The Grit and Grace of Tan Dun's Martial Arts Trilogy

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Tan Dun is one of those mercurial composers that’s impossible to pin down—is he a film composer (see: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon)? A maestro of opera (see: The First Emperor)? An Eastern musician blending western idioms (see: Ghost Opera, performed by the Kronos Quartet with Wu Man)? A symphonist (see: the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra’s performance of his Water Concerto)?

Yes, Yes, Yes and Yes. And, simultaneously, No. In being everything, Tan Dun eschews any imaginable label. He takes that to a new level with The Martial Arts Trilogy, a reshaping of three of his best-known film scores (Hero, Crouching Tiger and The Banquet), rendering them full-blown extravaganzas separate from their cinematic homes and recording them for Sony with a top-flight trio of musicians in violinist Itzhak Perlman on Hero, cellist Yo-Yo Ma on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Lang Lang on The Banquet.

The works seamlessly tread the line between East and West, capturing the sharp-lined balletic movements of martial arts with a dose of regal melancholy and romantic mysticism. Tan Dun conducts a variety of his homeland’s orchestras and ensembles including the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and Shanghai Symphony Percussion Ensemble (who, along with Kodo, have the tendency to hit the listener right in the gut). It doesn’t get much better than hearing Itzhak Perlman recreate the sound of the Chinese erhu on violin, and Yo-Yo Ma puts his Silk Road sensibilities to virtuosic use here. Lang Lang’s showmanship is, likewise, a solid fit. The Martial Arts Trilogy was recently performed at Lincoln Center Out of Doors, making this disc a presciently timed release for both devoted fans and those blessed few who have yet to experience Tan Dun’s engrossing talent. 

For one week only, nab a free download from above of the title track from the film The Banquet, as performed by Lang Lang.