Friday, 14 December 2007

Kakizakai Sensei's November Steps Takemitsu concert

On Friday night at Hibiya City Hall, Tokyo with Toho School of Music orchestra, Kakizakai Sensei performed Takemitsu's November Steps. It is a double concerto for biwa, 2.4 shakuhachi and duo-orchestra, i.e. on the stage the orchestra is divided into two halves, seated as far apart as possible to emphasise the duality and sterophony. There are 2 oboes, 3 clarinets, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, 4 percussion (including Chinese cymbals, tubular bells, gongs, tam tams), 2 harps and strings.

conductor: Tetsuji Honna
biwa: Kakujyo Nakamura
shakuhachi (2.4): Kaoru Kakizakai

(Not just because he's my teacher) Kakizakai Sensei was wonderful! The players are required to play a fairly extended cadenza passage in which the notation by the composer comprises only symbolic indications of intensity, attack, style and the performers choose the pitch and rendition with regard to sequence and exact timing. This approach is intended to motivate individual interpretation and creative flexibility. This was played very passionately and expressively, with an intensity in contemporary music I really appreciate as a composer. Sometimes, players are more reserved when performing modern music but this performance had complete commitment and immersion.

Composer, Takemitsu, at first had little interest in traditional Japanese music, but later incorporated Japanese instruments such as the shakuhachi (bamboo flute) into the orchestra. November Steps (1967), for shakuhachi and biwa (a kind of Japanese lute) solo and orchestra was the first piece to combine instruments from East and West. To this day, it represents an important compositional and cultural challenge to bridge the forces of an orchestra and the subtlety, sometimes softness, and idiomatic playing styles of the Japanese and Western instruments. Takemitsu's In an Autumn Garden (1973-79) is written for the kind of orchestra that would have played gagaku (traditional Japanese court music). Works such as Eclipse, (1966) for shakuhachi and biwa, Voyage (1973), for three biwas are also works derived from traditional genres.

Further reading
• Peter Burt, The Music of Toru Takemitsu (Cambridge University Press, 2001)
• Noriko Ohtake, Creative sources for the Music of Toru Takemitsu (Ashgate, 1993)
• Toru Takemitsu, Confronting Silence (Fallen Leaf Press, 1995)

The orchestra also played another Takemitsu orchestral suite conglomerating snippets of his film music in a much more Western cocktail and Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony No.6.