Composers Datebook®

Tan Dun at the movies (and in the concert hall)

Composer's Datebook - September 29, 2023


On today’s date in 2000, a new cello concerto with an unusual title received its premiere performance at the Barbican Center in London. Billed as the “Crouching Tiger” Concerto, this score was by the Chinese composer Tan Dun, and was derived from Tan’s film score for Ang Lee’s mystical and magical martial arts film titled “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”

That score featured a prominent cello part, tailor-made for cellist Yo-Yo Ma, as well as a variety of traditional Chinese instruments and a percussion battery that included a North African frame drum. The haunting score matched the film so effectively that it was nominated for—and won—an Academy Award.

It was director Ang Lee who suggested that Tan Dun rework his film score into a cello concerto, and even offered to put together a special film to accompany the concerto. In effect, saying, “Turnabout is fair play—you composed music to fit my film, now I’ll compose a film to fit your concerto!”

Lee pulled together shots from the original film and mixed in real and imaginary scenes from New York’s Chinatown and 19th century Beijing for the new film designed to accompany performances of the new concerto.

Music Played in Today's Program

Tan Dun (b. 1957) Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon filmscore Yo Yo Ma, cello; Shanghai Symphony; Tan Dun, cond. Sony 89347

On This Day


  • 1673 - French flutist and composer Jacques-Martin Hottetere, in Paris;


  • 1977 - Russian composer Alexander Tcherepnin, age 78, in Paris;


  • 1918 - Holst: "The Planets," at Queen's Hall, London;

  • 1921 - Sigmund Romberg: operetta "Blossom Time," in New York City;

  • 1949 - Bliss: opera "The Olympians," in London;

  • 1968 - Henze: Piano Concerto No. 2, in Bielefeld, Germany;

  • 1969 - Shostakovich: Symphony No. 14 (to poems of Lorca, Apollinaire, Küchelbecker, and Rilke), in Leningrad, by the Moscow Chamber Orchestra, Rudolf Barshai conducting, with vocal soloists Galina Vishnevskaya and Yevgeny Vladimirov;

  • 1983 - Lutoslawski: Symphony No. 3, in Chicago;

  • 1997 - Michael Torke: "Overnight Mail" for chamber ensemble, in Carre, Amsterdam, by the Orkest de Volharding, Jurjen Hempel conducting;

  • 2000 - Tan Dun: "Crouching Tiger Concerto," at the Barbican Festival in London, by the London Sinfonietta;


  • 1739 - Handel completes in London his Concerto Grosso in G, Op. 6, no. 1 (Gregorian date: Oct. 10);

  • 1789 - Mozart completes in Vienna his Quintet in A for clarinet and strings, K. 581, written for clarinetist Anton Stadler, who gave the first public performance of the new work in December of that year.

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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.

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