We had a very well-attended event this afternoon at which Dr. Noriko Ohtake shed light on the music of Japan’s best-known 20th century composer, Tōru Takemitsu. My own first exposure to Takemitsu was in my teens, when I found myself playing viola in “A Flock Descends into the Pentagonal Garden”. I have to admit I couldn’t make head or tail of it. A couple of years ago I went to Takemitsu’s “80th birthday” concert in Tokyo (though Takemitsu was already dead by then), conducted by the British composer Oliver Knussen. It started with Debussy’s “Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian”, and Takemitsu’s music starts to make a lot more sense once you see the links with Debussy, whom he described as his mentor.
We all came away with a greatly enhanced understanding of Takemitsu. As well as with Debussy, the links with Messiaen were clear, particularly in the piano music. And we could also see how Takemitsu tried to integrate Japanese aesthetics, and indeed Japanese instruments, into his music. Just as Messiaen became obsessed by birdsong, Takemitsu was striving to capture in his music natural sounds like the soughing of pine trees in the wind. Clips from the many films he worked on were particularly effective in showing the links between his music and the visual images that inspired it. I think I’m going to enjoy Takemitsu a lot more in future.
For those interested, a Takemitsu piece for string quartet is included in the programme for our concert next Thursday. And Noriko Ogawa (a friend of today’s speaker from their student days at the Juilliard School in New York) will be playing his “riverrun” tomorrow evening at the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester (broadcast live on Radio 3).