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Chinese composer Tan Dun's latest work, Nu-Shu: The Secret Songs of Women, was inspred by an ancient language spoken in a remote area of Tan's home province of Hunan. (Courtesy of the artist)

From 'Crouching Tiger' To 'Secret Songs': Composer Tan Dun's Next Move

by NPR Staff
Oct 27, 2013 (Weekend Edition Sunday)

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Chinese composer Tan Dun has written an opera for Placido Domingo and his works have been performed by the some of the world's greatest orchestras. In addition to writing music for the Beijing Olympics, he wrote the Oscar-winning score for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Now, Tan Dun has turned his attention to his home province of Hunan for his latest composition. It is a multimedia work, comprising film, an orchestra and a harp soloist, entitled Nu-Shu: The Secret Songs of Women. The music tells the story of an ancient secret language used by women in Hunan province to communicate with friends and family after being sequestered into marriages that took them far from home.

This Thursday, the Philadelphia Orchestra and harp soloist Elizabeth Hainen will present the American premiere of The Secret Songs of Women. NPR's Rachel Martin spoke with both Hainen and Tan Dun about the origins of the piece and its eclectic presentation of sound, including a passage in which water becomes a percussion instrument. Hear their conversation at the audio link.

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