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Takemitsu in the Key of Sea

New York
Rose Theatre, Frederick P. Rose Hall
02/13/2008 -  and February 24, May 5
Midori and the Music of Schnittke and Takemitsu

Maurice Ravel: Sonata for Violin and Piano,
Tōru Takemitsu: A Way A Lone – Between Tides
Claude Debussy: String Quartet in G Minor

Johannes Moser (Cello), Marc-André Hamelin (Piano), Miró Quartet, Daniel Chin, Sandy Yamamoto (violins), John Largess (viola), Joshua Gindele (cello), Midori (violin)

How appropriate that in her first of three concerts for Lincoln Center’s “Great Performers”, Midori should mate Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel with Tōru Takemitsu. Until the two French composers had heard Cambodian music of the Royal Palace at a French World Exposition, Western music’s “orientalisms” had been limited to cymbal-clashing Turkish marches, the ersatz Indian harmonies of Pearl Fishers, Thaïs, and of course The Mikado.
But Gallic exploration of Khmer music led to the original, Indonesian gamelan, then onto an exploration of Japanese complexities. Harrison, Cage, McPhee, Britten and countless others have tried to show that the twain could meet.
Unfortunately, that influence of East on West was rarely returned, though Asian artists have blossomed abroad. One composer trying to bridge the gap was Tōru Takemitsu, who died a decade ago. With harmonies derived from Messiaen, a dense concentration of variations, and a miniaturism (not minimalism) entirely his own, Takemitsu created a rarefied music.

His two works played with extraordinary sensitivity here still remained a closed treasure-chest to some. Like serious poetry, one could never assign a “reason” for the music. But music does have motion, and the music of Takemitsu was a kind of stasis. One knew that Takemitsu’s mind was churning jewels of utmost radiance, but the jewels were hidden under the playing.

Yet what playing it was! Midori’s long-time accompanist Robert McDonald left the piano to a soloist, the great Marc-André Hamelin, while famed cellist Johannes Moser joined those two in a taut performance of Between Tides, where the three explored something between meditation and variation, the ebb and flow of tides . It should have brought forth a trance, perhaps, but the playing was too good.

The young brilliant Miró Quartet achieved the same misty (and putatively mystical) results in A Way A Lone from Finnegan’s Wake, though the title meant nothing, except that both works were based on a musical pun Namely, a spelling of the word “S-E-A”, as both were about water.

The French works partly shared the oh so refined harmonies of the Takemitsu, but the Western music was not satisfied with being merely magical. Ravel’s Sonata was a jubilant and delightful performance, with Midori easily playing Ravel’s version of the blues. She oozed out little glissandi blues notes, along with country-guitar and let herself go wild. The finale was a thunder of notes for both Midori and Hamelin, played with quantum precision.

But most lovely of all was the Miró foursome in Debussy’s Quartet. The moods were multifarious, but the slow movement had both a desolation and iciness which was almost frightening. They are truly one of the great American quartets.

CODA: Takemitsu’s homage to the Irish writer James Joyce in A Way A Lone was reminiscent of the title from one of the early Kronos recording, A Door Is A Jar. Many years ago in Hong Kong, I asked them the meaning of the title. Was this also from Joyce? Was it a profundity not to be solved? Was it an aphorism from a saddhu of Benares?

Actually, the meaning was Japanese, they explained. “We had bought a Japanese car”, said one of the Quartet, and as we piled in to go to a concert, we had not closed it correctly. So suddenly came this inhuman but Japanese-accented voice saying, ‘A…Door…Is….A .jar.’

“We decided it would be a great title.”

Harry Rolnick



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