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NEXUS WORLD TOUR – 1984 – A DIARY, Part 14. JAPAN, Takemitsu and WE.

May 25 – 10:20 AM

Finally got some sleep. Woke up at 9:30 AM but stayed in bed until John brought some vitamin C. Things a little looser this morning.

11:40 PM

Eleanor called and I was a little startled. I expected the call resulted from some trouble at home. To the contrary, she has the lawn tractor together, is expecting Ed and his friend back from Algonquin Park and, best of all, Bryce has been accepted at Fanshawe College. It was so good to hear her voice. It is time to go home.

I bought two skirts for her in the hotel boutique. Checked out cameras and calculators with Russ and Dave and we had lunch at Parco – seventh floor. No bargains in cameras these days. The Nikon F3 is well over $1000 Canadian. Calculators are good bargains. Went to a building called Wave, owned by Seibu, and containing the theater in which we play, is convenient. I am continually amazed by things and the way the Japanese do them. Eight floors of records, scores, books, tapes – and display of bird calls – very expensive – and sound effects. I could easily spend a small fortune there. The stairwells are lined with photos of Toru and original fragments of his scores – friends, photos, and memorabilia.. The concert is in Cine Vivant, a small, 185 seat movie theater in the basement. A beautiful theater. Concert is sold out and wonderful warm responsive audience with a sense of humor.

Our dressing room has cable TV and we watch a funny installment of the Muppets on English language TV. Just before we go on – first-half Rags, second half “Teddy” – just one hour. The audience, after one encore won’t stop applauding so after our last encore, Bill does his shtick of holding up his hands for silence and when the audience responses, he walks off stage. Always gets a laugh.

Asaka and Maki are at the concert. Toru asks what my plans are for the weekend and says he is coming to our hotel for two days. Maki says. “Ohhhh”  and tells me to give her father my key. I tell her that she has an American mind and what she says is jive. She blushes, Toru laughs.

Louis Hamel, Canadian Cultural Attache is at the concert and presents us with bouquets of flowers and then takes them back. Big laugh. I tell Toru I’m getting all the flowers from the people going to Kyoto and will arrange them around me in bed and spend the whole weekend watching them die. Toru loves stories like that. We will get together. It could be a very fun weekend.

Louis Hamel comes back to the hotel with us and we go to a sushi bar just behind Tobu. I can’t possibly describe the meal. A small place and there are only three men – buddies at the bar. They are all classmates of the owner and play baseball on weekends. After quite a few beers, much conversation, and compliments on our chopstick technique, we get into questions about the odd shellfish in his refrigerator. One is called Oh Gai. The owner, Yanagi, from very old family from Edo period, hits the protuberance with his finger and the thing retracts partially. It looks so much like an old shriveled penis, it’s hilarious. He brings some smaller shellfish out that are partially opened – reddish orange in color and look like vaginas. He puts a chopstick in one and it clamps on the stick. Then he lays the “penis” on the “vagina” and presents them to Joanne. He asks her to hit the penis and for once Joanne is nonplussed.

He opens a huge shell and inside is a very large scallop but with an incredible digestive tract and a reddish spleen or liver. He takes a piece of sashimi, palms it and slams his palm on the glass counter. When he removes his hand, the sashimi curls up. They are all still “alive”.

Jean asked the men to guess the oldest member of our group and they guess me. This startles everyone and John says they are the first to ever guess correctly. They explain that I am the most civilized in my eating and drinking and therefore am more experienced and older. I bow and “Domo Arigato”. We toast and applaud each other. John presents the owner and his son with marimba pins and a photo of the group which will be go on his wall. A very funny, warm, beer boozy evening. Hope I get a lot of sleep tonight.

May 26

Had coffee and morning paper with Russ. See ad for Iannis Xenakis concerts. Wonder if he is in town. Russ looks up and Iannis is sitting at a table behind us. We join him and talk of Chinese and Korean music. Will probably go to his concert tomorrow. Sylvio Gualdo is playing percussion amplifier with amplified harpsichord.

Went shopping with Russ. Just about finished except for Dorothy and I know what I want. Dinner with John, Jean, Russ at Seibu, seventh floor. Drinks later with Toru who is now with Iannis interviewing for magazine.

Miniskirts are in. Many Japanese women are knock-kneed and, from the knees down, bowlegged. Most of the baseball games I’ve seen are played on grassless infields. The Mitsubishi Gallant golf tournament was played on what appears to be a rather uninteresting course. Most of the male Japanese golfers do not seem to generate the fluid powerful body motion and hence, a seemingly slower clubhead speed and awkward appearance.

Just saw a Christine McVey rock video – nice vibe.

May 27th – 9 AM

Here in the center of Tokyo – cement – cars – people, lives a solitary raven. Each morning he walks the brick wall outside the coffee shop and his caw can be heard inside the hotel. Sunday morning early, and less traffic, my window open to the sixth floor, his caw echoes as against hills across water. He is a foot-long and he seems to be the only significant, omnipotent resident of Shibuyu. This one bird – circling the hotel makes Shibuyu small. In the paddling silence of an Algonquin river, a blue heron pounds the air and reeds in a startled take-off, and remains, still, only a fragment of the whole.

May 28 – 12:30 PM

Lunch and dinner with Toru – lunch of barbecued eel in Akasaka – dessert in Shibuyu ice cream parlor. I ask if Toru would write a piece for John and me. He is delighted, accepts and immediately suggests the title “We” (Wyre and Engelman). Toru wants John and me to give him a list of instruments for which he can write “WE”.  We both promise to practice.

 

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2015 in Unassigned

 

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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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Armstrong and Bechet, a Precise Freedom.

My brother was an avid collector of early Dixieland Jazz recordings and I grew up with the sounds of great singers, the likes of Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith and Lizzy Miles and King Oliver’s band, Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five and Hot Seven, and the Original Dixeland Jazz Band. [1.] With incomparable panache these artists wrote and recorded some of America’s most expressive  music. Today, much of this legacy is available in digital format, though pureists may insist on listening to the original 78s and LPs.

In the 1950s Armstrong (1901-71) assembled his All Stars. Recently, I revisited two of my favourite Armstrong recordings from those years, Louis Armstrong Plays the Music of W. C. Handy  and Ambassador Satch. The players were the same on both albums and long time Armstrong collaborators.  The band was Barney Bigard, clarinet; Arvell Shaw, bass;  Billy Kyle, piano; Trummy Young, trombone; Armstrong, trumpet; Barrett Deems, drums; and Velma Middleton, vocals.  Edmond Hall, clarinet, replaced Bigard on Ambassador Satch. [2.]

Louis Armstrong Plays the Music of W. C. Handy was recorded in a studio under the supervision of the composer William Christopher Handy(1873-1958). The tunes on Ambassador Satch were recorded live during a European tour, with Edmond Hall’s lush clarinet tones and incomparably mellifluous lines, Arvel Shaw’s rock solid bass, Kyle’s tasty piano rhythms and sweet solos, Trummy Young’s rip saw Gut Bucket trombone, and Deems, “the Fastest Drummer in the World” tasty back ups and roisterous solos.

These guys played with a joy European fans had been waiting for years to experience. They were not disappointed. Within Europe’s music community, Armstrong and his All Stars were post World War II’s most appreciated ambassadors.

Note: To access audio files, go to my web site http://www.robinengelman.com

“Royal Garden Blues”, Ambassador Satch, Louis Armstrong and his All Stars, 1955. Columbia LP, CL840.

“Dardanella”, Edmond Hall, Clarinet on Ambassador Satch, Louis Armstrong and his All Stars, 1955.

“West End Blues”, Ambassador Satch, Louis Armstrong and his All Stars, 1955. Columbia LP, CL840.

In 1957, a high school teacher played me a recording of le Sacre du Printemps. Its fagotto castrato launched me into an adventure with Western Art Music that held my interest for Dixieland in abeyance for many years. I’ve since played le Sacre more than a few times and have about half a dozen LP and CD recordings by as many orchestras and conductors. During a conversation with Toru Takemitsu, I mentioned my love for early Dixieland. Toru replied, “Sidney Bechet”. Bechet (1897-1959) was familiar to me. Some years earlier I had purchased two recordings he’d made in France. [3.]  Unfortunately, their quality was very poor and I vowed to revisit his music.

Recently I purchased 115 Bechet recordings. As I made my way through this lode, I struck gold on almost every track. I was delighted by Bechet’s mastery of the soprano saxophone and his endlessly brilliant improvisations. There was one tune I had to include here. According to one aficionado, Shag is not only a prime example of Bechet’s art, it contains perhaps the greatest Jazz vocal, ever. That aside, this masterful example of Scat singing by Ernest Meyers offers an enlightening contrast to Louis Armstrong’s style. Shag was written by Bechet and this recording was made in New York City in 1932 with his band, New Orleans Feetwarmers. The Bechet Quintet performance of Summertime is ineffably beautiful.[4.]

“Shag”, Sidney Bechet and his New Orleans Feetwarmers, Vic Dickenson, trombone; Sidney Bechet, soprano sax; Don Donaldson, piano;  Wilson Myers, Bass;  Wilbert Kirk , drums. New York, 1943.

“Summertime”, Sidney Bechet Quintet: Meade Lux Lewis, piano; Teddy Bunn, guitar; Johnny Williams, bass; Sid (Big Sid) Catlett, drums. New York, 1939.

“After You’ve Gone”, Sidney Bechet and his New Orleans Feetwarmers, Vic Dickenson, trombone; Sidney Bechet, soprano sax; Don Donaldson, piano; Wilson Myers, bass; Wilbert Kirk, drums. New York, 1943.

I  wrote an article titled Music Appreciation 101. It’s a tribute to Janis Joplan and her album Pearl, one of the alltime great rock albums. Now, Armstrong and Bechet et al are providing me with further hours of pleasure. Their amazingly precise freedom gives me endless “What have I been missing” moments. After listening to a couple of cuts in this article, fellow drummer Rick Sacks said, “In this music you can hear all the voices.”  So true.  Next, I might check out Eddie Condon. Edmond Hall played with Condon as did drummers Cliff Leeman and George Wettling; trombonist Cutty Cutshall; and trumpet fireball Wild Bill Davidson, father of Toronto harpist Sarah Davidson.

NOTES:

[1.]  Ironically, an all white band and the first to make a commercial Dixieland recording.

The band recorded two sides for the Victor Talking Machine Company, “Livery Stable Blues” and “Dixie Jass Band One Step”, on February 26, 1917, for the Victor label. These titles were released as the sides of a 78 record on March 7, the first issued jazz record. The band records, first marketed simply as a novelty, were a surprise hit, and gave many Americans their first taste of jazz. (from Wikipedia)

[2.] I recommend exploring the biographies of these great players. The band members dates: Barney Bigard, clarinet (1906-80); Emond Hall, clarinet (1901-67);  Arvell Shaw, bass (1923-2002); Billy Kyle, piano (1914-66); Trummy Young, trombone (1912-84); Louis Armstrong, trumpet (1901-71); Barrett (the world’s fastest drummer) Deems (1914-98); and Velma Middleton, vocalist (1917-61). Velma died in Sierra Leone of a stroke or heart attack while touring with Armstrong. She can be heard on Louis Armstrong Plays the Music of W. C. Handy. Though some critics considered her voice average and suggested Armstrong replace her with someone better, Louis refused, stating “she was family”.  On this tour, the All Stars were official representatives of the U.S. government, hence the album title Ambassador Satch.

[3.] Bechet was a Creole. He was born in New Orleans and died in Garches, France, the country where he made more than half his recordings. Both his birth and death occured on May 14, reminding me of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams who died on the same day, July 4, in the same year, 1826.

[4.] This reminds me of the late Eva Cassidy singing Autumn Leaves on her CD Live at Blues Alley.

 

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Seiji Ozawa in Toronto

The Japan Foundation of Toronto recently held a celebratory event honouring the 50th anniversary of Seiji Ozawa’s arrival in Toronto as conductor of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Toshi Aoyagi, the Foundation’s director of Japanese projects, displayed a large and interesting variety of photos from those early years, including a photograph of Seiji looking astonishingly young, and a giant black and white photo showing all the players, easily identifiable, on the stage of Massey Hall, its performance venue until 1982. Toshi also prepared sushi, sashimi and California rolls for 50 guests. In attendance were members of Toronto’s arts community including  the Symphony’s long time manager Walter Homberger who had played an important role in bringing Ozawa to Toronto. Also included among the guests were current and former members of the T.S.O.

åSome of the veteran players who were asked to speak briefly about their early experiences with Seiji were principal flutist Robert Aittken; principal harpist Judy Loman; myself, principal percussion; cellist Richard Armin and double bassist Ruth Budd. We had not known beforehand we’d be called upon so our comments were a bit skittish, even disjointed, but it was clear to all that Seiji  had been a respected and in some cases, a beloved maestro.

in the earliest days of Seiji’s tenure, he had some difficulty with the English language. Though we became rather close, as close as a conductor and player could or should be, he was never able to pronounce my first name Robin, because of the R. So he always called me Engelman. Of course given the Japanese order of names, correctly Ozawa Seiji, he was perfectly correct to call me Engelman, particularly when we were in Japan. Judy Loman told a wonderful story from those days. Seiji introduced her as  Mary Loman, harpist and when the orchestra laughed, Seiji turned to someone and said, “She plays harp doesn’t she?”.

I was always impressed by the acuity of Seiji’s ears and told two stories. We were rehearsing one of the Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe Suites down on the lake under an open tent. There were thousands of seagulls squawking and swooping and dropping bombs, young children laughing, screaming and running around, airplanes taking off and landing at the small nearby airport, tour boats blaring music for parties and the ferryboats back and forth between the mainland and the islands. An impossible acoustic situation with the Ravel beginning so quietly. I couldn’t hear the contra basses to the left of me and the orchestra pianist Patricia Krueger, playing celeste, was only about 20 feet to my right. After less than two bars Seiji stopped and said, “Patty, put the pedal down”.

After Toronto, Seiji conducted in San Francisco and then the Boston Symphony. Karel Ancerl succeeded him in Toronto and when Ancerll died in mid season, Seiji came back to conduct a concert or two to fill in while the Toronto Symphony management scramble to fill their seasons concerts with conductors. Seiji programmed music from his first concert in Toronto in 1965. One of the works was Sergei Prokoffiev’s Fifth Symphony, at times densly orchestrated. Seiji was back among friends and obviously wanted to show us how he had progressed. He leaped onto the podium and after a friendly hello began conducting. After the break Seiji came back to the podium and waved to Johnny Cowell the second trumpet, “Johnny, 3 bars before H, don’t breathe after fourth beat. Take breath after second beat next measure”.

One of the things I always liked about Seiji was the fact that he rarely talked in rehearsal. Some players didn’t like this. They wanted to be told how to play, but Seiji said, “I conduct, you play”. Seiji believed questions of ensemble and string bowings were the provenance if principal players. Another collegial aspect was his willingness to share the act of re-creating music with the players.

After he programmed Ives’ 4th Symphony, Seiji asked me, “How shall we do last movement?”  The percussion section must play a quiet, nine bar ostinato, holding a steady tempo during the entire movement while the rest of the orchestra winds its way through a number of tempo changes and dynamics. As the orchestra finishes, the percussion section plays one cycle in diminuendo, ending the movement. Seiji wanted to know if the percussion section wanted him to  conduct them or ignore them. No decision had been made by the time Seiji walked on stage. As the audience applauded, he stopped by my side and said, “Well?”.  I said. “Conduct the orchestra.” “Okay” Seiji replied.  As we had earlier discussed, the percussion section, by Ives’ calculations, would ideally have 9 measures remaining after the orchestra finished. Otherwise, if we concentrated and kept track, the farthest afield we’d drift would probably be in the range of 10 or 12 measures. We were just about dead on.

Seiji conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra for twenty nine years. He wanted to break Serge Koussevitzkyi’s record of twenty five years. Vic Firth, Seiji’s close friend and timpanist of the B.S.O. told me when Seiji heard he was going to retire, Seiji called and said, “Vic, don’t retire now, stay until you make 50 years!”. Vic made it.

Toronto was Seiji’s first job as conductor and music director.  Since then he has become a national treasure in Japan. I’ve always thought that Seiji did his best work with contemporary music. I heard, but cannot confirm that his management dissuaded him from conducting contemporary music. However, a composer friend told me he’d overheard a conversation wherein Seiji was told by his manager not to conduct my friend’s music anymore. And so he seemed to do.

My first year in the orchestra we played Charles Ives Symphony No. 4, the Lutoslawski Concerto for Orchestra, Iannis Xenakis’ Pithoprakta, (conducted byJames Levine, no less) for 46 string instruments, two trombones, xylophone, and woodblock, about a half a dozen works by Takemitsu, a recording of Takemitsu’s music, Gunther Schuller’s 7 Studies on Themes of  Paul Klee and a number of other works I cannot now remember.  I missed playing Olivier Messiaen’s Turangalila Symphony by one year. The excitement was palpable every time Seiji conducted. I was working with a conductor only two years older than myself – one who genuinely enjoyed new music and made audiences enjoy it as well.

During Seiji’s tenure, I looked forward to rehearsals and performances. He was a conductor I never had to watch. Simply by listening, I knew where the music was going. If a player extended a note a bit longer then usual, Seiji would accept that and the piece would change.

Seijii Ozawa, Toronto, 1969

Seijii Ozawa, Toronto, 1969

Seiji Ozawa, 2011.

Seiji Ozawa, 2012.

 

 

 

 

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Jörg Widmann. Deja vu all over again.

During the 1960s and 70s, the good ole days(?), I was playing a great deal of contemporary music. Perhaps it was the best of times and the worst of times. After all, a revolution was in progress.

Many of the contemporary composers and performers who came to Toronto were experimenting with new techniques for instruments and forms of composition. This sometimes required local musicians to learn 3 or 4 new systems of notation for each concert and find their way through a veritable maze of unfamiliar manuscripts. It was a communal experience organized by Bob Aitken’s New Music Concerts.

The notation didn’t affect percussionists very much – we only had to deal with an enormous amount of instruments, but it certainly did affect oboists, trombonists and flutist’s. That was because of Holliger, Globokar and Nicolet the French teacher and flute virtuoso. Those were the beginning days of the so-called extended techniques. Usually the sounding of 2, 3, or 4 notes at once and making sounds they’d never heard a day earlier. The player not only had to hear differently, or hear different things, but had also to learn the new notation for these things. Multi-phonics and other techniques had entered our lives.

I grew tired of hearing our local players squeak and squawk as they tried to play these extended techniques in rehearsals. In fact, I actually feared the possibility of hearing them trying over and over again. I worked on developing a feigned nonchalance. Put simply, their struggles were not worthy.

These memories were revived when I went to hear Jörg Widmann  play and conduct his music on 18 April, 2014 in the Betty Oliphant theater. The most lengthy work was titled Dubairische Tanze in nine movements. Each movement concentrated on the sounds, extended techniques I’d heard Heinze and Vinko play 30 or 40 years ago, but then, only in moderation.

Jörg Widmann took all of those sounds, and more, and put them together into a complete language for his compositions. It was exciting stuff and he used many techniques our jobbers – people who played contemporary music together only a few times a year, could play convincingly. If memory serves, Widmann had written one very brief violin passage that could pass muster as a traditional melody. The work was terrific and the orchestration was exquisite. Those things I’d heard long ago had developed new expressions and new players in my absence.  It was akin to greeting someone you’d not seen for 40 years and perhaps had mixed feelings about.

During the 1970s Heinz Holliger and Vinko Globokar appeared in Toronto 3 or 4 times, Heinz playing his oboe and Vinko his trombone. Both of these men were at the forefront of music exploration. They were finding new ways to play their instruments and producing new sounds. Our comprehension was of a level so low, they often had to teach us their compositions by rote, note by note. Globokar was particularly good at this.[1.]  The venue of choice at the time was Walter Hall in the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music.

I remember sitting in Walter Hall with Toru Takemitsu as Toronto harpist Erica Goodman played one of his solo works. During a short break Toru turned to me and said, “She’s a perfect harpist”. Toru had similalyy praised the playing of Heinz Holliger and Vinko Globokar.

After Widmann’s large work, he played one of his clarinet solos. He is after all a clarinetist of no mean reputation. The solo he chose to play on the 1st half was for B-flat clarinet and quite frankly I’ve not heard that kind of control and fluidity on any instrument in years. He began multi-phonics as smoothly as a common Bflat and slid from fortissimo to pianissimo as easy as pie. My goodness.

I’m sure if Toru had been sitting next to me in the Betty Oliphant Theatre a week ago he would’ve turned to me and said,” He’s a perfect clarinetist”.

[1.] In 1970, Lukas Foss (1920-2009) organised a concert involving all the performers and composers Toru Takemitsu had invited to the Space Theater at Expo 70 Osaka, Japan. Lukas paired us up and gave each of us  wrist bands with directions for an”improvisation” he had devised. I brought a large cow-bell, a mallet and a cello bow to this party and Vinko, his trombone. After a few minutes I had expended my repertoire of sounds and sat listening raptly to Vinko who was making sounds I had never associated with a trombone. He then begam dissassembling the trombone and playing even more facinating sounds. After all that, Vinko gestured  for me to give him my cello bow. He started bowing all the trombone parts ending with the bell, sometimes a most mellifluous sound, others screechingly dissonant. A few years later, Vinko came to Toronto with some of his chamber music compositions. He and I had stayed in touch during the interval and this time I was ready for him. Besides being a great trombonist, Vinko for some time was in charge of IRCAM in Paris.

 

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To Merge . . .

In an article written 10 March this year titled Vienna Under Siege, my concluding sentence reads, The last thing our over homogenized world needs is for its cultural traditions to merge.

After writing this sentence, I remembered the citation written by the jury chairman, naming Toru Takemitsu the 1996 Glenn Gould Prize laureate.

Arriving at the citation’s raison d’être, the chairman wrote , “for his (Takemitsu’s) music merging the cultures of east and west”.

I looked up merge in my O.E.D.

Horrors!  To merge means to render one thing indistinguishable from another.

I spent many days pondering the chairman’s statement, growing angrier as I recalled past conversations with Toru. Nothing was farther fromTakemitsu’s beliefs. In all that time I’d only heard him speak about the world’s cultural variety and the pleasure, indeed inspiration, it gave him, particularly the ancient traditions of Japan which he had begun exploring in the early 1960s.

So, here I was, faced with the missuse of a single word. One word that completely skewed the intentions of the jury, effectively rendering the prize null and void. And I’ll leave it at that. Except for this. If you ever hear someone speak about merging cultures, take pause for thought. Might they mean cultures emerging? That’s something with ehich Toru would have agreed.

 
 

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“BRYCE” BY TORU TAKEMITSU

The players.

The players.

Bryce was written for flutist Robert Aitken, harpists Judy Loman and Erica Goodman, John Wyre and me, percussion and marimba. It was dedicated to my son Bryce. In my opinion the best performance was  given in the Glenn Gould THeatre in Toronto the night of the Glenn Gould Prize award ceremony about 6 months after Takemitsu’s death. Takemitsu’s wife Asaka and daughter Maki were in attendance as well as Bryce and many of Toronto’s music elite.

The first meeting between Bryce and Takemitsu and the subsequent composing of Bryce, is documented in an earlier article on this site titled Toru Takemitsu.

I was prompted to write this article after a recent performance of Bryce in Toronto by five young women, all of whom were connected to people I’ve known for years. Flutist Sarah Moon, harpists Sophie Baird-Daniel and Angelica Hairston and marimbist Chung Ling-Lo. The percussion was played by Allison Bent, a former student in my university percussion ensemble. Allison asked me to attend one of their rehearsals. This would be my first time hearing Bryce played by people other than those for whom it was written. All the performances in my past had been, with one exception, with the original ensemble. At the rehearsal, it was clear the work had been prepared with great care and sensitivity.

The 12:00 noon, 22 January, 2013 concert was given in the Canadian Opera Company, Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. Over the years, I have grown to enjoy this space. It’s an open venue, two floors above the opera lobby, with raked bench seating, huge wall to wall windows rising three stories with an expansive view of University Avenue, its lanes separated in summer by colourful flower gardens now covered in still pristine snow.  The Bradshaw, as I think of it, has a surprisingly good acoustic. The amphitheatre is named in honour of the man who, besides conducting the orchestra and managing the opera company, worked tirelessly for years to bring a new opera house to Toronto. Not long after achieving his dream, Richard dropped dead next to an airport carousel waiting with his wife for their baggage. The one hour Bradshaw Amphitheatre concerts are free to the public.

The programme was titled Meditations on East and West and began with Takemitsu’s Air for solo flute, his last composition, completed in 1994 in his hospital room. He died a few months later. Air is not only beautiful, it is challenging in its simplicity. Sarah Moon, a student of Toronto’s emminent flutist Susan Hoeppner, played the work with elegance and a lack of affectation. She would once again delight the audience with her performance of the extremely demanding flute part to Bryce.

The programme’s second work was titled Histoire du Tango (1956) by Astor Piazzolla, a three movement work elegantly played by violinist Rebecca MacLeod amd Sophie Baird-Daniel, one of the harpist’s in Bryce.

Bryce ended the concert. The flutist and harpist mentioned above were joined by another harpist, Angelica Hairston and marimbist Chung Ling Lo and percussionist Allison Bent playing gongs and smaller ringing sounds some floating on water. My wife Eleanor and I were seated together. The great harpistt, teacher and friend Judy Loman and Susan Hoeppner arrived and sat with us. The flute part requires multiphonics and other extended techniques. The harp parts are perfectly written, a fact noted by Judy Loman who once said, “Toru must have studied with a harpist”. Judy was one of the people for whom the work was written. We had not seen each other for many years and it was a pleasure sharing a warm reunion with her.

After the performance Judy my wife and I sat for a moment reflecting on what we had just heard. I turned to Judy and said, “It is a difficult work. They all  played well.” Judy replied, “it is a work for artists.” 

L. to R.  Susan Hoeppner, Rebbeca Maclleod. Susan Moon, Sophie Baird-Daniel, Judy Loman, Angela Hairston,Chung Ling Lo, Allison Bent, R. E.

L. to R. Susan Hoeppner, Rebbeca MacLeod. Susan Moon, Sophie Baird-Daniel, Judy Loman, Angela Hairston,Chung Ling Lo, Allison Bent, R. E.

Percussion instruments for Bryce.

Percussion instruments for Bryce.

 

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