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Living Music Journal... hard-copy synopsis

Vol. 21 / No. 1                     the journal of the Living Music Foundation                     Spring 2006


Instead of our usual extended interview with a composer, this issure of Living Music features a composer writing about her own work. Composer, poet, scholar, and archeologist Lynn Job discusses the connections her music makes with other art forms -- most particularly poetry. A shorter interview with composer Joan Tower about a new work is also included.

Live concert reviews and CD reviews are covered both in extended articles and also our "briefly noted" reviews section.

Our feature scholarly article, by Godwin Sadoh, is an exploration of the music of Nigeria's most famous composer and ethnomusicologist, Akin Euba.

Forthcoming in our Fall 2006 issue will be an interview with composer Elliott Schwartz on his 70th birthday, a profile of the British NMC new music record label, a scholarly article by Robert Gluck on the use of traditional sound resources and ethnic elements in electro-acoustic music and our usual reviews of CD recordings and live concerts.

                                          -- Carson Cooman

L. Hyla

A. Euba

N. Flagello
from top: Lee Hyla (illustration by Riccardo
Vecchio), Nicolas Flagello, Akin Euba

Living Music Journal Current Index and Excerpts:

Special articles:

[Cups with Saucers: Impressionistic Strata within Job's Mixed Poetics by Lynn Job] [Joan Tower on Chamber Dance]

Regular departments:

[Feature article] [Member News] [From the Editor]
[CD Reviews] [Concert Review]


Understanding Akin Euba's Wakar Duru: Studies in African Pianism Nos. I-III

--by Godwin Sadoh

Instead of reproducing the Feature Article in its entirety here, we are presenting some outstanding (and enticing) excerpts from the article--

      According to Akin Euba, it was through trade with Europe that Western musical instruments were introduced to Africa and these instruments found their way into churches, night clubs and schools. One of the most popular Western instruments in Africa, the piano, eventually became an important medium for the expression of neo-African art music.

      Western classical music was introduced to Nigeria around mid-nineteenth century by two major forces: (1) the church and (2) the schools built by European and American missionaries as well as the colonial administration. In these institutions, talented Nigerians were taught to read, write, and play Western music. From the arrival of the missionaries around 1850 until the early twentieth century, musical activities among elitist groups and churches in Western and Eastern parts of Nigeria were mostly European. Missionary activities were more pronounced in the southern regions of Nigeria because the colonial policy encouraged the northerners to hold unto their Islamic religion. Elitist musical activities in the early twentieth century in Lagos (former capital of Nigeria) mirrored the Victorian English type of concerts featuring solo songs, vocal duets and quartets, religious plays and musicals, arrangements of English folksongs as well as excerpts from cantatas and oratorios, especially the works of George Frederic Handel and Felix Mendelssohn. Instrumental works were mostly performed on harmonium, piano, and the violin, with occasional appearances of the police band. A discussion of Akin Euba's Wakar Duru will certainly illuminate the intricacies of the creative process in African pianism.

African Pianism

      According to Akin Euba, it was through trade with Europe that Western musical instruments were introduced to Africa and these instruments found their way into churches, night clubs and schools. One of the most popular Western instruments in Africa, the piano, eventually became an important medium for the expression of neo-African art music. African pianism simply connotes piano compositions by modern African composers in which traditional materials are copiously utilized. The concept was coined by Akin Euba, the foremost Nigerian composer, pianist, and musicologist. He defines African pianism as "a style of piano playing which is as distinct as a jazz pianism or a Chopinesque pianism." Before the European piano came to Africa, there was some kind of pianism already in the culture. The agidigbo (Yoruba hand piano), the mbira (hand piano in some other African cultures), and the xylophone are all keyboard instruments.
      Euba uses his piano compositions to articulate his theories on African pianism. The first major piano work in which he expressed this theory is his Scenes from Traditional Life. Other piano pieces by Euba include Impressions from an Akwete Cloth (1964), Saturday Night at Caban Bamboo (1964), Tortoise and the Speaking Cloth (1964), Four Pieces from Oyo Calabashes (1964), Themes from Chaka I (1996), Study in African Jazz (2002), as well as Themes from Chaka II (2003). All the pieces written in the 1960s are based on twelve-tone row and atonality. Wakar Duru is representative of a transition between the atonal works of the 1960s and the more recent pieces from the 1990s which are built on modal pitch collections such as the three pentatonic pitch sets of Study in African Jazz. Wakar Duru is tonally conceived, thus, marks the beginning of piano compositions in tonal harmony in Euba's creative experience.

A Short Biography

      Akin Euba was born on April 28, 1935 at Lagos, Nigeria. He received his earliest musical education under his father's tutelage in Lagos between 1943 and 1948. In 1952, Euba was admitted to the Trinity College of Music, London, to study piano and composition. While at Trinity College, he wrote his first major work, Introduction and Allegro for Orchestra in 1956. He received a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship in 1962 to study ethnomusicology at the University of California, Los Angeles. At UCLA, he was introduced to different musical cultures from various parts of the world, and as time went on, he acquired a deeper understanding of Nigerian traditional music. On the completion of his Masters degree at UCLA in 1966, Euba joined the University of Lagos as a Lecturer in music. He later enrolled for the Ph.D. program in ethnomusicology with Kwabena Nketia, at the University of Ghana, in 1967 and earned the degree in 1974. Euba has held several academic and administrative positions such as the founding Head of the Department of Music, University of Ife (1976-1977), Director of the Center for Cultural Studies, University of Lagos (1977-1980), Executive Director of the Elekoto Music Center, Lagos (1981-1986), Research Scholar at the Iwalewa-Haus, University of Bayreuth (1986-1991), Founder and Director of the Center for Intercultural Music Arts, London (1988- 1998). Euba is currently the Andrew Mellon Professor of Music and Head of the African Music program at the Department of Music, University of Pittsburgh.

Thematic Process
      Wakar is a Hausa word for music in the northern region of Nigeria; Duru means piano or keyboard in Yoruba language of the southwest region. Thus, the full meaning of the two words is piano music. Indeed, one could see the interaction of two cultural regions in Nigeria in this composition. The title and the thematic materials are both derived from the northern and southern regions of the country. Through this work, the composer demonstrates one of the significant trade marks of modern music in Nigeria, that is, pan-ethnicism. This gesture makes the music more appealing to the northerners as well as the southerners. It will inevitably unite the caucus of modern Nigerian musicians from different parts of the country.
      Wakar Duru Nos. I-III is based on songs borrowed from Nigerian culture. No. I is based on a song from a Gbari (northern region of Nigeria) folk tale, "Ma Wuwo Nuwa Sui Kwaita," about the hare and the water goddess. No. II is based on a song from a Yoruba folk tale, "Jigbo," concerning the tortoise and the singing drum, while No. III employs the theme of a highlife song, "Omo l'aso," which is attributed to the famous band leader, Ambrose Campbell. Euba explained in the composer's note to the music that in the first study, the Gbari tune is only employed structurally and without reference to the underpinning story.

(sample from the score not included in online version)

Wakar Duru No. I Based on Gbari Song (mm. 169-180).

      In the composer's note to the music, Euba drew attention to the fact that the second study was structurally planned in a similar way as No. I, however, in the course of the composition, the work turned out to be a tone poem; that is, he uses the music to tell the actual story of the song. This piece is characterized by constant repetition of the thematic idea interlaced with subtle variants of the original theme.

(sample from the score not included in online version)

Wakar Duru No. II Based on "Jigbo" (mm. 176-187).

      The third study is derived from a popular highlife song, "Omo l'aso." This movement is basically divided into three main sections: (A) an introduction of the principal theme in F; (B) a contrasting section based on highlife idiom in G-flat. It features a repetitive imitation of highlife bass guitar and drum roll, interlocking rhythm as well as flattened seventh; (A) a return of the main theme in the home key of F.

(sample from the score not included in online version)

Wakar Duru No. III Based on Highlife Song (mm. 145-153).

Highlife Idiom
      Highlife music developed from the guitar band but represents an inter-ethnic (and to some extent pan-African) ideas. It is a popular dance band music created and practiced chiefly in West Africa. In Nigeria, it consists of the ikwokilikwo idiom from the Igbo region and the Yoruba version. Highlife orchestra is made up of mostly guitars, brass such as trumpets, and percussion instruments. Wakar Duru No. III essentially mirrors the highlife idiom.
      As bodily movement is one of the resultant features of African music, Wakar Duru No. III is vividly characterized by dance. Euba uses various rhythmic devices to accentuate and create motion in the music.
      Bode Omojola, observes that, "Euba's approach to musical composition reflects a strong desire to reinterpret elements of his native Nigerian, especially Yoruba, musical tradition in contemporary musical terms." Every exposure of African music to any foreign culture brings about a cultural assimilation. This type of intercultural activity has not been able to obliterate the African essence in the music of modern African composers; rather, it provides a platform for continuity.
(Eight footnotes are removed in this online version.)

      Note that three score examples and eight footnotes are not reproduced above. This paraphrase also removes some text which some might find important.

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Cups with Saucers: Impressionistic Strata within Job's Mixed Poetics

by Lynn Job

Lynn Job portrait not in online version
(Lynn Job: composer, poet, scholar)

            By kind invitation, I offer here a philosophical theory of associative properties of a "layered music," and follow with examples of rich imagery and stratifying devices within select, finished works from my own catalog.

      Cups with saucers, gifts with ribbons, jackets with ties: these are simple examples of companion presentations which provide a "layered" refinement magnifying the effect of elegance. Presentation -- the anchor of social and visual graces -- models my own literary and musical approach toward fine art expression: discipline it, cultivate it, layer it -- and never spare the intuitive sensuality.

            Cups with saucers, gifts with ribbons, jackets with ties: these are simple examples of companion presentations which provide a "layered" refinement magnifying the effect of elegance. Presentation -- the anchor of social and visual graces -- models my own literary and musical approach toward fine art expression: discipline it, cultivate it, layer it -- and never spare the intuitive sensuality. Spare sentimentality, perhaps, but never sensuality. This particular sensuality is heartfelt passion, delicious display, carefully-timed dramatic gesture, and honestly-painted, bold impressionism.
            My inspirations for musical works are diverse and superimposed one on another during the writing process: the totality of the employed impressions and rationale is never revealed. However, I usually share insight into at least two relational elements for each score at the point of publication with preface, inscription, and/or additional references. If the resulting musical response came by impress of borrowed or original image, poem, text, mood, plot, scheme, meditations or other influences during its genesis, one or more of these can also be added during or after the musical constructs to distill additional ideas generated by the music itself. There is an organic co-mingling of creative media and reflexive thought.
            Any companion text or graphic within a score might therefore be a direct, or abstracted, reference to this germinating or summary material -- if abstracted, this makes yet another layer of subtext, of tangency, of reverberation. To be expected, most of my titles are crafted to contribute motif.Wrapping the recipient within a rich world of this companion imagery or direction is not meant to prescribe or narrow the individual's personal response to the musical texture, but to enhance it through associative amplification.
            It is a common observation that social and art entertainments mix media and sensual stimuli of many kinds to heighten one's total immersion within a creative or dramatic experience.... As this multi-associative process commences it subjectively affects the intensity of the experience and results in a derivative "meaning" unique to each recipient within shared contextual limits....
            "Layering" information, I propose, enriches the intellect's consumption -- deepens the cognitive demands -- intensifies the pleasure or the pain through multi-tasking the senses and reason.... This is not a new style or aesthetic, just a continuing one described with more contemporary terms. I would consider many historical devices and genres to loosely fall into the category of a "layered" music entertainment such as (to name just a few): multi-lingual madrigal text painting; theatrical underscoring (from staged dramas to computer games); romantic-era, programmatic tone poems; ballet dramas; some intermedia installations; works of allegorical strata; and even, richly-dimensioned acoustic antiphony whereby associative processing may reorient certain derived contexts.
            Various theoretical devices have been employed throughout history to create hidden games, designs and allegorical "layers," though to such an obscured and subtle effect that often only the literate initiates receive the key(s) to the scheme (as in my own musical allegory ELATIO: Praises & Prophecies [in work since 1998, BMP cat. 38] 2 - a grand, 28- movement parody and modern application of these historically mystic devices). I might argue that interior mental imagery alone (generated most often by a descriptive title, poem, story notes, or keys to schemes as mentioned above) provides the most variable and freely associative form of companion ideas with which to layer a widely foreground music. That is, accompaniments such as film, drama, or other visuals -- even dance, can work to degrade or weaken the focus upon the musical stratum giving away a great degree of associative influence to these other contributors. Such intermedia presentations should be crafted from the start as a suite of co-contributing elements -- with the music appropriately shaped to weave into the total tapestry and not overwhelm.
            To describe my own layered works (music with printed texts, ascribed dramatic program, and/or musical allegories), the following examples of my thinking would be applicable. For example, I accept that in poetry and dramatic or theatrical literature, allegory stratifies a single story line into simultaneous dramas of two or more subjects allowing repeated readings to offer a variety of interpretations and depth. Such texts continue to challenge solution and thereby continue to engage interest -- the capacity to renew interest is one enabling qualifier toward an enduring entertainment.
            Mentioned at the top of this essay, I make sensuality (or a "sensual music") my basic foundation because I accept as a tenant that music is, by definition, first an acoustic message received (heard) by activation of a physical mechanical sense (and/or psychoacoustic inner ear realizations from music notation) which is then conducted through a physical intellect. The human intellect applies a process of associative assimilation toward an innate goal of reasoning out a derivative "meaning," or at least, a substantive "impression." Finally, the original message might even arrive in some cases at a point of transcendence to a "spiritual" or "soulful" plane of reasoning. If processed to this final stage, it still remains remembered first as an emotive "felt" experience affecting heart rate, blood pressure, serotonin and endorphin release, but inclusive of an extraordinary cognitive association which breaks into a stratum of the metaphysical.
            As used in this essay, I intend the term "sensual music" to in no way imply, as some might assume, a conditional absence of applied abstract philosophical or mathematical properties, of highly refined cognitive craft, of scientific reference, or of grand schemes of the highest sophistication. A "sensual music" simply means a music which successfully renders a stirring, association-rich experience as it reverberates in series from ear to brain to psyche. It can be, in some cases, the most disciplined of musics.
            Below are just a few samples of music compositions which I have published bundled with original poetry (and in some cases additional texts) -- information meant to be provided to the listener within an audience program or reproduced in recording booklet notes.
            Here, a short reference to spiritual consciousness and transfiguration after death from the complex, 7-minute metaphorical rhapsody originally for solo violin Arcangelo Red (2003, BMP cat.80) states (ellipses are original): ". . . beyond the tent - gardens of immortal starlight . . ." This piece also references 2 Corinthians 5: 1-5 (Holy Scriptures quoted in part from The Jerusalem Bible). Number symbolism (using 10 and 12), and other devices explained within the preface of the score, leads one into deeper and deeper layers of back story allusions involving the Nation of Israel, prophetic meditations, and more.

"Clash! by cliffs of Aran-born,
splinting spray - wet Burren brew -
night-glowing bogs come ballys green.
Across the Clare, a cold coastal morn
blows ancient musics brightly brave."

            This poetic imagery above was written after I was nearly finished with the 6-minute Bally Brew (an Irish Whimsy) (rondo capriccio for alto saxophone & bodhrn, an Irish frame drum) (2006, BMP cat.87). My time spent near the Cliffs of Moher (Knockeven, County Clare on the western Atlantic coast), while in residency at Salmon Publishing (April - May, 1999), was in view of Liscannor Bay and somewhat across from the Aran Islands. The tenure there continues to color my several treatments of Irish subjects, both in music and poetry....
            Duetto Maduro (fantasy for two violins) (2004, BMP cat.76) presents (ellipses are original): " . . . vanilla wood, magenta starlight -- skins that sing to mystery's madness." This 7 to 8-minute duet was titled and penned with this inscription before any of the music was composed -- a veiled allusion to the sexual tension ignited by the acrobatics of duet performance....
            Breathless -- Joel's Fast (2003) is a work for which the historical and descriptive setting is critically informative - akin perhaps to that historical element of Olivier Messiaen's (b. 1908 -- d. 1992) Quartet for the End of Time (Engl. trans.) composed in 1940 and performed January 15th, 1941 in Silesian camp Stalag 8A 6 (no agreement in theosophical theme intended). Or, maybe more relevant, it can be compared to George Crumb's (b. 1929) Night of the Four Moons written during the flight of Apollo 11 to the moon (July 16-24, 1969): the mission which televised the first step on the moon by Astronaut Neil Armstrong....

"Foggy cool and sappy green
the sugar gleams,
golden bubbles chill the dusk,
eagles gliding, sea waves tiding,
newborn dreams and cork dust."

            This fun imagery above is from Iron Horse Nocturne: "of salt & grapes ..." (2002, BMP cat.66) for organ (ellipses are original). The piece, with its bright fanfare, dreamy waltz, and Wagnerian vocabulary, might be as much at home in the 19th Century as the cultivated vineyard which inspired it.... Not finished expressing my recent inspiration with just this one piece, I launched immediately into a new trumpet septet: TOUMAI - Hope of Life (more on that piece to follow).
            This line "between the silver rivers, a mountain of midnight dreams ..." (ellipses are original), sprang out of nowhere during the composition process to color Moon Largo, a mysterioso/cantabile unaccompanied solo air originally for trumpet (2003, BMP cat.75). This dreamy,unpretentious 3-minute song, with its undeveloped potential in the beautiful short themes, leaves one yearning to return again and again to this midnight world. Performers report a "seasoning" occurs over time as they internalize the simple lyricism, and, through multiple performances, learn to let its organic gestures relax and flow like intuitive, inner moonlight.

"Victoria, lake of hope and lake of answers,
lake of promise, lake of plenty,
rolling down my chin like spicy, living oil, fragrant
with the taste of riches.
She was licking all my taste buds with the promise of
God's grace restored.
Numbered vast as Nile perch, flowed my giggles . . ."

            Translated into German by Dr. Frank Heidlberger for its 2002 world premiere in Aub, Germany, this original poem is an excerpt (see endnote 8) which was specially selected during the composition process to accompany the spirit of the existing visionary music title Serengeti Supper (alto saxophone and sound track) (2002, BMP cat.65), and, to loosely inform the texture and creative choices commencing at that time within the production of the 4 -minute sound track. The original, long mystic poem about a search for a reconciling message from God, serves well as used in this piece -- a happier essay about mankind's immersion within all creation.

"Where sleeps my daystar? Where sings my shadow?
Low bend my daydreams . . . dark falls the morn."

            These two lines above are reprinted in the score Shadow's Pipe (2003, BMP cat.61) excerpted from another of my works upon which it is based. This flute solo contains selfarranged music from Bamboo Skies [song No. 2 (new moon) from the song cycle Systole: Book I (3 songs) for high voice and piano (BMP cat. 56)].... The original text veils political, historical, and religious themes too delicate to treat in any way other than in metaphor. In the hands of a brilliant flutist: wind, new moon, and mystery lie within!

"Dust from Djurab drains the clouds
cracking corks and cradles;
proverbs wet and crimson moist rim the God hymns.
Sing the green things into cresting!
Ring the rights of nature's breastlings!"

            ...The year before this I had taken note of the word "toumai" and hoped to use it as a title. I pulled it out of my files and the poem above was created to decorate a new, 3 -minute trumpet septet: TOUMAI - Hope of Life (2002, BMP cat. 67).10 "Toumai" (too-may) meaning "hope of life" is an African word from regional Chad peoples living near the Djurab desert. It is often given as a name to babies born just before the dry season. Like the poem written just for this piece, the music evokes bravado, tender fragility, the yearning for survival, and the duality of our destinies. A sacred reading is also offered within: "The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom," The Holy Bible (NIV), the Book of Isaiah, the first line from Chapter 35.
            "Squeeze my soul between your dreams and press the music of ancient flowers," a paraphrased excerpt from my unpublished poem Ginger Orchids (May 2000) decorates the 6-minute, 3-movement alto and tenor saxophone duet: Yellowstone Blush -- a wedding remembrance (2004, BMP cat.81). Descriptive titles of the individual movements and subsections: I -- Paris (Joyful Promises); II -- Vermillion (Sweet Labors); III -- West Yellowstone (Vows); ending with a rounded, closing reprise (Joyful Promises); create a custom story-line specifically meaningful to the gift couple. However, the poetic inscription along with the title is enough to settle an expectation of gentle dialogue.
            Finally, a completely pre-existing, original 4-stanza poem SACRED STREAM IV: Meditations by the River Euphrates written in Ireland (April, 1999), becomes an integral unsounded element of one of the many programmatic strata within the 6-minute work: Anchored in Perath: an apocalypse (graphical score for organ, 2006, BMP cat. 88). I end here with its recurring, dark foreboding: "Abram left them in their tents . . . "
(Eight footnotes relating to the above have been deleted in the online version.) But here are a couple footnotes without precursors but with resource excerpts:
            * A statement about my philosophy of the mandate of high art to yet satisfy basic narrative and certain entertainment properties if ound on page 36 of the South Central Music Bulletin IV/1 (Fall 2005)
            * Catalog numbers are from the Buckthorn Music Press catalog listing. My work is represented by Buckthorn Studios and published by Buckthorn Music Press (an ASCAP World Member Publisher and a 2006 elected member of the Music Publishers Association of the United States - More information and work updates are located at

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Concert Review: "To Be or Not to Be"

Honolulu Symphony, January 2006

by Jerré Tanner

Contemporary composers face a dilemma -- whether to sequester themselves in some ivycovered tower in order to create their works solely as their heart and mind directs, or throw themselves into the thick of commerce and hire out their talents to the highest bidder, letting the basic decisions be made by the holder of the purse.

This clash of aesthetics was enacted in the most recent Honolulu Symphony pair of subscription concerts on January 6 and 8, 2006. As part of its "East Meets West" continuing series, the Honolulu Symphony, conducted by Naoto Otomo, gave the world premiere of Donald Reid Womack's "After" (a concerto for shakuhachi, koto and orchestra) and the United States premiere of Shigeaki Saegusa's "Cantata Tengai" for child soprano, four-part male chorus and orchestra. Otomo is one of Japan's finest young conductors and has directed leading European and American orchestras as well as recording extensively, primarily for Sony.

These performances were in observance of the fifth anniversary of the Ehime Maru accident. On February 9, 2001 the U.S. Navy submarine Greenville was conducting maneuvers for visiting congressmen in international waters offshore from Pearl Harbor when it surfaced under the Japanese fishing/training vessel Ehime Maru killing nine crew members including four teenage apprentices. The tragic incident changed many lives irretrievably. Feelings in Japan run strong to this day.

Womack's "After" followed a performance of the overture to Mozart's "The Magic Flute." At approximately 40 minutes long "After" is a major musical statement. Womack, head of the Music Department at the University of Hawaii, describes his score as a tribute to the nine victims of the Ehime Maru collision and their surviving families. The number "9" is a chief compositional devise generating a nine-note principal theme, nine repetitions of a rhythm or tone, 9th chords, chords of nine tones and an overall structure of nine sections. In some cases this numerology works exceedingly well as when nine spine-chilling percussion strokes begin the work or, about half way through, when the whole orchestra comes climactically together on a major chord only to have it melt disconcertingly into a nine-tone chord. In other cases the numerology works to the overall detriment of the music, contributing to a sense of the piece being over long and tedious.

The soloists -- Reiko Kimura, koto and Seizan Sakata, shakuhachi -- were superb, mastering the technical difficulties of their parts while at the same time conveying layer upon layer of feeling, especially in their several solo passages. Nowhere was this more evident than at the very end of the work, after all the orchestral paroxysms were over, when the two soloists exchanged fragments of the theme against a quiet night sky of high string harmonics. It was an indelible picture of two souls, together, yet separated by the chasms of their grief. Unfortunately, the effect was spoiled by going on too long.

The musicians of the Honolulu Symphony met the challenges of their parts with expertise and dedication. The string section in particular put forth a Herculean effort to create all the special effects called for in the score. Conductor Otomo was in complete command of the music, never failing to cue entrances in spite of tempo changes at nearly every measure.

"After" contains some beautiful and emotionally charged passages, conveying to a remarkable degree the overall feeling of mourning. These successes bring into sharp contrast the work's failures. Reflecting the contemporary composer's dilemma: should one follow one's initial creative instincts and let the work stand as is; or should one tighten up the score, reworking it to be more approachable?

These questions lead directly into "Cantata Tengai," the work performed on the second half of the program. Composer Saegusa has written extensively for films and occupies much the same position in Japan as John Williams in the United States. He was commissioned to compose "Tengai -- the Prayer of a Free Person" by the widow of Akio Morita, founder and CEO of Sony, in honor of her late husband. It was given its premiere in Tokyo in 2000 and recorded by Sony Records. The text by Masahiko Shimada is highly imagistic and noun-rich, as is characteristic of the Japanese language. I am told it defies translation into English which I suspect is true. Certainly, the translation provided in the Symphony program is little help in understanding the text and how it fits the music. Bilingual friends tell me the Japanese original is beautifully rhapsodic and is to the musical setting like hand in glove. My mind wondered off in fantasies of "the Asian Century" in which European and American choruses were as adroit in singing Japanese, Chinese and Korean texts as Latin, Italian, German, et al.

The 100-voice Roppongi Men's Chorus came to Honolulu to participate in the Ehime Maru memorial observances and were joined by the men from the Honolulu Symphony Chorus for the "Tengai" finale. Saegusa was a co-founder of the Roppongi (in 1999) and arranged "Tengai" (originally for mixed chorus) for men's chorus. They have consequently given many performances in Asia, Europe and most recently in Havana, Cuba. I prefer the men's chorus version to the mixed chorus since the predominantly homophonic setting of the text is more sonorous with the similarly colored male voices. The child soprano part was sung with considerable confidence and heart-warming charm by 12 year old Takaaki Ozawa.

Saegusa's compositional style is highly eclectic, ranging from Gounod and Puccini to Andrew Lloyd Webber. Passages of soaring originality and invention bump elbows with others a bit too close to their derivation for comfort. Like many film composers Saegusa is extraordinarily adapt at catching the mood of a passing moment yet not so good at creating a tight and effective overall musical structure. Movement four, for instance, begins with a menacing march-like ostinato for snare drum which is picked up by the baritones and basses, building to a fever-pitch of tension with impressive passages for the brass. Rather than coming to a concerted choral/orchestral crashing climax, fulfilling the expectations of the material, the music abruptly ends on a fermata, short pause, and then proceeds on with a geargrinding introduction of new, unrelated material. Perhaps the most successfully structured movement is No. 6 which has love for its subject. Here, all the musical themes are lyrical and romantic, interweaving the main theme from the last movement with the chorus singing of Caesar and Cleopatra, Romeo and Juliet, and others whose love will be "carried beyond the other shore" where they will "live again."

At last, we arrive at the finale with ears rather wearied by the incessant homophonic intoning of the text, yearning for a sublime resolution to all the obtuse questions raised in earlier movements. Instead, we are given an easy-answer, crowdpleasing hit-tune finale straight out of the most hackneyed Broadway musical. One can practically see the cast advancing to the footlights to deliver, with considerable gusto, the final theme sung in unison, repeated over and over with increasingly heavy orchestration. The audience loved it and instantly jumped to their feet to deliver a standing ovation.

So what do we learn in listening to the Womack and Saegusa to help resolve the dilemma of the contemporary composer? I, personally, am pleased to have heard these two ambitious scores performed together within the memorial context of this concert. It would be gratifying to hear these works again if the one were less remote and austere and the other had more musical integrity. Composers of other epochs have managed to combine fidelity to one's art with serving the needs of their audiences. I am confident composers in our age can successfully find a way to serve both masters, too.

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"Three Questions Before the First Night"
Joan Tower speaks to Carson Cooman
about her work Chamber Dance

Portrait of Joan Tower is not in online version
(photo by Noah Sheldon)

Joan Tower (b. 1938) is one of America's most widely performed living composers of orchestral and instrumental music. She began her active musical career as pianist, serving as a member of the Da Capo Chamber Players from 1969 through 1984. In 1985, her composing career took off dramatically after she became composer-in-residence for the St. Louis Symphony. Since that time, she has fulfilled commissions for major orchestras and instrumental ensembles throughout the United States. She won the Grawemeyer Award in 1990 for her work Silver Ladders and was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1998. Her work has been released on countless recordings and many of her instrumental works have entered the standard repertory of their instruments.

Tower has been a faculty member at Bard College since 1972, where she is currently the Asher Edelman Professor of Music. She is composer-in-residence with the Orchestra of St. Luke's and has held numerous residencies with festivals, universities, and other American ensembles.

Most recently, Joan Tower was the first composer chosen for the ambitious new "Ford Made in America" commissioning program, a collaboration of the American Symphony Orchestra League and Meet the Composer. In October 2005, the Glens Falls Symphony Orchestra will present the world premiere of Tower's 15 minute orchestral piece. The work will go on for performances by orchestras in every state in the Union during the 2005- 06 season. This is the first project of its kind to involve smaller budget orchestras as commissioning agents of a new work by a major composer.

On 6 May 2006, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra of New York City premiered her newly commissioned work Chamber Dance at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY, USA. The concert also includes Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 1, BWV 1066 and pianist Leon Fleischer playing Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat, "Emperor." The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra is a "conductor-less" and entirely self-governing ensemble. It is one of the largest ensembles of its kind in the world.

CC: Orpheus is a rather large conductor-less ensemble -- and your music often has a number of of meter changes and textural issues for which a conductor is very useful. How did the aspect of a conductor-less ensemble impact the writing of this work?

JT: I call it Chamber Dance because I really think of Orpheus as a large chamber group. I was in the world of chamber music for a long time (and really still am), and to me chamber music is a totally different animal from the orchestra -- in terms of how the music is learned, how much time is spent, and what the interaction between the players is. In chamber music you have to listen to each other in a way that you don't in an orchestra. In the orchestra you certainly do have to listen, but you don't have to "talk about it" in the same way or even "agree" about it. You have to agree on intonation and the basics of playing together, but it's not like you decide how much time you're going to spend on each part or what the repertoire is going to be. Those are discussions and decisions which an individual orchestra player wouldn't make.

With chamber music the whole group collectively and each individual player thinks about everything from the ground up -- the burden is on the players.

So since I was in chamber music for so long and had my own group, DeCapo Chamber Players, Im very aware of the distinction of between chamber and orchestra.

CC: On the subject of conducting, you've recently been doing more conducting yourself. Is this a growing interest of yours? Do you conduct primarily your own work?

JT: I'm sort of a "curious musician." Sort of like Yo-Yo [Ma], though not quite as flexible as he is! I like the idea of going into music from all sides. Just being a performer and a composer, as I was, is already on two sides which, in our society today, is a challenge because most performers will not compose, and a lot of composers don't actually perform. That is a big problem in our century that these things got split up so much!

Because I had followed a lot of conductors around and watched them conduct my music, I was curious why certain orchestras responded in certain ways whereas other ones did not. It was a mystifying thing in terms of the "chemistry" between orchestra and conductor and I could notice how much it changed when either conductor or orchestra changed.

I thought that if I tried conducting myself, maybe I'd understand that relationship more. So, somebody offered an orchestra to me and I thought I'd give it a shot. I learned so much in that process.

I originally started an orchestra at Bard (where I teach) and I thought I'd learn the repertoire that way with the group, but in the end it proved on to be too difficult to keep together, and the players weren't always good enough to handle the music. So, I went on to bigger and better orchestras and originally I did think I would try conducting other music as well.

I was invited to Alaska to conduct one of their large orchestras and they said they I could pick my own entire program. I must have been insane. I did pick all pieces that I loved. Because there was a soloist, I had to choose a concerto from a list of options and so I picked Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3 which was a big mistake. I love the piece but I learned the orchestra part really well and I didn't really learn the piano part. The soloist was "rubato-ing" all over the place and he knew this piece like the back of his hand having just recorded it and such. But, I couldn't follow him at all. That proved to be a disaster.

The other pieces I did -- the Hary Janos Suite of Kodaly, Barber's Adagio for Strings, my own piece Tambor and Bartok's Rumanian Dances went much better. But the Prokofiev was WAY over my head. So, from that point, I said to myself, "You're not experienced enough to do other repertoire. You should just focus on your own music."

So, I've conducted many of my own pieces (whenever asked) in the following years -- with the exception of my hardest ones, which are beyond me in that regard.

CC: Some of your recent and upcoming projects have been pieces in genres which are new for you -- such as a recent brass quintet for the American Brass Quintet or a choral work (your first time writing for voices) for the Young People's Chorus of New York City. What has this process been like, agreeing to work in some of these genres in which you never have before? I know, in particularly, that for years you said you'd never write for voice.

JT: Well, when Francisco Núñez of the Children's Chorus of New York asked me for a children's choir piece I thought I could do something for that combination without being "typical vocal." I figured I could use percussion and get imaginative and have them making sounds and things that don't come from the "typical vocal world." So I got excited about that.

I've always had these issues with combinations and things. Years ago, guitarist Sharon Isbin called me up. I'd never heard of her and asked me to write a piece for her and flutist Carol Wincenc (who at that time I also didn't know) and I firmly said "No."

And she said, "Why??"

I said that I didn't like the combination and flute or guitar and I didn't know anything about the guitar. She told me that was no problem since "no composers" really know about the guitar before writing for it. She told me to come over to her house and she'd show things. So, I felt guilty and thought I should at least do that. Well, when she played me Carol's flute playing, I said "This person can really, really play" and then Sharon herself played and I decided -- "You know what, I should just better do this." The resulting piece is a study in "avoidance," however, of the two instruments. It starts out with a long guitar solo and then a long flute solo and then 4 minutes into the 8 minute piece I said to myself, "Joan, you are going to have to put them together, you know." And so what do I have them do? Unisons!

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Two recent concerti by Daniel Adams were premiered at the University of South Florida (USF) Center for Visual and Performing Arts in Tampa. Concerto for Marimba and Percussion Ensemble was premiered by the USF Percussion Ensemble, conducted by Robert McCormick, on March 6. The solo marimba part was performed by University of South Florida student percussionist Beran Harp. On March 7, Robert McCormick performed the solo timpani part for Concerto for Timpani, Percussion, and Winds, premiered by the USF Wind Ensemble under the direction of William Wiedrich.

On March 10, Adams received a premiere performance of Ambivalence Recalled for flute solo on a concert presented at the joint conference of the South Central Chapter of the College Music Society (CMS) and the Texas Chapter of the National Association of Composers, USA (NACUSA), held at Texas State University, San Marcos. The solo was performed by guest artist Danilo Mezzadri. Also performed at the CMS/NACUSA conference was Adams's Embracing Personal History for violin solo on March 9. The solo violinist was Texas State University Faculty artist Paula Bird.

Daniel Adams presented a research paper entitled "Pre-Composition Sketches-One Composer's Approach" at the joint conference of the South Central Chapter of the College Music Society (CMS) and the Texas Chapter of the National Association of Composers, USA (NACUSA) on March 9.

On February 10, Adams's composition Between Stillness and Motion for piano solo, was performed by Jeri-Mae G. Astolfi at the Region VI Conference of Society of Composers, Inc. held at Rice University in Houston, Texas.

On March 4 Shadow on Mist for flute and percussion ensemble was broadcast on "The Power of Percussion" as part of the "Works for Me" series on Radio Hong Kong hosted by Christopher Coleman. Shadow on Mist is recorded on the Capstone Records and is performed by Kim McCormick, flute and the McCormick Percussion Ensemble, conducted by Robert McCormick.

Thomas D. Brosh performed his Peace for Piano: To R.D.H. (2006) at the Memorial Concert for Roger Hannay on April 9 at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Brosh served on the school's theory and composition faculty from 1972-1980, and retired from the Community College of Aurora (Colorado) in 2001. His composition archive is located at the American Music Research Center, University of Colorado- Boulder.

Albany Records released "Aires de Sefarad" on February 28, 2006. It is a cycle of 46 works based on 500 yeard old Spanish songs, written by Jorge Liderman for the violin and guitar ensemble Duo46. The American premeire was performed at the Osher Marin JCC in San Raphael, California on February 6, 2006. Selections from the cycle will be performed at all of Duo46's concerts during the 2006-2007 season.

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Volume 21, No.1
copyright 2006
Charles Norman Mason (Executive Director)
ISSN: 8775-092X
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Editor: Carson Cooman

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