The world-premiere recording of Tan Dun’s Buddha Passion – an epic choral work which will also launch the Edinburgh International Festival this summer – is set for release on Friday 4 August.
Described by the New York Times as “a kind of rock star of the modern music scene”, the multi-award-winning composer and UNESCO Global Goodwill Ambassador conducts as he begins his recording partnership with Decca.
Tan Dun’s Buddha Passion is a captivating tale of wonder, truth and gentle but irresistible transformation. The monumental work involving massed choirs, large orchestra, six percussionists and an array of soloists including indigenous singers, traditional Chinese instruments and a dancing pipa player, is the first such ‘Passion’ on a Buddhist rather than Christian narrative.
Set at the foot of the Himalayas and inspired by Chinese and Sanskrit texts, the story follows a little prince as he finds enlightenment and becomes Buddha, meeting an array of characters before reaching Nirvana. The life-affirming score fuses the ancient wisdom of Buddhism with the musical tradition of JS Bach’s Passions, featuring hypnotic orchestral textures and Eastern vocal techniques.
The epic work was inspired by a visit to the vast myriad of ancient caves containing countless musical murals in the Dunhuang desert. Tan Dun explains that “these musical paintings depict more than four thousand musical instruments, three thousand musicians and five hundred orchestras. I was so deeply moved that I could almost hear the sounds emanating from the murals.” After years of research, composing, and striving to bring the murals to life through the vast forces of orchestras, choirs, Chinese instruments and sounds of nature, Buddha Passion was completed in 2018. Tan Dun felt that he had created a bridge that brings the distant – “from Dunhuang to Europe, from ancient times to today,” connecting people with the shared compassion and the love of the ancient art.
In the 1960s, Tan Dun was a young boy running barefoot through the fields of remote Hunan in China, yet always aware of the sounds and traditions surrounding him. Today, based in New York, he is one of the world’s most exciting composers. Having been catapulted into the mainstream by his Oscar, Bafta and Grammy-award-winning score for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the UNESCO Global Goodwill Ambassador has scored music for global events such as the reunification of Hong Kong with China, the world’s celebration of the new millennium and the Beijing Olympics. He has also written music for some of the biggest names in music, such as Lang Lang, and for many of the world’s leading orchestras, and was the first composer ever commissioned by Google/YouTube.
When the Cultural Revolution broke out in 1966, Tan Dun’s was separated from his parents and sent to the country to plant rice. He taught himself the violin and eventually got work as a musician with a travelling troupe. When the Cultural Revolution finally ended and music conservatories opened again, Tan Dun, with no money, smuggled himself onto a train to audition for Beijing’s Central Conservatory of Music, beginning his meteoric rise.
Decca announced a major recording partnership earlier this year which was welcomed by the composer as fulfilling an almost unimaginable life-long dream.
Co-Presidents of Decca Label Group, Tom Lewis and Laura Monks, said, “We are so proud to begin our recording partnership with Tan Dun with the world premiere release of his Buddha Passion. The work embodies so much of the inventive, energetic and warm-hearted spirit that has made him such a global superstar and statesman for classical music”.