Thursday 18 February 2016

Rising Sun, Falling Rain: Our Concerts Director's introduction to Toru Takemitsu

 Ahead of our At Lunch Three tour, James our Concerts Director, shares an introduction into the work of Toru Takemitsu, whose music is featured in the programme...

The timing of our Britten Sinfonia At Lunch Three tour this week is particularly poignant, as our musicians Emer McDonough, Lucy Wakeford and Clare Finnimore perform Toru Takemitsu’s trio for flute, harp and viola Then I Knew t’was Wind, marking the 20th anniversary of the composer’s death, 20th February 1996. Takemitsu is a composer I admire greatly, his music much like that of Messiaen’s: inspired by nature, the environment, Japanese cultural aesthetics but also his bold confrontation of social and racial boundaries of his era (he was commissioned by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic back in the 60s, at the time hailed as one of the world’s leading composers).

His sizeable output is stylistically difficult to define, his concert scores layered with traditional Japanese, jazz, pastiche and eclectic musical idioms not to mention his 90 or so film scores, both mainstream and arthouse, including one to a film starring Sean Connery and Will Snipes. His first feature-length film score was for the controversially erotic 1956 Crazed Fruit, written for guitar, banjo, trumpet, piano, flute harmonica, tenor sax, vibraphone and an array of percussion, unusual to say the least for the time, littered with seductive portamento and detuned effects, Hawaiian-esque guitar slides and a sleazy jazz waltz.

Although he later confessed that as a young man he had little or no knowledge of traditional Japanese music, Takemitsu’s incorporation of traditional Japanese instruments (particularly the biwa and shakuhachi) and non-Western themes, notably in his earlier works Eclipse and November Steps, led where others feared to tread at a time when the Darmstadt School were by far the loudest voice in the classical music scene.
(c) Kazumi Kurigami
Takemitsu is in good company for our hour-long programme featuring some of the relatively limited catalogue of repertoire scored for this configuration of flute, harp and viola, particularly Debussy’s trio written for the same ensemble. Sixty years earlier, Debussy was experimenting with incorporating aspects of the unfamiliar into the familiar, a process of ‘borrowing’ from different musical styles and traditions, a process and a work with which Takemitsu was evidently familiar.

Personally, Takemitsu’s musical logic speaks to me, not purely through a string of evocative titles (it really is much more than that), but in how this music ‘breathes’ so-to-speak; the fact that he was largely self-taught and unafraid of pastiche, but also how this endearing somewhat patchwork approach to composing provides a glimpse into his philosophical, ethereal approach to The Cosmos.

For more on Takemitsu, I’d recommend his autobiographical treatise Confronting Silence, published a year before his death, and also Tom Service’s 2013 Guardian article, which is available here.

James, Concerts Director

At Lunch Three takes place in Norwich on Fri 19 Feb, Cambridge on Tue 23 Feb and London on Wed 24 Feb. More info here

An extended version of this programme will also be performed at Southampton's Turner Sims Concert Hall on Thu 25 Feb. More info here

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