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Composium 2002 and the Takemitsu Composition Award
Yukiko Kishinami

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 premieres.

Composium 2002:
"Joji Yuasa — From Orchestral Scenes"

Tokyo Symphony Orchestra
Norichika Iimori (conductor)
Yoko Kudo (soprano)
Yasuyo Asada (alto)
Jun Takahashi (tenor)
Masumitsu Miyamoto (baritone)
Tokyo Philharmonic Chorus
Tokyo College of Music Brass Ensemble

Thursday 23 May 2002
Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall, Tokyo

     Opening Fanfare for the Winter Olympic Games 1998 in Nagano
     Chronoplastic III
     Cosmic Solitude
[Japanese premiere]
     Hommage à Sibelius — The Midnight Sun
[Japanese premiere]
     Requiem for 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 effect.

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 predecessors.

The concert closed with an encore, Yuasa's arrangement of Prelude No. 22 in B minor from Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier.

Composium 2002:
Toru Takemitsu Composition Awards — Finals Concert

Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra
Ken Takaseki (conductor)
Joji Yuasa (judge)

Sunday 26 May 2002
Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall, Tokyo

Michael John Wiley: Tzolkin in C major
Theodor Pauss: Scene for Orchestra
Panayiotis Kokoras: Feedback
Hiroyuki Yamamoto: Canticum Tremulum II
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 Malaysia.

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 ¥ 200,000.

Pauss' 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.

© andante Corp. May 2002. All rights reserved.
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