Hello Japan! is swinging into 2010. January’s topic is ‘Music to my ears’. I found it really hard to decide what musical subject to concentrate on, so I am presenting a 5 part series of ‘Music Lessons’ on Fridays. Welcome to #3! Which is actually more of a report on a concert I visited ;)

Time flies… almost a year ago I went to a performance of classical music by contemporary Japanese composers that are influenced by ‘the West’ but have kept their Oriental identity. The works were selected by conductor Reinbert de Leeuw and performed by the Asko/Schönberg Ensemble.

The evening consisted of music by the well-known Tōru Takemitsu (Tree Line / Archipelago S.), Jo Kondo (Isthmus / Syzygia), Toshio Hosokawa (Voyage V) and the Dutch premiere of Vanishing Point by Dai Fujikura. Because of the program’s diversity the hosting concert hall, Muziekgebouw aan ’t IJ, had called it ‘Japanse Mix‘; a Dutch name for a combination of rice crackers… Not surprisingly Reinbert de Leeuw pleaded in his introduction to forget about those nuts. So, apologies for the following ;)

My main sensation of the evening was that it completely cleared my head, almost like a yoga session! LOL. I don’t think I would have been able to listen as relaxed if I had been at home though. But tonight I was forced to stay put and listen ;)

Some thoughts & impressions…

Takemitsu is said to be the first Modern Japanese composer to be known in the West. Of course that has something to do with his affinity with jazz (among others); a genre not much to my liking — what might be the reason that I have to make an effort to appreciate his music. Although his oeuvre is quite varied of course. Here’s a quote on the interconnection of East and West by the master himself:

There is no doubt […] the various countries and cultures of the world have begun a journey toward the geographic and historic unity of all peoples […] The old and new exist within me with equal weight.

The evening was enclosed by two compositions of Takemitsu. The final, Archipelago S., was more ‘accessible’ to the untrained ear. It’s a piece written for 21 musicians and they all sat in a half-circle (crescent moon) on stage. Lots of solos so each got their fair share of attention ;) I’ve only got two different works of Takemitsu at home, so I’ll share with you Stanza II, performed by harpist Naoko Yoshino. Just to give you a general idea. It’s from Insomnia, a collaborative album with Gidon Kremer.

Something else Takemitsu said about his compositions appeals to me so much it really makes me want to love his music.

My music is deeply influenced by nature and Japanese gardens. From gardens, I’ve learned to treasure the Japanese sense of timing and color. Each element is precious… every rock and tree, and, somehow, we see reflected in all of them… the entire universe.

Back to the concert and other composers. What I especially liked about Voyage V by Hosokawa, were the Western flutes simulating the sound of Japanese wind chimes, ending in utter silence. A vanishing point, so to say, but that was another piece of music; by Fujikura. Is there any relation to the 1971 cult movie Vanishing Point? Anyway, the premiere of this piece was impressive in that it seemed to require the utmost concentration of all performers. The composer was present and seemed very satisfied.

Now you might have noticed I didn’t mention Kondo’s music.. I’m afraid I don’t remember much about it and I didn’t note down any striking thoughts. Maybe it was so minimalistic that it seems never to have existed? Bad joke, I know :\ Dutch readers can look it up in this review in de Volkskrant of January 31, 2009.

Although it wasn’t all as exhilarating as I might have hoped, we had a nice evening out that we concluded in the bar with a drink and snacks. Nuts, of course.