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November 1994 Articles
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Issue: November 1994
Second Thoughts

Second Thoughts
By Henry C. Mayer

Discovering a New World of Music

Toru Takemitsu (1930-) is the current Grawemeyer Award winner for music. The Tokyo native is the ninth recipient but only the second from Asia. Maestro Takemitsu received the award during a dinner sponsored by the U of L School of Music on October 12.

Since the dinner was by invitation only, most of us only came for dessert. The "dessert" was a program of five Takemitsu creations performed by five School of Music faculty members the following evening.

The widely honored composer is "largely self-taught" and "his musical education has been an eclectic sampling of a variety of Western musical styles. Mr. Takemitsu has refracted this sampling through a Japanese prism to become a composer for the world."

The local recital was described for Louisville Music News by our local chief critic, William Mootz, as a "fantastic concert." His adjective might well point to the creativity of the composer's imagination. Anyhow, the concert revealed him as an experimenter with the potential of a variety of instruments singly and in combination. One intriguing expression came when Messrs. Fuge (alto flute) and Goering (guitar) rendered two selections from "Towards the Sea."

Space does not let us do full justice to either the pieces or the artists. So, let us offer the following observations about Takemitsu (with whom Louisville Music News spoke very briefly) and his music.

Like other Japanese artistic expressions which I began experiencing during an 18-month tour of duty in Japan in 1952, Mr. Takemitsu draws heavily (but not exclusively) from his intuitions of nature. There is a strong preference to expressions involving water. That might well be symbolic in the sense of identifying water as representing life. The two pieces presenting the "Rain Tree" may be a case in point. The second was a banquet for a careful listener's inner ear. Scored for the two marimbas and vibraphone with castanets, it brought the audience to its feet in a standing ovation for the composer who honored us with his presence and the performers.

Mr. Takemitsu's influences include the 20th century French composer Olivier Messiaen, the Irish novelist James Joyce and the French Revolution. In some ways, his music breathes a spirit of freedom quite differently from the music I heard in his country. If I may end on a personal note, I wonder what Takemitsu's feelings and impressions were when hearing Messiaen's experimental presentation of the mysteries of the dominant religion of the West, mysteries whose expressions are not confined to Western artistic or even theological expressions.

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