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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.


I just heard that my favourite author David Mitchell is writing the libretto for a memorial opera to be premiered in Enschede on May 13th 2010.

On that day it will be 10 years ago (already!) that a fireworks storage facility exploded in the middle of a residential area. The disaster has (of course) been burnt into our collective memory, known as the vuurwerkramp. You can ask anybody where (s)he was when it happened and they’ll tell you. The JFKennedy effect.

The opera, called Wake, is composed by Klaas de Vries and will be performed by — this is getting even better! — the Nationale Reisopera, led by conductor Reinbert de Leeuw! I’ve been to two fabulous performances of this company: The Turn of the Screw (a story by Henry James) and The Mikado (by Gilbert & Sullivan).

It’s terrible to feel so positively thrilled about something that’s supposed to remember a tragic event. But I can’t help myself! If there’s only one thing I can get or even do next year — THIS IS IT.

Maybe it’s a small consolation that something as special and exciting like this is being done in memory of what happened. Although I should add that the story line is quite universal: the lives of 18 ordinary people in an apartment building (in an unidentified city), change dramatically after a disastrous event.

Sounds like a David Mitchell book alright ;) Especially when you know it will be presented in a mix of opera, mystery play, moving images and literary fiction. Yay! Can I go now, please? A year is a long time to wait, even if it’s for something this good. Did you know that Mitchell’s new novel is said to be published by Random House in spring 2010 as well?? Erm, I guess I should correct my earlier assertion that I have only wish for one thing next year… :\ Anyway, I’ll just have to be very patient for now :(

Oh wait, did anyone ask where I was at the moment of the explosion..? Visiting relatives in Toronto, Canada. And it was my brother-in-law who told me (in the kitchen area). There you have it: a past, present and future post in one ;)

Gnoe goes ExtraVeganza!


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