Tokyo's premier new-music event
features the work of Joji Yuasa, who was also the sole judge
of the associated competition for young composers.
Tokyo Opera City, Tokyo
Composium is a weeklong festival of contemporary music
concerts and related events at Tokyo Opera City, a relatively
new multi-use development which includes a
concert-and-recital-hall complex of which Toru Takemitsu was
to be the founding artistic director — but for his death in
1996, a year before the venue's opening. Yet the composer's
spirit is still very much alive in the concerts, programming
and various other aspects at Tokyo Opera City (TOC), and over
its six years, Composium has rapidly grown into the most
important contemporary music event in the capital.
Takemitsu's good friend Joji Yuasa, now 72, was the
featured composer of Composium 2002, which included two
concerts of Yuasa's music, the showing of two documentary
films about the composer and an improvisation workshop by
saxophone player Masataka Hirano — in addition to the Toru
Takemitsu Composition Awards 2002, for which Yuasa served as
the single judge.
The first of the two Yuasa concerts, on 22 May, featured
his music for electronic tape along with other works using
avant-garde techniques; it attracted so many people that some
of them were turned away at the door — a remarkable incident
in Tokyo, where contemporary music concerts rarely sell out,
even at the 286-seat TOC Recital Hall. The program of Yuasa's
orchestral and choral works at the TOC Concert Hall the
following day included one world premiere and two Japanese
"Joji Yuasa — From Orchestral
Tokyo Symphony Orchestra
Yoko Kudo (soprano)
Jun Takahashi (tenor)
Tokyo Philharmonic Chorus
Tokyo College of
Music Brass Ensemble
Thursday 23 May 2002
Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall,
Opening Fanfare for
the Winter Olympic Games 1998 in
à Sibelius — The Midnight Sun [Japanese
Orchestra [world premiere]
The concert started with an unusual mishap: conductor
Norichika Iimori had to stop the Opening Fanfare for the
Olympic Winter Games after a few bars because several members
of the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra, which was seated on stage but
was not supposed to play that piece, mistakenly interrupted
the Tokyo College of Music Brass Ensemble, which was standing
on a balcony above the stage to perform the fanfare. Iimori
swiftly turned to the audience and apologized for the mistake
before starting the piece all over again. Happily, the rest of
the concert went smoothly, watched over by white-haired Yuasa
himself in the auditorium.
Chronoplastic III: Between Stasis and Kinesis — In Memory
of Iannis Xenakis was composed last year following the
death of the Greek composer. Filled with bright sonorities,
the music seems at once both chaotic and poetic.
Cosmic Solitude, a setting of Friedrich Hölderlin's
poem "Hälfte des Lebens" first performed in Stuttgart in 1997,
received its Japanese premiere here. The voices of baritone
Masumitsu Miyamoto and the Tokyo Philharmonic Chorus blended
evenly with the orchestra and created a refreshingly lyrical
The first half of the concert ended with
Responsorium from "Requiem of Reconciliation" (1995), a
collaboration by 14 international composers, each of whom
contributed a movement to commemorate the 50th anniversary of
the end of World War II. Yuasa's Responsorium is the
penultimate of the 14 (followed only by a short epilogue by
György Kurtág); it is a dramatic work, which resonates with
multicolored orchestral sonorities of varying densities.
The other Japanese premiere was Hommage à Sibelius —The
Midnight Sun (1991), which was commissioned by the
Helsinki Philharmonic for the 125th anniversary of the Finnish
composer's birth. The work is notable for its harmonic
clarity, comparable to that of Sibelius' music.
The concert ended with arguably the most eagerly awaited
work in the program: Requiem for Orchestra (1980), which
received its belated world premiere for a most unusual reason.
The piece was originally commissioned in advance to be used on
the so-called "X day" — the eventual day of the death of
Emperor Showa [Hirohito], who was nearing his 80th birthday at
the time of the commission. Purportedly, the music was written
for a television about modern Japanese history, but the
program was never produced and the music never used for the
somber occasion, which took place in 1989.
The Requiem is in five symmetrically arranged movements:
Ritual — Lamentation — A Memorial Beyond the Memory of Man —
Lamentation — Ritual. The first movement opens with chaotic,
heavy dissonance and three drum beats, as if to describe
heartrending sadness; the tonal harmonies of "Lamentation"
depict sorrow in a quieter way. In the central movement,
percussion, piano and vibraphone display complex,
minimalist-style motifs which create an impression of
near-stasis; the title, "A Memorial Beyond the Memory of Man,"
indicates Yuasa's intention to make the work also for all
humankind. The ensuing two movements are variants of their
The concert closed with an encore, Yuasa's arrangement of
Prelude No. 22 in B minor from Bach's Well-Tempered
Toru Takemitsu Composition Awards —
Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra
Joji Yuasa (judge)
Sunday 26 May 2002
Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall,
Michael John Wiley: Tzolkin in C major
Scene for Orchestra
Hiroyuki Yamamoto: Canticum Tremulum
Tazul Izan Tajuddin: Tenunan II
Yuasa was generous enough to give a prize to all
five finalists of the 2002 Toru Takemitsu Composition Awards,
the closing event of Composium; the finalists shared the ¥3
million in prize money at the judge's discretion. Just prior
to the announcement of the winners, the
Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra performed all five of the
finalists' works under the baton of Ken Takaseki.
As at the
2001 awards (judged by Oliver Knussen), there were two
first prize winners. This year's laureates, each receiving
¥ 900,000 of the total ¥ 3 million in award money,
were Hiroyuki Yamamoto of Japan and Tazul Izan Tajuddin of
Yamamoto's Canticum Tremulum II starts with a
certain Asian feel, then reveals a more otherworldly and
refreshing character; it uses portamento, long and
brief, as well as various other performance techniques.
At about ten minutes, Tajuddin's Tenunan II is the
shortest of the five works and uses the smallest forces — it
is almost a chamber piece. The word "tenunan" in the
title means "texture." (It can also mean "textile.") Exploring
the delicate texture of the strings, the flute, the celesta
and percussion (including a large bass drum and a
glockenspiel), the work creates a kind of heterophonic music
with an uneven rhythm.
The second prize was also shared by two entrants: Theodor Pauss of
Germany and Panayiotis Kokoras of Greece, each winning
¥ 500,000, while Michael John Wiley, a joint citizen of
the U.S. and Mexico, won the third prize and
work, Scene for Orchestra, is comprised of short
fragments of various musical hues and textures, from a solo
phrase to an orchestral interlude, interspersed with long
pauses here and there; Kokoras' evocative Feedback
emphasizes changes in dynamics. Wiley's Tzolkin in
C major is a series of chords (in C major and other
keys), all in whole notes, which are designed to correspond to
an ancient Mayan calendar cycle and timing frequency.
"I regarded originality as the most important point in
choosing the finalists," Yuasa said in explaining his choices.
"That is why all five pieces are very different and special.
This made it very hard for me to decide on their order."
He also used the word "michokan," a Japanese term he
coined to describe the opposite of déjà vu, and
said that the works by Yamamoto and Tejuddin are kinds of
music you never experienced before, which Yuasa thinks is the
most important thing in the creation of music.
"Maestro Takaseki and the musicians were wonderful. My
music is not easy, but they played very well and I am very
grateful for them," said Tajuddin at the reception after the
award ceremony." Yamamoto commented that "it was great to have
my work performed at such a good venue. I think we composers
apply for composition awards partly or mainly to have a chance
to get our works performed."
Those living in Japan who missed the awards concert can
listen to all of the finalists' works on NHK FM beginning at 6
p.m. on 7 July and 14 July.