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NEXUS WORLD TOUR – 1984 – A DIARY, Part 13. Japan, Takemitsu and friends.

 

 

May 22 – 10:20 AM en route to Tokyo

Did some duty-free shopping before leaving airport. Three giggly girls want to know what I have in my shoulder bag and I show them – Bob’s hand drum. Bob says,”You can have it”. She bows and takes it. I buy ginseng powder and the girl wants to sell me the store. She shows me jade earrings and knocks the price down to 1000 won when I tell her it’s all I’ve got. Also purchased a 750 mL bottle of Majuang for 3000 won. Half bottle at the hotel was 5800 won. I see an ad for Majuang wine and it says it’s made from Riesling and Muscat grapes.

12:20 PM – Narita airport and Mr. Koyanagi (Toru’s manager) after eight years – he looks good. On the bus for an hour’s ride into Tokyo. Toru (Takemitsu, composer and friend) is at the hotel.

May 23 – 1:15 PM

Welcome Shibuya Tobu – tiny prefab rooms stacked up floor after floor. It feels good to be in Tokyo again and great to see Toru. We go to the hotel bar and talk for a while and then Toru calls his favorite sushi bar for reservations. Two cabs to Ginza.  Incredible sushi. Perfect. I’ve never had sushi that can come close to this. The man behind the bar explains to me how to sharpen the Japanese knives. Finally I’ve got it together. I haven’t been wrong, but not dead on. Huge, brown, fine stone looks like woodblock.

We leave for a bar and it turns out to be the same one Toru took John (Wyre) and I to when we were here with the Toronto Symphony  – GASTRO. The Chinese firewater with the lizard in bottle is no longer there, but the vibe comes back. Great bar! Nine stools. When seated, one can lean back and rest one’s back on the wall. Jasper Johns and other artists’ work on the walls. Still sick, with headaches, sore throats and slight fevers, Russ and I order Drambuie. Unasked, the owner serves us side glasses of ice water. I’ve never had ice water chasers with Drambuie – very good. Russ and I have two before the evening ends. Bob drinks Old Parr.

Toru remarks that Japan is too far gone. Two successful. China and North Korea is hopeful. He cannot get a visa for South Korea because of his North Korean friends. He recalls congratulations on his “successful concerts” in America. He says “What do you mean successful?”  We comment that Nexus has been avoiding success for 14 years! We discussed banquets – receptions – speeches and ponder the realities.

Toru believes people now are removing themselves from sex. “Too bad”, he says. Biggest problem now is language. All talk is politics -political. He quotes John Cage’s expression “Friends for life”. I remark that it is good to get mad – really mad once in a while and he agrees. It is good in personal relations to fight but not war. “Have you ever hit Eleanor”? he asks.  “Never,” I reply and he says he has hit Asaka and he laughs and says, as he throws a fake punch, “To show you how much I love you”. Maki (Toru’s daughter) is starting comparative culture and has developed a Boston accent. (Maki stayed with Seiji Ozawa while she studied in Boston.) Toru says America has become very conservative.  Bob objects that it is just a fad. We try and run that down but the close air and booze are interfering.

While we are there, an art critic comes in (a good one according to Toru)  and later three artists. Joanne (Tod, artist)  tries to make contact but no one is really in the mood. During the cab ride back to the hotel, Bob suggests she should carry her slides with her. Joanne says she doesn’t want to act like a parent showing baby pictures.

The coasters for our drinks say GASTRO for gastronomy or gastronomic. Bob takes the pen and adds: Fidel,interitis and layout artist. Toru likes this very much and leaves the coaster on the bar opposite him before we leave. We get back to the hotel around 11:30 PM  and I call for a massage. The desk clerk says in 30 minutes. I wait an hour and call back. He said my name is not registered for massage and massage will be impossible tonight. I’m pissed off but go to sleep and pass out.

Still sick in the head, but 2 cups of Brazilian coffee get me started. Joanne and I hit the streets, but department stores are closed today. Joanne is looking for hard core Japanese pornography. Specifically, bondage. Toru says he does not know where to find this. I suggest she ask the Canadian consul at tonight’s reception. Strictly for art’s sake, of course. (During a later trip to Tokyo I found a book of photographs devoted entirely to bondage and upon returning home, I gave it to Joanne.).

Before going to bed last night, I went to the Dunkin Doughnut shop across the street and got two chocolate covered and a cup of coffee. Terrible doughnuts – coffee okay. McDonald’s is still in business down the street. The people in this area of Tokyo look like parodies of men’s and women’s clothing ads in the New Yorker.

When we arrived at the airport yesterday, we left Bill there to wait for Ruth (Cahn, wife) who was arriving three hours later. Still haven’t seen them. I guess they are out roaming. Something they like to do in every town they hit. They always get the subways together.

Joanne asks Toru if he knows where she could find an arrigata, a Japanese dildo. Toru explained that this is an old word and he did not know where to find one.  He said that years ago John Cage met a sailor who brought one back from Japan and it had a tiny bell inside. According to Toru, John said that hearing that bell made him decide to be a composer!  Toru was doubtful, but swore that is the story John told him.

12:25 AM

I’m waiting for my male masseuse here after an incredible evening with Toru, Yasanori (percussionist) and his wife Sumire, and Jo Kondo (composer).  We go to yakitori house near the hotel. Beautiful food and conversation. It is raining as we gather for reception. We need four cabs and some of us get wet hailing in Shibuya. Victor Feldbrill (conductor) and his wife, Costa Pilavachi (booking tour for NAC Orchestra) and Fred Marrich from Kori Marimbas, various embassy officials – one wife from Youngstown Pennsylvania. A rather mindless evening – lots to drink – I had glasses of Chablis – medium quality. Victor seems very happy in Japan. Toshi Ichiyanagi (composer) is there and it’s nice to see old friends.

The yakitori house dinner is the climax to this entire tour. We all feel very close and many stories are told. We sing old songs. Between Jean (Donelson), who has a remarkable memory for lyrics, and Toru, who is famous for knowing old songs, we had an evening of reminiscence. John sings “April Showers” while some conduct. The last few lines are harmonized. Much sake. Toru was born in China. He flew to Japan when he was eight years old. His parents separated – date unspecified. His mother died recently. He was in the US at the time and had to fly back. We toast friendship forever. Toru’s research into Bryce’s (my son) name is related. (To learn about Toru’s composition Bryce, see on this site, my article titled Toru Takemitsu.)

Yasunori (Yamaguchi, percussionist) and I feel very close. Last time in Tokyo, he was not in such good shape. Now he is father of a boy, Toma (winter horse) and his wife Sumire is a great keyboard player (marimba). Toru says son must be a percussionist.  I tell Jo and Yasunori I will give them ginseng. It is very expensive in Japan so will be a good gift. Toru says when you reach 50 years, happiness comes. He repeats that he is free of sex – free of everything. Most of us say we are not free of sex. Very drunk, we close the place and walk back to hotel in the rain. Jo, Yasunori and Sumire have missed the last train and have to take taxis. Jo lives in Kamakura. I get my massage by male masseuse. Very firm, sometimes very painful. My neck was particularly tight and I go to sleep as soon as he leaves.

May 24 – 9:10 AM

Woke up coughing at 6 AM. The phlegm in my throat is like glue. Have two coffees with my Japan Times “All the news without fear or favor” and slide it under Russell’s door. Black drummer with orange shades leads the band on kiddies TV show. He is also one of the hosts. Speaks perfect Japanese. This morning we meet with representatives of Yamaha to learn if they are interested in supporting Nexus with some of their electronics in return for our endorsement. Then we rehearse in theater – other side of Meiji Shrine for our concert tonight. This concert is not part of Music of Today, but was arranged by Toru’s manager. Music of Today starts on the 29th. At 10 AM we had a meeting with Mr. Takeguchi, manager of R&D for Yamaha. We told him what we wanted in electronic percussion instruments. We will visit Yamaha tomorrow morning to play their instruments. Very interesting discussion. He understands problems of attack – sound – duration – overtones and is trying to sell Yamaha on developing this field. He was happy to have spoken with us. We help to confirm his approach to the company.

After meeting, Russ, Dave (Campion, roadie) and I have tempera lunch at the hotel. Dave buys. Now we go rehearse – meet with Kori people and play concert. Nice hall, but strange separation of sound on stage. Each of us feels isolated, but sound quality is good. Toru programmed the concert for us: Drumming, Part 1; Reich’s Music for Pieces of Wood and Marimba Phase;Takemitsu’s Rain Tree; Intermission, Cage’s Third Construction; some Rags and the silent film, Teddy at the Throttle. No translator for Teddy. Toru says most Japanese read English but do not speak. Fred Marrich and people from Kori are at concert as well as Victor Feldbrill and his wife, Louis Hamel and his wife, and local drummers. Much applause for Toru’s piece. Long applause after concert. Three bows and encore of Xylophonia.

Fred Marrich was with us all afternoon and evening.  Also Toru.  Asaka came to the concert and is speaking English very well.  After concert, we go to a Spanish restaurant for a beautiul meal.  Costa Pilavachi accompanies us.

A friend of Bob’s owns a vineyard and bottles red and white wine under his own label. He gives Bob a bottle of red and Bob leaves it at the hall and notices only when we get out of the cab at the restaurant. The owner of the restaurant asks for our autograph. Toru writes Nexus in Japanese characters and signs his name in a like manner. Then we all sign and John asks me to draw a drum. Finally, Toro writes NEXUS. The card is pretty well filled up by the time we’re finished. We’ve drunk 15 bottles of beer and Toru ordered garlic soup for Russ, Bob and me. He says it will help Shanghai flu. I was soaking wet after the Cage and wondered if I’d make it through the rest of the concert. Actually it felt good afterwards to have sweated that much.  Tomorrow we play Cine Vivant, a tiny movie theater, book and art store in Roppongi district. We will play a few rags and Teddy. Just one hour. They have displays of Toru’s scores and photos of him as a child and with Cage and Ichiyanagi in the early 1960s. It should be interesting and a lot of fun.

 

 

 
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Posted by on December 2, 2015 in Unassigned

 

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Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan

If one ignores the fact that over half their players are new to the group, one could say the Evergreen Club has been around for 30 years.  Blair Mackay  the Club’s director since 1993, acted as host for the 2nd of 2 concerts held at Array Space on 22 June, 2014.

For some reason Blair chose to program music written for the club in the early 1990s. This decision was not explained and I thought it a bit odd that none of the music written for them in the last decade or more had been programmed.  Only four of the10 performers could be considered Club old timers, Blair Mackay, Andrew Timar, Mark Duggan and Bill Parsons. Perhaps some of them had played these works 20 years ago. Perhaps that, or lack of rehearsal time could explain the vintage repertoire.

The two opening works were by Andrew Timar, the Club’s resident Suling (flute) player and one of its founding members. Then followed works by the late Nic Gotham, Henry Kucharzyk, the late John Wyre and finally the club founder in 1983, John Siddall.

All the works were engaging if sometimes too long. With the exception of  Andrew Timar’s The Quality of Mercy, all were well played.  The Quality of Mercy opens with a number of conducted single strokes, none of which were together.  I mentioned this to a friend of mine who told me the effect was intended. Sorry, I apologize.

There was some brilliant xylophone playing by Mark Duggan on what sounded to me like simple wooden slats. Michelle Colton played steel pan in John Wyre’s Island of Silence (1994). There were no program notes, an ommission I found inexcusable for older works and especially for an anniversary concert. I believe Island of Silence was written for Paul Ormandy and if memory serves, the premier was in the Glenn Gould theater. Michelle’s performance on steel pan was fluid and well-balanced. Her steel pan notes end with a “twang” and that was more than a bit disturbing. At any rate, to my ears the steel pan simply did not fit into the ensemble’s sound.

Henry Kucharzyk’s 1992 Toy Garage was for me the best work on the program with Palace (1993) by Jon Siddall a close 2nd.

It used to bother me that everything the Club played was in the same key. The thought again crossed my mind, but this evening it was not off putting. The club has good players and their control of complex rhythms and dynamics is remarkably good.

All the more reason to wonder how a group that commissioned composers such as Lou Harrison, John Cage, Gilles Tremblay, Jim Tenney and more, has survived 30 years in Toronto and today, is unable to attract an audience larger than about 25 people. I was told attendance at the first concert of these two was similar. That is pitiable. Was the lack of attendance due to World Cup soccer, lack of promotion, or a lack of interest?

The reasons for poor attendence are often difficult to determine, but one must wonder how the group’s development is being handled. Blair welcomed the new members to “the Evergreen family”, Ryan Scott, Dan Morphy, Michelle Colton, Rick Sacks, Etienne Levesque and Adam Campbell. They are some of Toronto’s best and busiest musicians.

Are they now members of the Club, or was Blair’s reference to family a bit disingenuous? If allowed input, they’d surely elevate audience size and much more. I’m very interested to find out if the new blood has some effect on the Club’s future.

 

 

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Cage Encounters

Variations III, No. 14, a 1992 print by Cage from a series of 57.

Variations III, No. 14, a 1992 print by Cage from a series of 57.

Long before I met John Cage, there was a wash of popular scuttlebutt clinging  to him. He was one of the 20th centuries’ most talked about musicians. Cage was a man whose name my teacher refused to speak. During my first year of college I suggested performing one of Cage’s percussion works and his response was a withering look that shivered my timbers.

That was in 1958. I had not seen a photograph of Cage nor heard any of his music. My ignorance was rectified somewhat in 1960 when I saw Cage on the television show I’ve Got a Secret. Cage’s secret was “I am going to perform one of my musical compositions. And he did. It was Water Walk (1959) and the performance can be seen on You Tube. [1.]  My teacher had certainly known about the infamous “silent piece”, 4’33” .(1952) His objection to Cage, though never voiced, made some sense considering his academic rectitude,.

Set-up for Water Walk.

Set-up for Water Walk.

As time passes, a chronology of life’s events can become skewed. I cannot remember how or when I first met Cage, but I do recall an after concert reception in someone’s Toronto home where most of us, including Cage, were seated on the floor. Nexus had just released a recording and I offered a copy to John who said, “I don’t like recorded music, but I’ll donate this to the University of Chicago Library.” On another occasion, a casual hello may have passed between us during a Percussive Arts Society International Convention (PASIC) in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (1984) I remember Cage having a meal with Percussion Group Cincinnati, which may not have been their name at the time. As they left the restaurant, a greeting might well have passed between us.

I know I met and spoke with him at length during a Celtic Festival in Toronto when he performed ROARATORIO (1979) with a wonderful group of Irish musicians including Paedre Mercier and his son Mel playing Bodhran.[2.]

John Cage, Paeder Mercier and R.E. during a Celtic Festival party in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 198?

John Cage, Paeder Mercier and R.E. during a Celtic Festival party in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 1982.

Convocation Hall on the campus of the University of Toronto was the venue for ROARATORIO, January 29 and 31, 1982, and as a warm-up, members of Nexus played Third Construction  (1941) while John and Merce Cunningham sat first row center. As might be expected, it was a very special performance. Afterwards we congregated backstage to share the moment. Merce was crying. “I have not heard this since I played the first performance. This is the part I played” he said to me, referring to my Lion’s roar, ratchet and maracas etc. Cage said, “I didn’t think the piece was so clear”.[3.]

In 1984, I was one of four conductors in Cage’s Dances for 4 Orchestras. [1982] Convocation Hall is circular with a balcony and the orchestras were positioned in various places with mine on the main floor stage. As conductor of Orchestra 1, it was my duty to begin the piece. I gave a downbeat and almost immediately the hall’s cavernous space was cleaved by a raw edged sarcasm. “Robin, is that what you call piano?”  From a distant balcony, it was Paul Zukovsky in high dudgeon. Cage came to my rescue with his distinctive, mellifluous voice,. “I think it’s soft enough Paul.” [4.]

For a television show, I had recently conducted in full symphonic dress, an orchestra of 25 automobiles performing O Canada in a stadium with their horns. Someone told Cage about seeing a newspaper photograph of this event and Cage asked me for a copy which I gave him during our first rehearsal. He was delighted.

Before leaving Toronto’s Celtc Festival, I must mention the great Celtic harpist, singer and historian, Gráinne Yeats. She was married to Michael Yeats, the son of poet and playwright William Butler Yeats.(1865-1939) I had the honor of improvising music with Gráinne for the W. B. Yeats play Cuchulain. Gráinne explained much to me about the Celtic or Irish harp history. For instance,Irish warriors fought naked and were driven to fighting frenzy by the sound of the harp. She also casually mentioned her father-in-law sitting on his porch composing poetry by humming. This past March, 2013 I phoned Ireland to speak with her but she was too frail for a phone conversation. Gráinne died 18 April, 2013.

Part of the lore surrounding Cage was his tolerance for and acceptance of accidental sounds occuring during performances of his music. It was this “anything works” dictum that I accepted as truth. Nexus members, Bob Becker, Russell Hartenberger and I, played his work Amores (1943) in 4 movements for Prepared piano and 3 percussionists 7 October, 1977. The opening movement for Prepared piano is followed by two movements for percussion trio. Cage was again in the audience and our first , the 2nd movement, was a stunner. The audience spontaneously applauded after the last note. When all had settled down, we were ready for the third movement when the pianist began playing the last. Cage rose from his seat and slowly made his way to the stage. He whispered to the pianist, “the percussionists have another movement to play”. Embarrassed, the pianist stopped playing and when Cage was once again seated, we continued on. So much for urban myths.

I participated in Musicircus, Cage’s 75th anniversary celebrations during the Los Angeles Festival (12 September,1987) and was asked to play in “but what about the noise of crumpling paper etc.” (1982) [5.] I believe John prided himself on his penmanship and clarity of expression. He approached me during the first rehearsal and complained about my not playing the way he had explained in his performance note. He was, for Cage, quite exercized and I was apologetic. I told him I had read his note and was conscientiously playing as I had understood it. He told me what he wanted and that was that. After the evening performance John approached and said,” You were correct. I reread my note and there was a missplaced comma which I have moved to its proper place.” Alas, I never asked him to show me the revision.

Nexus played Branches (1976) for a Cage celebration at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.c. (17 November, 1982) We discussed Cage’s performance notes which I understood to mean each of us was to toss the iChing coins to determine how we would interpret our parts. One of our head strong members objected to this reading and insisted we toss the coins just once to arrive at a group interpretation. We tossed one series and played. Cage later said, “Nexus does things their own way. They played  Branches linearly, not the way  I intended.”  Upon reading this, my respect for Cage blossomed and as well, his comment provided me an ah ha, I told you so moment.

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During the writing of an article about percussion ensembles in North America, I called John at his home in New York City. After the usual greetings, I asked him if he had invented the percussion ensemble as we in North America knew it. He said he did not. “It was in the air” he said. Continuing, ” I suppose I was the first to have an ensemble that rehearsed regularly. That was to play my music.”

Nexus spent an afternoon in Amsterdam shopping for cactus, an adventure that blew away my mid tour doldrums. Local technicians provided exceptionally sensitive contact mics and a very good sound system. All the prep was for Child of Tree.(1975)  After our evening performance of Child of Tree, an audience member with bravura vocal chords, called out “Bullshit”. After moving to our next set-up, I looked at the audience and said,”Cactusshit”. Next day, that was our concert review headline.

L. to R. roadie, Dave Campion, R.E., John Wyre, 2 technicians, Bob Becker.

L. to R. Our roady,, Dave Campion, R.E., John Wyre, 2 technicians, Bob Becker.

ASLSP, for piano or organ (January 1985). This experience with Cage is related on this site in my article: John Cage Goes As Slow As possible in Halberstadt, Germany.

[1.]  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSulycqZH-U

[2.]  Before Paeder left Toronto, he sold me his Bodhran and gave me a couple of lessons. Years later we were scheduled to meet in Liverpool, but his brother’s death called him home. We never met as Paeder himself died a year or two later. One can hear Paeder’s wonderful playing on early Chieftain recordings.

[3.] Cage limited his critique of our performance to the almglocken used in place of the Cow bell. “I had in mind an old farm cowbell. This sounds too pure.”

[4.] Paul Zukovsky and I remain long distance friends. He now lives in Hong Kong. From my perspective, his major contributions to 20-21st century music are his interpretations of violin music, his conducting and the Musical Observations Inc. CP2 digital recordings which he owns and which demonstrate both his playing and conducting skills. Nexus recorded Jo Kondo’s Under the Umbrella for CP2, each movement recorded in one take, no edits. Paul also conducted and recorded the Cage Sixteen Dances (1982) also available on CP2. Nexus played the latter work with Paul in Toronto, 30 Jamuary, 1982, ( during the Celtic Festival) 15 November, 1982 in Symphony Space, New York City and two days later on the aforementioned Kennedy Center concert, November 17..

The CP2 catalogue consists of 18 splendid CDs  encompassing works from our two most recent centuries. All containing rare musical gems played and produced with the highest professional standards.

http://www.musicalobservations.com/recordings/index.html

[5.] The complete title: But what about the noise of crumpling paper which he used to do in order to paint the series of “Papiers froissés” or tearing up paper to make “Papiers déchirés?” Arp was stimulated by water (sea, lake, and flowing waters like rivers), forests, for percussion ensemble (August 1985).

 

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TORQ IN ARRAY MUSIC CONCERT HALL

TorQ Percussion Quartet in the Array Music Concert Hall, 20 November, 2013.  L. to R.  Adam Campbell,  Jamie Drake Daniel Morphy, Richard Burrows.  Cell phone photo by Frank Morphy.

TorQ Percussion Quartet in the Array Music Concert Hall, 20 November, 2013.
L. to R. Adam Campbell, Jamie Drake, Daniel Morphy, Richard Burrows. Cell phone photo courtesy Frank Morphy.

TorQ struck again, pun intended, this time with a concert of music for Prepared Piano by John Cage, all arranged for traditional percussion instruments by members of TorQ.

I last heard TorQ in the Toronto Dance Theatre, playing works which were choreographed for existing music, as I reported on this site in TorQ Ensemble: Morphy, Rolfe, Reich and Cage, 28 June, 2013. That concert was an unforgettable experience. Consequently, I was prepared for this one to be at best, less memorable.

This TorQ program began with Bacchanale (1938-40), a vivacious complexity of rhythms and tempi written for dance and the first work by Cage for Prepared Piano. Of the 20 movements in Cage’s Sonatas and Interlues, (1946-48),TorQ members arranged and played 11: 8 Sonatas and 3 Interludes. The first half ended with an exquisite arrangement by Jamie Drake of the mezmorizing In A Landscape (1948), the only unprepared piano work on the program and ended with an arrangement of a John Cage oil painting titled Chess Pieces (1944). The program was appropriately titled Sonatas and Interludes.

Western percussion ensembles and the Prepared Piano are commonly thought to have been invented by John Cage: the percussion ensemble to provide him with solutions to compositional issues and later, the Prepared Piano to provide him with a percussion orchestra free from extra players, their accoutrements and expenses. However, there were important antecedents to both the western percussion ensemble and the Prepared Piano and Cage himself affirmed this during a phone conversation. When I asked him if he had invented them Cage said, “No, they were in the air”. His exploitation of both genres popularized them and they became indelibly associated with his name. The Prepared Piano proved to be an instrument that offered fresh insights into the aesthetics of sound and influenced generations of performers and composers.

The piano is a percussion instrument. When its strings are affixed with nuts, bolts, erasers and other knicknacks, its sounds are altered dramatically, and it sounds even more percussive. Thus, Cage’s Prepared Piano music was written on a percussion instrument altered to sound like other percussion instruments. Somehow, TorQ‘s  arrangements for quartet and multi percussion had closed an historic circle in music history. Or have they opened a new one?

I was seated with my wife and the very fine percussionist Alison Bent who has recently become part of TorQ‘s management team. Some of the Toronto notables in attendance were John Miller the music impresario of the Stratford Summer Music Festival [1.] and Ray Dillard, percussionist, recording engineer and President of the Toronto Musician’s Association. Also in the audience was Toronto pianist Henry Kucharzyk, whose fine recording of the Sonatas and Interludes (1990) provided inspiration forTorQ arrangers.

Toronto percussionist and composer Rick Sacks made his first appearance of the night playing his Kat, an electronic instrument programed for Prepared Piano. Cage never embraced electronic sounds. He did not like recorded music and donated all gifts of recordings to libraries. The Kat’s ersatz Prepared Piano sounds were at variance with the otherwise all acoustic sounds made by TorQ. The Kat simply rang false and yet, its sounds were appealing on their own.

Rick is the artistic director of Array Music and is the force behind its new music hall and administrative offices. He is an indefatigable worker. The new hall is splendid. Seating at most 50 people, it is an acoustical gem. The sound is not distorted by excessive dryness or resonance. Small dance and music ensembles not yet aware of its comforts need to check it out.

Cage was studying chess under the tutelage of Marcel Duchamp and made a painting titled Chess Pieces for an exhibit by Duchamp and other New York based visual artists. Cage painted a chess board and filled each square with snippets of music. These snippets define the form and structure of the work. American pianist Margaret Leng Tan arranged these squares of music into a piano solo. Thus, Bryan Nozny’s arrangement of Chess Pieces, is an arrangement of an arrangement of an oil painting and sounding within the purview of Cage’s aesthetic.

The Sonatas and Interludes concert was a garden of delights, always unexpected, always satisfying. I have grown accustomed to TorQ‘s artistry. They move in unison while remaining flexible. What excites me most about TorQ, is their desire to search out new ideas and realize them, time after time, in musically satisfying ways.

Note:

[1.] It was announced that John Miller has named TorQ the Stratford Summer Music Festival Artists in Residence for the summer of 2014. 

 

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NEXUS WORLD TOUR – 1984 – A DIARY, Part 3. Mao suites, 1st Beijing Concert,

After the dental appointment.

On my trip to the Embassy I question Kwang Chao, our translator, about Mao suits.  She explains that as a form of protest to feudalism, Dr. Sun Yat-sen adopted the Western suit rather than the traditional gown. Mao adopted this in his own design and many men still wear this. At one point in the Cultural Revolution only three colors were allowed: Army green, black and gray. Now the young people consider these men conservative and have adopted Western dress as a form of protest. Chao explains that it is young women who have started wearing the most colorful clothes.  She says that men do not care about their appearance. There is no significance to grey or black in terms of rank. After the hospital Guy explains that the average wage in China is about 45-50 yuan a month. The political leaders make 500 yuan per month but they get many perks.

The forbidden city is so called because the common people in the days of the emperors were not allowed on the grounds. Today the Chinese leaders live here in compounds which are off limits to Chinese citizens.
I casually asked Guy (Guy St. Jacques, Canadian Embassy)  why the Chinese don’t grow grass in the city. Years ago the government had all the grass destroyed in the war against insects. Now they are planting trees and grass as quickly as they can because the city is a dust bowl in the winter. The Gobi desert is about 500 miles north and when the winter winds come, huge dust storms blow in and added to the exposed earth in the city,  great clouds of dust inundate Beijing.

Guy says  that the greatest problem for China is to feed itself. I am reminded of the chicken crisis in Canada. The growers wanted to change the marketing boards restrictions so they can produce enough chickens for McDonald’s chicken McNuggets.

I arrived a little late for our rehearsal but things feel good –  the Cage “Third Construction” comes right back – the Rags float along. “Raintree” is a little strange because of the great resonance in the hall.

We have some problems with getting the stagehands to give us enough light but interestingly enough the lights come on full when we began to rehearse the Chinese music we brought. It does not appear to us that the event is accidental. My impression is that they have no idea what we are doing and only when we play something they recognize as music do they respond. (Terrible sentence construction but this is Stream of consciousness.) After the concert we tell Guy to get firm – kick ass and let them know we want quiet and lights when we are working. He accepts the responsibility.

The concert goes well for us. I have the feeling that our audience is interested in our dress and our instruments but are not relating emotionally to most pieces – very quiet for Takemitsu – short desultory applause. We were told to expect noisy audiences–ours is quiet. Very enthusiastic response to John Cage, the strongest of the evening. Things get interestinger and interestinger.  Not much enthusiasm for the Chinese piece. Um…we expected quite a bit of pleasure from that one.

The African charts go well. We all feel good and the concert is cooking -rather the performances are. Good response for the Rags. John tries to say something in Chinese at the end and has a blank. He opens his arms and looks upward in supplication and brings the house down. The Chinese girl who has been introducing the pieces–even though the audience have programs–comes out to the rescue just as John remembers. He says his sentence and to warm applause and the girl announces our encore. “Xylophonia” is not received with any more enthusiasm and we bow. A huge bouquet of flowers is brought out by 2 girls and the Canadian and Chinese officials, come on stage to congratulate us and have a photographic session. Only 50 or 60 of the audience stay in the hall as the officials come on stage. For the photos I stand between “Tom Monohan” and “the elf “with a great smile who sat next to Russ at the banquet. (Note-Tom Monohan, 1937-94, was for many years the principal contra bassist with the Toronto Symphony. He was very over weight, a terrific musician, teacher and good friend. The Chinese official reminded me in some ways of Tom.)

Our feeling is that the audience got off on what we were doing. We wonder if we are the 1st people to play Cage and Takemitsu in China. If this is indeed the 1st performance of any new music. We will get reviews but I wonder if we will ever know the significance of their responses. Are Chinese audiences subdued, normally, when confronted with totally new musical experiences? To what kind of music would they respond? I felt good–very good, and am not myself convinced, but the concert had some ambiguous moments. Our hosts from the banquet seemed generally very pleased. As we stood for pictures “the elf” was beaming and took my hand for a moment of genuine affection, respect and appreciation–”Monohan” I discovered, was well into his 70s seemed very moved and went out of his way to congratulate me more than once.

The bouquet was ours. We loaded it on the bus and presented it to the lobby of our hotel.  Dinner was waiting and our stage manager, publicist and translator from the arts Bureau presented us with Chinese linen tablecloths and napkins. I had my 1st full nights sleep since leaving Toronto.

In one hour – 9 AM –  we leave for the hall to rehearse for tonight’s concert. Tonight we will improvise for them and play Bruce’s “Clos de Vougeot”. The hall is very good–that’s a plus for Bruce’s piece–but I’m really concerned. In the West “Clos de Vougeot” is a difficult piece for audiences–very balanced but quiet generally and very strange structurally, with many silences. Western audiences have applauded after some of the sections and that tends to break the mood. Tonight, I think, we’ll have to work.

Postscript: a fellow traveler brought 2 large boxes of chocolates from Toronto. After lunch we had a binge. Chocolate never tasted so good.

 

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TorQ Ensemble: Morphy, Rolfe, Reich and Cage.

TorQ

TorQ

Years ago, I read a National Geographic article about a newly discovered tribe in the wilds of South America. The tribe had no predators, their children were raised communally, abundent  supplies of food were always within arms reach, they did not work and the men spent much of their time lazing in hammocks. Their average lifespan was 30 years. Scientists  reporting on tribe’s seemingly idyllic existence, speculated their early deaths were due to boredom. The tribe had no music or dance. None at all.

Beyond this cultural anomaly, music and dance are universal, historically percussion being the prominent music purveyor. From the single rhythm Inuit and native American Indian frame drums, to the complex percussion ensembles of Africa; from Turkish hand drums and Korean Samulnori ensembles, to Brazilian Samba clubs; from Indonesian Gamalans and Caribbean Voodoo drums, percussion instruments provide the heart and impetus to dancers.

Composer John Cage comes first to mind when I think of percussion and dance in North America. A prime emxaple is Cage’s CREDO IN US (1942), a work for percussion whose original choreography is not extant. Throughout the United States and Canada, Cage’s music and populal misconceptions about his ideas on improvisation, have led to a multitude of annual collaborations between university dance and percussion departments.

I’ve participated in my share of these collaborations, some of them free-for-all wastes of time. The best were choreographed by professional teacher dancers, but in recent years I’d not been aware of professional percussion ensembles pursuing this creative medium. Until now.

On May 3 and 4, 2013, TorQ percussion quartet gave three sold out concerts under the name New Manoeuvers in the Dancemakers facility of the Distillery District of Toronto. TorQ had asked Jacob Niedzwiecky, Louis  Laberge-Côté, Lauren Van Gijn and Linda Garneau to choreograph works for their student dancers by Janes Rolfe, a TorQ commission, a recent work by Steve Reich, a new work byTorQ member Daniel Morphy, and a classic John  Cage quartet dating from 1942.

Dancemakers performance space is a rectangle. The audience and performers are separated by a long, wide area covered by a dancer’s floor. There are about 70 bleacher seats for the audience and across the way, there seemed to be adequate space for TorQ. The acoustic was altogether satisfying and percussion sounds rang true.

The program began with the premier of Janes Rolfe’s, Why You. Jacob Niedzwiecky named his choreography Meek, Bent and MIld.  Rolfe intended his music to be one continuous movement, but the choreography, employing ropes, required pauses, which to my ears, hindered not at all the music’s effectiveness. The music is ebulliant, well orchestrated and constructed. It  is reminiscent of moments in John Cage’s early percussion works and his Sonata’s and Interludes for prepared Piano. But only reminiscent. This is a unique work and was delightfully danced. TorQ should keep Why You in its quartet concert repertoire.

Steve Reich’s Mallet Quartet is just a couple of years old, but I’ve had the opportunity to hear it a number of times. It doesn’t appeal to me as, say, his Music for Pieces of Wood. His quartet sounds to me like a “Toss-off”. But one  problem is how its been played.  It seems Reich’s music for percussion is always played mechanically and loud. These  interpretations aggravate me and after a short time I’m compelled to say, “Enough already. I get it”. Still, as music for dance, Mallet Quartet worked. The vibraphones were played with a lilting swing which, though loud enough, was a human touch. I still think this work is of little significance, but TorQ’s interpretation made listening tolerable. The dancers were Michael Caldwell and Jordana Deveau. Michael Caldwell was the star of the duo, self assured, polished and thoroughly musical.  Jordana was a great partner if just a touch less compelling. I had not expected to see student dancing of this calibre. Their performance of the Louis Laberge-Côté choreography Three Times Two, gave the Reich work its raison d’etre.

For me and I think the audience, the work that stole the show was Daniel Morphy’s Dance Cycles # 1 having the choreographed name of Restless / Reverie. Morphy’s music and the dance were seamlessly blended into a time stopping bouquet of sound and movement. As the music begins, dancers enter stage left and right with small hand-held tuned gongs, each stroke timed to the dancers personal count. The effec of their slow swirls creates magic. At the end of the work Morphy plays on small resonant metal percussion, a long diminuendo that carries the ear and the performance to rest. A gem.

Percussionists have an important relationship with John Cage and his music. Cage’s early works, all written for percussion, is the core repertoire for North American percussion ensembles. Of those works, Third Construction is generally considered to be his finest creation and I was very interested to hear it with dance. Linda Garneau named her choreography Reconstructions: an architectural study and was satisfyingly danced by Mia Delina. I was infatuated by TorQ’s  performance. There’s a wooden tongue drum solo mid way that is very soft. It was played softly, but at half tempo. A startling effect, something akin to a reverse “Warp Speed, Scotty”. From that point to the end, TorQ was passionate and exciting. TorQ has recorded this work on BEDOINT RECORDS.

TorQ’s programme was refreshing, musically satisfying and exciting. All in all, a significant evening of memorable entertainment. In the case of New Manoeuvers, collaboration between percussion and dance created an artistic success. One that could bear exploration.

www.torqpercussion.ca

 

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JOHN CAGE GOES AS SLOW AS POSSIBLE in HALBERSTADT, GERMANY.

St. Burchardi Church. Halberstadt.

St. Burchardi Church. Halberstadt. photo, R.E.

The drive to Quedlinburg had been long and tiring, much of it on the autobahn at night and in rain. As our hotel loomed beyond the car’s windshield wipers, we decided to reduce our travels by one destination. However, after visiting this medieval city in Germany, a World Cultural Heritage site, we changed our minds and drove back towards the city of Halberstadt.  Besides a collection of 18,000 stuffed birds and being known as the town where canned sausage was invented in 1896, Halberstadt had also spent years behind the Iron Curtain, thus missing much of the achievements and benefits of its West German compatriots.

Neither stuffed birds or canned sausage had brought us to Halberstadt. Michael Praetorius (1571-1621) had proclaimed Halberstadt the city where in 1361 an organ with the first modern 12 note keyboard in Europe was built and played. Harry Partch (1901-74) declared this a “Fateful day” as that keyboard is considered the beginning of modern music. Halberstadt’s St. Burchardi church is also the home of the John Cage project (1912-92 ) ORGAN2 As Slow As Possible (ASLSP).

ASLSP was written in 1985 as the required piano work for a Maryland State contemporary music competition. In 1987 the German composer and organist Gerd Zacher (b. 1929-), asked Cage to make a version for organ which Cage named ORGAN2/ASLSP. During a discussion of Cage’s music in 1993, a German musicologist made an offhand comment about an organ being capable of sustaining tones indefinitely. From that comment came the idea for an ORGAN2/ASLSP project.  A committee, a board of directors and a fund were established and the  Halberstadt’s city fathers donated St. Burchardi’s Church as a home for the project.

As we approached the entrance to St. Burchardi, I was free of preconceptions. We walked through the front door into a ruin. After political secularization, St. Burchardi’s was used as a pig sty. Today, rubble removed, and a new roof and floor of gravel, St. Burchardi casts a spell. It evokes an archaic temple neither removed from, nor a part of this world. Through pane-less windows, light revealed scarred timber beans, dusty walls and a general impression of the building’s original shape, created 1,000 years ago. We were  spellbound by the sound of two soft notes hanging in space. It was magic.

The ORGAN2ASLSP time span of 639 years was determined by subtracting the invention date of the 12 note keyboard from the millennium year 2000. Various difficulties,  however, delayed the project opening by one year.

Just inside the entrance of St. Burchardi, photo R.E.

Just beyond the entrance of St. Burchardi, photo R.E.

Lest readers think I have an inordinate love of Cage’s music, I do discriminate. I prefer the music he wrote between 1933 and 1952, the dates encompassing his incomparable works for percussion -the core repertoire of modern percussion ensembles, the works for Prepared Piano and his 4′ 33″ the work he declared unto death to be his best.

Photo by E.E.

Photo by E.E.

The Cage Projekt has not been without its critics. Zacher for instance said Cage never intended such a lengthy performance. The most recent sound changes to ORGAN2/ASLAP,   occurred on 5 July 2012. The next will occur on 5 October 2013. All score changes take place on the 5th day of the month in honour of Cage’s birthday. Organ pipes are added and or sbtracted to realize note changes and small bags of sand are hung on appropriate keyes to keep the tones audible. The organ will gradually be built as the work progresses. A generator buried under replicas of the original church organ bellows, sends a constant source of air to the organ pipes located across the trancept.

Small bags of sand holding down keys. Photo, Rainer Sennewald

Small bags of sand holding down keys. Photo, Rainer Sennewald
Replica of original bellows with organ in the distance. photo, Rainer Sennewald

Replica of original bellows with ASLSP organ in the distance. photo, Rainer Sennewald

1,000 Euros will allow a donor to have a message inscribed on a metal plaque which will be  mounted below a year of their choice if available. The church guardian, a Polish man who came to Halberstadt some years ago and found himself unemployed, vetted a number of job advertisements and chose the ORGAN2/ASLAP job because “it sounded interesting”.  He is a delightful individual who loves the project under his care and has an understanding of Cage and his music that took me back a few paces. He knew the contents of the books for sale and was happy to answer questions. He said there were line ups on the weekends and a rather steady, but smaller flow on weekdays. When a change of notes takes place, St. Burchardi is packed.

Tourists are its congregation and as its organist, Cage plays a concert for the ages.

Donor plates, Halberstadt

Donor plaques, Halberstadt, photo R.E.

 

 

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