Monday 7 April 2014

Works of substance by Toshio Hosokawa that bring a real convergence of Western avant-garde and Japanese sensibility on a new release from Naxos

Toshio Hosokawa (b.1955) is one of Japan’s most important living composers. Born in Hiroshima in 1955, he studied composition with Isang Yun (1917-1995) in Berlin before studying with Klaus Huber (b.1924) and Brian Ferneyhough (b.1943).

Hosokawa early works were heavily influenced by the Western avant-garde, but he soon began to explore new musical avenues that brought together eastern and western influences.

Hosokawa became prominent through performances of his music at new music festivals in the early 90s with chamber music works such as Landscapes I-V. Following the success of his oratorio Voiceless Voice in Hiroshima and of his orchestral work Circulating Ocean, which the Vienna Philharmonic premiered at the Salzburg Festival in 2005, his music began to be performed around the world. He has written many solo works, such as the cello concerto Chant which he wrote for Rohan de Saram and the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne in 2009, part of a series of works for solo instruments and ensemble that he began in 2003. Japanese instruments are utilised in many of his works, often combined with traditional European instruments.

The 2013/2014 season began for Hosokawa with two world premieres at the Salzburg Festival, during which many older works by him were also performed. The first work to be heard was Klage for soprano and orchestra, based on a text by Georg Trakl and Ancient Voices for wind quintet, commissioned by Ensemble Wien-Berlin. A trumpet concerto entitled Im Nebel, inspired by a poem by Hermann Hesse’s and commissioned by Suntory Hall, Tokyo and North German Broadcasting, will be premiered in Tokyo with the trumpeter Jeroen Berwaerts and the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra under Jun Märkl.  A new piano trio for the Spanish Trío Arbós will also be performed in September at the Festival Musica Strasbourg.

Toshio Hosokawa is composer in residence with the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra. He has been a member of the Academy of Fine Arts, Berlin since 2001 and a fellow of the Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin since 2006. He is the artistic director of the Takefu International Music Festival and a frequent guest at prominent contemporary music festivals, such as the Pacific Music Festival in Sapporo, Japan, the Salzburg Biennale, the Rheingau Musik Festival, and the MITO SettembreMusica Festival in Milan and Turin. In spring 2012 he was composer in residence at the Tongyeong International Music Festival. In summer 2012, he began a three year appointment as artistic director of the Suntory Hall International Program for Music Composition.

Hosokawa constantly explores the boundaries between cultures with his distinctive compositions examining the relationship between Western avant-garde art and traditional Japanese culture, and are influenced by the static structures of the Gagaku music of the Japanese court. Nature and its inherent transience also greatly influence his compositions.

Naxos  have just released Volume 1 in a series of recordings of Hosokawa’s orchestral works featuring the Royal Scottish National Orchestra  conducted by Jun Märkl  with Stefan Dohr (horn) , Momo Kodama (piano) and Anssi Karttunen (cello)


This first volume brings together Hosokawa’s Horn Concerto ‘Moment of Blossoming, his Piano Concerto Lotus under the moonlight (homage à Mozart) and Chant for Cello and Orchestra, effectively a Cello Concerto.

Horn Concerto ‘Moment of Blossoming’ (2010), jointly commissioned by the Berlin Philharmonic, the Concertgebouw of Amsterdam and the Barbican Centre of London, is dedicated to the horn player, Stefan Dohr who, not only gave the premiere, but performs the concerto on this recording. Hosokawa imagines the horn as the flower, or human being, with the orchestra as nature or the cosmos.

The music emerges from silence with just an occasional plucked harp, gentle percussion sounds and hushed sound of the wind machine. Soon we discover that the solo horn has entered, blending into the texture and helping to weave the sounds. Slowly the horn becomes a little more prominent. The music fades again before the solo horn emerges from the hushed orchestra as a definite solo instrument, playing a little swaying theme that the orchestra eventually joins as the music ebbs and flows. This is a beautiful blending of soloist and orchestra whilst never allowing the soloist to lose his solo role. Eventually the music becomes more dynamic, with horn calls, rising to an agitated peak. The music falls to a hush but soon rises again. When the orchestra once more becomes hushed, it creates a terrific contrast out of which the horn rises again in a plaintive, soulful theme that becomes increasingly animated. The orchestra continues, hushed, with strange little rising and falling sounds – a kind of gentle ebb and flow.  When the horn re-appears in a rising theme there are some lovely harmonies. The sound of the wind machine appears with the hushed, scurrying orchestral sounds as the music returns to its opening silence, the horn having disappeared into the void.

Stefan Dohr brings some fine playing, drawing lovely textures and rare harmonic sounds.

Commissioned by Norddeutscher Rundfuk in commemoration of the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth, Lotus under the moonlight (homage à Mozart) – Piano Concerto (2006) again reflects on the subject of flowers with the lotus represented by the piano and the orchestra representing water and nature.

The piano opens with a gently picked out tune with slight dissonances before the orchestra can be heard with hushed shimmering violins. The orchestra slowly becomes more apparent as the piano continues to play the theme with pianist, Momo Kodama building the theme in rippling chords and the orchestra becoming more apparent with percussion sounds. Soon a flute rises over the orchestral theme. There is a kind of natural ebb and flow to the music again. The piano part becomes bolder and more animated with strong chords but lightens to rippling chords. A solo violin enters as does a cello as the piano continues its chords. A flute then enters as the music very slowly becomes more dynamic, sounding as though it is heaving itself forward. The piano plays increasingly hefty chords before another hush when the piano plays, alone, a sorrowful tune that seems to take the place of a slow cadenza that builds slowly in strength before quietening as the orchestra re-joins in a rather meditative passage. A glimpse of a theme from Mozart’s A major Piano Concerto, K.488 is heard before the hushed end that is lost in the swirls of the quiet orchestra.

Again, we are fortunate in the choice of pianist, Momo Kodama, who is ideal in bringing out all the subtleties of this work.

Chant (2009) – for cello and orchestra was commissioned by Westdeutscher Rundfuk with the cello part influenced by the way of singing Shômyô, the ceremonial music of Japanese Buddhism.

The solo cello rises out of silence soon playing fast, resonant phrases that rise and fall in strength, drawing out some terrific harmonies as the music proceeds. The orchestra soon joins but the solo cello continues, often alone. Cellist Anssi Karttunen is superb in this demanding solo part. Soon the orchestra takes a more dynamic role but the cello continues, hinting at becoming more melodic. The solo role demands many various cello techniques. The orchestra becomes quite dynamic but soon subsides as the cello plays a pizzicato passage before an increasingly faster harmonic section which the orchestra rises to. Karttunen extracts some fine harmonic textures from his instrument becoming increasingly passionate with the orchestra sounding quite violent at times. There is a terrific section where the cello plays a predominantly solo passage, almost an accompanied cadenza, with some very demanding solo work. Orchestral outbursts bring the most agitated section of this work before falling to a hushed orchestra, swirling around, with delicate percussion. There are some passionate, heartfelt moments for the cellist before he uses harmonics, rising and falling, as does the orchestra, to end quietly.

These are works of substance, well worth getting to know, bringing a real convergence of Western avant-garde and Japanese sensibility. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra under Jun Märkl are very fine. They all receive an excellent recording from the Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow and there are interesting notes by the composer.

No comments:

Post a Comment