. 35), Brahms (No. 1) and the American composer Roy Harris (No. 3).

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®