Tan Dun

Tan Dun is a composer and conductor. He was born in China and is a graduate of Beijing's Central Conservatory and Columbia University in New York. Tan Dun's music is played by leading orchestras and ensembles throughout the world and can be heard on recordings. Some of his works include Ghost Opera (for the Kronos Quartet); The Peony Pavillion (with Peter Sellers); Symphony 1997 (Heaven Earth Mankind), which was premiered by cellist Yo-Yo Ma; the opera Marco Polo, for which he won the Grawemeyer Award; and the sound track for the Ang Lee film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, for which he won an Academy Award in 2001. In 1997 Tan Dun was cited by The New York Times as one of the "Classical Musicians of the Year." He served as artistic director of the Tanglewood Contemporary Music Festival in 1999 and artistic director for Barbican Centre Festival "Fine Cross Water" in 2000.

Selected Objects


Pakistan, Gandhara area
Kushan period, late 2nd-early 3rd century
H. 72 in. (182.9 cm); 1979.3

A Re-Departure on the Past

In the process of choosing these objects,
I have reflected on the experience of drinking these three spirits as one--composing.

Wine: ritual
Tea: mind
Water: eternity

With wine comes both sorrow and cheer. With tea comes both the bitter and sweet. With water comes the complexity of life and transparency.

Which one is the hardest to drink?
Water, tea, or wine?

To me, water is the most difficult to taste--
An endless mirror

What is it to you?
Let's talk.

Leave your thoughts in our comment book.


Wine Vessel: Zun
North China
Shung period, 13th-11th century B.C.E.
H. 13 in. (33.0 cm), D. 8 1/4 in. (21.0 cm); 1993.3


North China
Eastern Zhou period, 4th century B.C.E.
Bronze inlaid with copper
H. 14 1/2 in. (36.8 cm), W. 13 3/4 in. (34.9 cm); 1979.104


Two Mukozuke Dishes
Japan, Saga and Nagasaki Prefectures
Momoyama to Edo period, late 16th-early 17th century
Stoneware painted with underglaze iron brown (Karatsu ware)
Each 4 1/4 x 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 in. (10.8 x 5.7 x 5.7 cm); 1979.229.1-2


Square Serving Dish with Bail Handle
Japan, Gifu Prefecture
Momoyama period, late 16th century
Stoneware painted with iron brown on slip under glaze and a partial overlay of copper green glaze (Mino ware, Oribe type)
5 1/2 x 8 1/8 x 8 1/8 in. (14.0 x 20.4 x 20.4 cm) with handle; 1979.226


Water Jar for Tea Ceremony
Japan, Mie Prefecture
Momoyama to Edo period, late 16th-early 17th century
Stoneware with impresses design under glaze (Iga ware)
9 1/2 x 7 1/4 x 7 1/4 in. (24.1 x 18.4 x 18.4 cm) with cover; 1979.224a,b


Kendi (Spouted Jar)
15th-16th century
Porcelain with incised design under glaze (Si Satchanalai ware)
H. 5 3/4 in. (14.6 cm), D. 6 1/4 in. (15.9 cm); 1979.94