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Ancient Buddhist murals recast in music

Chinese composer and conductor Tan Dun stood in awe on his first visit to the Mogao Caves, the famed grottoes filled with ancient Buddhist murals near Dunhuang in northwest China’s Gansu Province.

He stayed for six hours, gazing at the ancient treasures that day. In the next six years, he returned 15 times.

His multiple visits and years of research into Buddhist art and ancient philosophy led to the creation of his oratorio “Buddha Passion,” which will be played at the Shanghai Oriental Art Center on June 20.

“I was not only amazed by the beautiful paintings, but moreover, the scenarios related to music from centuries ago,” Tan recalled his first trip and initial inspiration. 

“Many of the paintings portray music scenarios vividly, with ancient musical instruments and sometimes even big ensembles. I was truly impressed and wondered what the sounds in the Dunhuang caves were actually like.”

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