Associate Professor of Art History
Northern Illinois University
October 18th, 2012 at Tokyo Bunka Kaikan Recital Hall
“The World of Yoshio Hachimura: To See a World in a Single Sound, Hearing One’s Self in a Single Work”
Mizuki Aita is a percussionist who has continued to perform newly commissioned works and reinterpret works in contemporary music since winning the second place prize of the 2010 competition “Ky?gaku IX” presented by the Japan Society for Contemporary Music. On this evening, Yoshio Hachimura, a composer Mr. Aita deeply admires, could be heard from multiple perspectives. The concert also included taped readings of Hachimura’s writings between works. The opening work was “Improvisation pour piano” played by Erina Aihara. In “One Hour at Every One Breath,” the eight performers conducted by Isamu Kanai performed with expressionist moments of compressed, bursting, and languishing sounds. On piano, Alexander Scriabin’s “Etude no. 17” and Teizo Matsumura’s “Deux Berceuses à la Grèce” were performed by Shiori Suda, and Hachimura’s “Meditation Higan-Bana” was performed by Rie Kimura. “Constellation,” a tubular-bells composition resembling a concerto, was performed with an emotion-filled solo by Aita accompanied by Erina Aihara on piano, Madoka Yazawa on violin, and Kurena Yamaguchi on vibraphone. Akemi Naito’s “Memory of the Woods,”
performed solo by Aita on marimba, became an intermezzo of calmness. Hachimura’s “Ahania,” was a beautiful marimba duo with precise crossings between Kurena Yamaguchi and Miyako Yonashige. Aita’s solos of Hachimura’s “Dolcissima Mia Vita” and “The Woman in the Dunes” by Akemi Naito together conjured up an exclamation and a prayer. Hachimura admired madness and Naito draws us even more into it. Music and musical relationships sonorously resounded magnificently. On this night, we heard the world.
and Daniel Druckman, percussion). Crazy Jane.
Works by Lansky, Leisner, Roxbury, Naito, Musto, and Crumb.
Bridge Records 9290, 2011.
There are many wonderful things to say about the disc by Crazy Jane (David Starobin, guitar; Patrick Mason, baritone; and Daniel Druckman, percussion), but first I must give thanks to the gods of reviewers for putting before me a recording which includes the words (of poet James Tate): “When riding an escalator, I expect something orthopedic to happen… I fly into a rage at the sight of a double-decker bus.” I mean, really, how great is that? Of course there is much more to be said of this wonderfully constructed and beautifully played program. It opens with the first of three Songs of Parting by Paul Lansky. Two other songs are in the middle and at the end of the program. The texts are traditional, the musical settings definitely not, but are quite beautiful as scored for the three musicians. Lansky exploits the resources of guitar and percussion magically, and writes vocal lines which are adventurous yet lyrical. I must confess I have fallen for these Lansky songs.
The words quoted at the outset of this review are featured in the marvelous cycle Three James Tate Songs by David Leisner. Drawing on Tate poems from three different collections, it features just voice and guitar. Leisner is at his compositional best here, writing vocal lines and guitar parts which (almost literally) illuminate the absurdist images of the poems. Despite the almost surreal nature of the texts, the final effect is very direct in its communication with the listener, a tribute to Leisner’s inspiration.
Crazy Jane is a short but striking song—I guess that’s the correct term—by Ronald Roxbury. The current performers have adopted it as the name of their ensemble. Written for voice, guitar, and kitchen percussion, it uses a kind of demented Sprechstimme which is perfect for the text. Akemi Naito’s setting of the rather lengthy Wallace Stevens poem The Idea of Order at Key West is simply beautiful. The poem, instrumental parts and vocal line are all captivating. The quality of the music on this disc is amazingly consistent, with John Musto’s The Brief Light, setting poems of James Laughlin for voice and guitar, yet another gem uniting words and music powerfully. George Crumb is, of course, one of our most prominent American composers. All of his music is challenging to perform, and much is, to put it mildly, challenging to listen to. The Ghosts of Alhambra is set to poems of Federico Garcia Lorca, from the Poema del cante jondo. Again, the quality of music and performance is astonishingly high. The work is very effective, sometimes sounding like avant-garde flamenco, if one can imagine such a thing. It is also a workout for the musical, vocal, and dramatic skills of the singer, which is nor to say it is a walk in the park for the guitarist or percussionist, either! The piece is by far the most modernist work on the disc, but does includes moments of rhythmic dynamism and eerie beauty, particularly in the last songs, “Malagueña” and “Memento.”
If Patrick Mason’s voice is not quite as fresh as on some earlier Bridge recordings, it is still lovely, with a flawless legato when needed. Additionally, his quirky and personal notes for the album are a pleasure to read and a tremendous asset to the complete production. Recording is flawless. Highly recommended.
When this virtuoso moved to New York City from Japan, he also moved the marimba into the stratosphere. Long an instrument for popular music, in his hands, or rather, beneath his mallets, the instrument becomes a thing of wonder.
At a concert at Holy Trinity church on East 88th street, Nakura astonished the audience with his virtuosity and sensitivity on an instrument that is usually played fast and hard at full throttle. He coaxed nuances out of the high notes that sounded like musical cotton candy as they melted. His low counterpoint (with two mallets in each hand this can be quite complex) rivaled Bach at times. In fact, he recorded five Bach transcriptions on his CD “Bach Beat.”
Clearly his most astonishing feat was his playing of “Five WAKA by Saigyo,” a piece composed by Akemi Naito. This classical Japanese poetry, sung to Ms. Naito?s melodies by the Cantori New York choir of Holy Trinity church, provided a reflective, introspective text for Mr. Nakura?s energetic yet thoughtful playing.
He would jump to the low notes then jump back a good eight feet to the high counterpoint. Then at times hesounded as if he were riffing between poems like Thelonious Monk. Many modern compositions leave the audience cold, wondering at the disjointed feel of the music. This piece was truly moving, and in fact may be destined for a very wide audience.
Music for the accordion does not have an established classical tradition to which it can refer, as exists for other instruments. Lacking this framework, the criteria essential for an exemplary musical artwork can not easily be fulfilled by the composer. So, the Tokyo born and New York resident, Akemi Naito, chose the most direct path: she realized that the sound and tone production principles of the accordion have certain similarities to the Japanese mouth organ Shô (free-vibrating piercing tongues produce the sound as in the accordion), has been used in the court music of the Japanese Emperor (Gagaku) since the start of the eighth century, and its precursor the Chinese Sheng, which originally appeared in the Shang-Dynasty (1766-1122 B.C.) . Along with South American influences and contemporary European music, this is by far the oldest musical tradition to which the accordion can be related, as, for example, the Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa demonstrated so convincingly in Melodia (1979).
But Naito chose yet a totally different path with her musical language. In Sanctuary she develops a certain spirituality, emanating from calmly, slowly evolving sounds that seem to evoke an echo of the past. These crescendo-like increasing harmonies and cluster-like tonal structures seem like arpeggios in slow motion. Sometimes their range is broad, sometimes it is narrow, sometimes they seem solid, sometimes they seem loose, and occasionally also melodic. Sanctuary hardly ever develops as expected, and development in the sense of motifs is barely apparent.
Again and again there are rhythmic, tonal or, although more seldom, melodic surprises. These, however, are only intensely perceived if the listener or performer submerges himself completely with ears and spirit in this deep journey. And herein lie difficulty and the challenge of this piece: to allow the development of a differentiated sound universe, which, although it uses European tonal language and notation (everything is notated in bars), nevertheless requires a contemplative mindset in order to experience it. “However the world may change or technologies progress, this remains an unchanging foundation, one which is always my starting point. Sound has its own energies and my method is to weave them together. Sound breathes and shapes itself into a musical work.” (www.akeminaito.com)
Technical and therefore musical difficulties present themselves for the left hand in the five-part sounds. They can only be produced with an instrument with large bass knobs; or else one distributes the notes of the left hand (bass side) to the treble side, which then, naturally, changes the sound balance. The transitions among the multi-voiced sounds can also present problems. Here the performer has to maintain the tension between the endings and the constantly renewing build-up of sounds — along with changes in intensity.
This work does not speak directly to the listener. It retreats into itself, as it were, and thereby provokes attention and curiosity. Presumably, one can predict therefore, that Sanctuary will not fall victim to the zeitgeist, but will take its place on the list of renowned works of demanding accordion literature.
Akemi Naito (b. 1956) grew up in Tokyo and moved to New York City in 1991. This disc contains mostly chamber music written since she arrived here. It opens with Winter Shadow, a two-movement piece for two guitars. This is a curious composition where I is more or less traditionally scored, while II begins with some odd harmonic effects and goes on to some major tone-bending, apparently without frets, fascinating and unexplained. Rain, Calling Autumn is a suite for piano. Again I uses the unreconstructed instrument in vaguely Debussian terms, while II plays with the silent depression of tone clusters and their effect on the resonance of the rest of the instrument, and III requires the insertion of a dime between two strings a la Cage.
Interlude, for cello and piano, is a 7-minute work where Naito goes it alone without benefit of reconstructing the sound. This is the most recent piece, written in 1996. It is quite beautifully lyrical, showing a strong feeling for melody as well as experimenting with various attractive sonic relationships between cello and piano. Solitude for alto sax and electronic enhancement was Naito’s first composition on moving to New York. It is the longest single movement on the program and puts both instrument and electronics through some unusual paces, from the expected multiphonics and bent tones through amplified key clicks and breathing effects. This one seems a bit extended at 10 minutes. Then follows a tape piece, Electronic Landscape, in four movement, full of imaginative and amusing sounds. Strings & Time, an 11-minute triptych for 13 strings, is full of delicate and rich harmonies and effective sonorities. The disc ends with an early work from 1979, Secret Song for solo guitar. Naito has a delicate touch, and this is an attractive introduction to her work.
Ultima, the festival of contemporary art, is in full swing, offering a variety of concerts, films, theatre, and much more. On Sunday, the smaller stage at Oslo Konserthus opened its doors to a sizable audience which had come to hear the renowned Japanese pianisit Aki Takahashi, a pianist famed not least for her interpretations of modern works.
Throughout her recital, devoted entirely to contemporary music, she proved herself to be a full-blooded artist in command of a fantastic technique, with the imaginiatioin and ability to enhance the more demanding works on the programme. It was not so much music with a ‘national’ flavour that we heard, but rather compositions which had adopted familiar tendencies in the music of post-war Europe. A lot of crashing and thundering, but also intimate passages which bore witness to the range of expression of these composers, most of whom were unkown to us, with the exception of Toru Takemitsu. Akemi Naito’s piece, ‘Rain, Calling Autumn’ (1994), with its highly imaginative sound-colouring, was of particular interest.
It was interesting to note that well-known Beatles songs had inspired composers to write fantasies over part of the famous pop group’s vast production. Nobody looks down on the Beatles anymore, not even those involved in so-called ‘serious’ music. It was noteworthy to hear how these melodies lent themelves to Aki Takahashi’s superb pianistic abilities.
There was perhaps something a little stereotype here and there, slight lack of originality, a use of the instrument which did not always disclose the secrets of the modern piano.
Conclusion: An exciting encounter with a wonderful pianist and several interesting modern piano pieces. The audience’s reaction was spontaneous and enthusiastic; the Ultima festival is a necessary part of the expanding our horizon.