Takemitsu’s “Toward the Sea”: Entering the Spiritual Domain

Let the most absent-minded of men be plunged in his deepest reveries – stand that man on his legs, set his feet a-going, and he will infallibly lead you to water…Yes, as everyone knows, meditation and water are wedded forever. -Herman Melville, “Moby-Dick” The ocean took on metaphysical significance not only for Herman Melville but also for the twentieth century Japanese composer, Tōru Takemitsu (1930-1996). Takemitsu, whose music is filled with evocations …

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Takemitsu’s “A String Around Autumn”: Entering an Imaginary Landscape

Alex Ross once used the phrase “intense repose” to describe the music of the twentieth century Japanese composer, Tōru Takemitsu (1930-1996). At the heart of Takemitsu’s music is the traditional Japanese concept of Ma, literally “negative space,” or “powerful silence” as the composer defined it. As with water droplets at the crest of an ocean wave, this music often seems to emerge out of silence and then dissolve back into it. What we hear in between seems …

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Takemitsu’s “Quotation of Dream”: Aftertones of Debussy

Fragments of Debussy’s La Mer emerge and evaporate throughout Quotation of Dream (1991) by the Japanese composer, Tōru Takemitsu (1930-1996). The piece, which the composer described as “schizo-eclectic,” is a virtual concerto for two pianos and orchestra. The subtitle, Say sea, take me!, is a reference to a poem by Emily Dickinson. La Mer‘s motifs run through the DNA of this shimmering, post-impressionist work. The haunting and mysterious piano chords in the beginning return in the last bars, …

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Remembering Peter Serkin: Five Essential Recordings

The American pianist Peter Serkin passed away on Saturday after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 72. Serkin was part of a distinguished musical lineage. His father was Rudolf Serkin, the legendary Bohemian-born American pianist and director of the Curtis Institute of Music. His maternal grandfather was the German violinist and conductor, Adolf Busch. As if to throw off the burden of this heritage, Serkin was something of a musical maverick. Following …

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Anne-Sophie Mutter Plays Takemitsu

At the end of April, German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter will be appearing with conductor Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony. The program will pair the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with an exciting lesser-known work: Japanese composer Tōru Takemitsu’s Nostalghia for solo violin and orchestra, written in 1987 in memory of the Russian film-maker Andrei Tarkovsky. Takemitsu was inspired by Tarkovsky’s use of wide, long, gradually unfolding landscape shots. Here is what Mutter said about the piece in a Huffington …

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Eros Piano: John Adams’ Journey into Impressionism

John Adams’ Eros Piano (1989) grew out of a nagging obsession. Adams could not stop listening to riverrun, a 15-minute-long piece written five years earlier in 1984 by Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996). He described the experience of being haunted by Takemitsu’s music, saying, “I…had the response I often do of writing a piece of my own in order to exorcise it.” It’s almost as if riverrun‘s unborn sibling was relentlessly pursuing Adams, demanding to be brought to life. …

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