Immerse yourself in the ethereal sounds of this traditional court music ensemble as they perform the haunting music of the Japanese gagaku alongside new music written for these unusual instruments, including Toru Takemitsu’s “Seasons.” Mysterious tone-clusters from the ancient mouth organ hover above fleeting sounds from flute, double-reed, and panpipe, accompanied by a phalanx of modern percussion creating an otherworldly atmosphere. The ensemble features an all-star quartet with Mayumi Miyata on sho (mouth organ), Hitomi Nakamura on hichiriki (double-reed), Takeshi Sasamoto on ryuteki (flute) and haisho (panpipe), and Yasunori Yamaguchi on contemporary percussion. This concert was presented as part of the Music From Japan Festival 2008.
Music From Japan:
Ancient Winds/Modern Percussion
Mayumi Miyata, sho
Takeshi Sasamoto, ryuteki and haisho
Hitomi Nakamura, hichiriki
Yasunori Yamaguchi, percussion
Ichikotsucho no choshi
Konju no jo, ha
Taishikicho no choshi
Mayumi Miyata, sho; Hitomi Nakamura, hichiriki; Takeshi Sasamoto, ryuteki
|Toshia Nakagawa (b. 1958)
The Hermit on the Rock (2008)
Commissioned by Music From Japan
Takeshi Sasamoto, haisho; Yasunori Yamaguchi, percussion
|Toru Takemitsu (1930–1996)
Yasunori Yamaguchi, percussion; Mayumi Miyata, sho; Hitomi Nakamura, hichiriki; Takeshi Sasamoto, ryuteki; with spoken word
|Hiroya Miura (b. 1975)
Gossamer Lattice II (2008)
Hitomi Nakamura, hichiriki; Takeshi Sasamoto, ryuteki; Mayumi Miyata, sho; Yasunori Yamaguchi, percussion
This performance took place on March 1, 2008, as part of the Music From Japan Festival 2008 and was presented in conjunction with the exhibition Patterned Feathers, Piercing Eyes: Edo Masters from the Price Collection.
(provided by the artists)
Japanese court music (gagaku) is the world’s oldest continuous orchestral music tradition, dating back more than 1200 years. The term “gagaku,” which means elegant or ethereal music, refers to a body of music handed down over the centuries by professional court musicians. A full gagaku orchestra comprises up to thirty musicians. The wind instruments featured in today’s concert are the sho, a seventeen-pipe free-reed mouth organ, which can produce chordal textures; the hichiriki, a double-reed vertical flute, capable of bending tones and known for its haunting quality; and the ryuteki, a seven-holed transverse flute with a wide melodic range. Traditionally, these three instruments represent, respectively, the lights of heaven, the people of the earth, and dragons.
Ichikotsucho no choshi
In gagaku there is a piece in each cho, or melodic mode, that is a prelude to the main piece. This prelude, called choshi, sets the color or mood for that particular mode. It is set in the key of the main composition and establishes an atmospheric setting. Because the next piece, “Konju,” is in ichikotsucho, a scale based on the pitch of D, the choshi is also in ichikotsu mode. You will be able to hear the distinctive meanderings of sound in free rhythm that distinguish this mode.
Konju no jo, ha
According to the Kyokunsho, a gagaku compilation by Koma Chikazane published in 1233, the bugaku (gagaku plus dance) piece “Konju” was the creation of Han Rei. The dance imitates the gestures of a man from western China who becomes inebriated and plays this music. A different tradition attributes the dance to Oobe no Manawa and the music to Oobe no Kiyokami from the old Showa Era (834–848). Although it is common for gagaku works to be comprised of three sections—the introductory jo, the leisurely development or ha section, and a climactic kyu—“Konju” has come down to us only in the form of the jo and ha. This jo is in the typical free rhythm, while the ha movement, which in most other works takes a relaxed pace, is a light section filled with movement.
Taishikicho no choshi
Choshi must have existed for more than a thousand years, as it is mentioned in the diaries of Japanese noblemen from the tenth century and its performance is recorded in documents of the twelfth century. Despite its long history, it still has a fresh sound that charms us today. The principal note of “Taishikicho” is closest to the Western pitch of E. This principal note provides the basis and tone center of the choshi’s harmonic and melodic forms. A second choshi is presented in this performance to give listeners the opportunity to enjoy the sound of the sho solo.
The Hermit on the Rock (2008)
Toshia Nakagawa (b. 1958)
Deep in the mountains and far from human habitation, a hermit sits cross-legged on a huge rock, blowing into a flute. In creating a musical work that essentially depicts a visual scene, it may seem that I have departed from my usual type of composition, which might be labeled “avant-garde” (is this expression rather un-contemporary?). But this work is undeniably of a pictorial nature: the solitary soul putting the flute to his lips, surrounded by the vastness of the wild where not a person resides besides him. The sounds he makes are not intended for human ears.
Gradually, various animals begin to gather: squirrels, rabbits, deer, snakes, elephants, dragons, and birds. They train their ears on the sounds of the flute. At one point, the boulder on which the hermit is seated begins to tremble. He pays no notice. The vibrations continue for a time and then subside. The hermit places the hand holding the flute in his lap. The percussion instruments used in this piece include both popular ones and more obscure ones from specific regions. The coexistence of these very different types of instruments, especially the haisho with its highly distinctive tuning, gives the work an unusual tone color and feeling.
Toru Takemitsu (1930–1996)
“Seasons” premiered in the “Steel Pavilion” at the 1970 Osaka World Expo. It is an improvisational work using graphic notation and was composed for four percussionists from three continents, including myself. Following the rules set up by the notation, the performers send messages via sounds and voice. They listen to each other, sometimes imitate one another, and create silences. It is a work that takes a hard look at the relationship between sounds (not music) and human beings. In accordance with the composer’s wishes, versions of the same piece incorporating performers on non-percussion instruments have also been presented.
Gossamer Lattice II (2008)
Hiroya Miura (b. 1975)
The composer writes: “One day in 2006, I picked up a magazine article about Jasper Johns and learned about his series of works entitled Usuyuki (“a thin layer of snow” in Japanese). After reading about half of the article, it started snowing outside. It was the first snow of the winter. About the earlier version of this work, I wrote, ‘Not unlike the way the word music is listed right after mushroom in the dictionary, as John Cage points out, my coincidental encounter with Jasper Johns during Maine’s first light snowfall that morning became the source of inspiration for this piece.’ I would like to thank the performers (especially Takeshi Sasamoto, Hitomi Nakamura, and Mayumi Miyata, who gave the premiere) and Music From Japan for offering the opportunity for me to revisit the work and enabling me to add yet another layer, with help from the wonderful percussionist Yasunori Yamaguchi.”
Performers and Composers
Mayumi Miyata, sho (mouth organ), graduated from Kunitachi College of Music. While still a student, she began studying the sho under Tadamaro Ono of the Imperial Household Gagaku Orchestra. Since 1979, she has been a member of the gagaku ensemble Reigakusha, founded by Sukeyasu Shiba. Miyata launched her solo career in 1983 and has since performed with the New York Philharmonic, NHK Symphony Orchestra, the Czech Philharmonic, and the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra. She premiered works written for her by John Cage, Toru Takemitsu, Maki Ishii, Jean-Claude Eloy, Toshio Hosokawa, Paul Méfano, Klaus Huber, and Helmut Lachenmann. Miyata has collaborated with Bjork and recorded Cage’s complete sho works for Mode Records.
Hitomi Nakamura, hichiriki (double-reed), a graduate of Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, has been performing both classical and modern pieces on gagaku instruments for twenty years. As a member of Reigakusha, Nakamura has performed at the National Theatre of Japan and at the festivals of Lincoln Center, Tanglewood, Wien Modern, and the Ultima Oslo Contemporary. In 2002 she led the Music From Japan–sponsored gagaku Ensemble Harena on tour of the US and Canada. She has played with the Japan Virtuoso Orchestra as well as with Semimaru, the Butoh dancer from the dance group Sankaijuku. Nakamura created the Ashi no Kaze (Reed Wind) Recital Series to promote the hichiriki, rarely played as a solo instrument, inspiring the creation of fourteen new works for the instrument.
Takeshi Sasamoto, ryuteki (flute) and haisho (panflute), received degrees from Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. While there, he began studying the ryuteki under Sukeyasu Shiba. He also encountered the musical instruments from the eighth-century Shosoin collection and taught himself to play and construct the haisho and gagaku-style shakuhachi. Sasamoto joined Reigakusha in 1991, playing shakuhachi, ryuteki, and haisho. His Japanese-language publications include Gagaku for Beginners and Illustrated Dictionary: Introduction to Gagaku. His CD Edo-komachi: Takeshi Sasamoto Works I (1994) was the best-selling gagaku recording of the year, which he followed with Mankashu: Takeshi Sasamoto Works 11 (Bamboo, 2000).
Yasunori Yamaguchi, percussion, graduated from the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. He gave his first solo percussion recital in 1966 and was a member of the New Japan Philharmonic from 1972 to 1982. In 1972 he formed Sound Space Arc with pianist Aki Takahashi and flutist Hiroshi Koizumi. Yamaguchi has premiered works by Toru Takemitsu, Joji Yuasa, Toshi Ichiyanagi, and Maki Ishii. At Berlin Arts Week in 1993 he premiered Ishii’s percussion concerto, Saidoki, with the composer conducting. Yamaguchi has performed at international festivals in London, Paris, Avignon, Vienna, Warsaw, Tanglewood, and New York’s Lincoln Center. He was awarded the first Kenzo Nakajima Music Prize and the Asahi Contemporary Music Prize. His recordings include a solo CD, Illusion (1992 Aeolus). He currently teaches at the Doshisha Women’s College of Liberal Arts in Kyoto.
Hiroya Miura has composed works for Speculum Musicae, the New York New Music Ensemble, the American Composers Orchestra, and Le Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, as well as for members of Reigakusha and has performed in venues such as Alice Tully Hall and Philadelphia’s Annenberg Center. He is also a founding member of the electronic improvisation unit NoOneReceiving, whose debut album was released by Grain of Sound. Miura has received awards and fellowships from the Mellon and Jerome Foundations, the Atlantic Center for the Arts, and the American Composers Forum. He holds a DMA degree from Columbia University and is currently on the faculty of Bates College.
Toshio Nakagawa graduated from Toho Gakuen School of Music. In 1982, he placed first in the international composition contest commemorating the tenth anniversary of “Music Today,” an annual presentation directed by Toru Takemitsu. As a member of the ensemble Art Respirant, Nakagawa was the recipient of the Kenzo Nakajima Music Prize. He has received many awards for his music for television commercials. From 1999 to 2001, in connection with the Kanagawa Arts Foundation, he produced a number of arrangements for the resident artist group Trio de Monde. He is a member of the improvisational group Nunc Dimittis.
Toru Takemitsu co-founded the Experimental Laboratory in 1951, out of which came his first two examples of musique concrète. Subsequent works earned him the Italian Prize (1958), two awards from UNESCO (including the Grand Prize in 1964), and praise from Igor Stravinksy. In 1964 Takemitsu met John Cage, with whom he sustained a lifelong friendship. Takemitsu started incorporating Japanese instruments into his music with the soundtrack for the film Nippon no Monyo (1961), the first of his many film scores. The New York Philharmonic commissioned Takemitsu to write November Steps for the organization’s 125th anniversary and it was premiered in 1967 under Seiji Ozawa. In 1970 he organized the contemporary musical festival “Music Today” in Tokyo, which continued for twenty years and introduced international compositional trends to Japan.
This podcast was coordinated by Michael Wilpers, manager of performing arts. Audio recording and editing by Andy Finch and Suraya Mohamed. Web production by Gio Camozzi. Copyediting by Ian Fry. Special thanks to the artists for granting permission to share their performance at the Freer and Sackler Galleries. The concert was a part of Music From Japan’s Festival 2008, made possible with public funds from the Agency for Cultural Affairs of Japan, Government of Japan, for the fiscal year 2007, and the Japan Foundation through the Performing Arts Japan program.
About Music From Japan
Founded in 1975 by current Artistic Director Naoyuki Miura, Music From Japan continues to preside as the leading presenter of Japanese contemporary and traditional music in the United States and the world. After four decades of touring throughout North and South America, Central Asia, and Japan, Music From Japan has presented about 645 works, including 106 world premieres and 94 commissions (for both Japanese and American composers). Over the course of forty-six years, 198 Japanese composers have been showcased, as well as many traditional Japanese pieces. Music From Japan was honored for its activities when the organization received the Japanese Foreign Minister’s Commendation in July 2007. Mr. Miura was awarded the Commissioner of the Agency for Cultural Affairs’ Award in December 2007, the Sen Kayoko Award from the Soroptimist Japan Foundation in November 2010, and the Gen-On Special Award (given by the Japan Society of Contemporary Music) in 2012.