Wednesday, January 01, 2003


In addition to Composer of the Week George Gershwin, Wagner’s Ring Cycle and the traditional strains of the New Year’s Day Concert from the Vienna Philharmonic at the Musikverein, the redoubtable BBC Radio 3 demonstrates its artistic mettle once more by devoting over eleven hours of programming to World Music Day 2003. Highlights include Kayamba Afrika’s a cappella at 14.45 GMT and Asian percussion dynamitists The Dhol Foundation live from Dingwalls at 21.30.


Seven years ago this month Toru Takemitsu’s last ever work, ‘Air’ (5’ 36”, for solo flute) was performed at the seventieth birthday concert for Aurele Nicolet. It was excerpted from a flute and harp concerto commissioned by the BBC Proms, a project interrupted by the debilitating disease that finally took the great Japanese composer’s life on 20 February 1996.

I first came across Takemitsu in 1974, when (bizarrely) a late night party in Worthing was interrupted by his ‘November Steps’: quite a jolt from Supertramp’s ‘Hide In Your Shell’! Among my most memorable listening experiences of the last twenty years was a performance at the Royal Albert Hall of the extraordinary spacial piece, ‘From Me Flows What You Call Time’. The ‘me’ is a reference to the hall in which the work takes shape, architecturally and physically as well as aurally. It is available on a BBC Music magazine CD from 1993, and appears along with ‘ Twill by Twilight’ and ‘Requiem’ with the Pacific Symphony Orchestra on Nexus / St.Clair Sony SK 63044.

On the equally fabulous Deutsche Grammophon disc ‘I Hear The Water Dreaming’ (DG 453 459-2) released in 2000, Patrick Gallois performs ‘Air’ alongside six other short chamber pieces that demonstrate the imaginative, elegiac, delicate and yet demanding nature of his work.

Takemitsu was fully part of the twentieth century contemporary ‘classical’ tradition of Western art music, but he was also deeply immersed in his native Eastern tradition. What he forged was not some fake ‘fusion’ of the two but a natural harmonic synergy.

It is fitting that the profound simplicity of his final composition harks back to his use of the shakuhachi, the mysterious and sonorous Japanese flute that he often incorporated into his writing and thinking.

Patrick Gallois writes: “This disc pays homage to a great composer .. who was completely in tune with his age, who took the same delight in writing film scores as transcribing Satie and re-working Beatles’ melodies, who extended the art of Debussy and succeeded in integrating the Japanese tradition into contemporary language.”

The citation for the Glenn Gould prize he won includes the following tribute: “Takemitsu's music is known for its preoccupation with timbre and texture and for its silence. He has said that ‘(I compose to) find my own existence, and through that, to feel my relationship to other human beings.’ His earliest large work, Requiem for String Orchestra (1957), was heard in 1959 by Igor Stravinsky, who declared it to be a masterpiece. Aaron Copland, following a visit to Tokyo in 1966, made the following enthusiastic statement about the music of Takemitsu: ‘I consider him to be one of the outstanding composers of our time’..”

British composer George Benjamin is judge for the Toru Takemitsu Composition Award for 2003.

No comments: