concerto for koto with string quartet or orchestra (2011)
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string quartet version
19 February 2011
Tenri Cultural Institute, New York City
Yumi Kurosawa, koto / Lark String Quarte+
small orchestra version
28 May 2011
Yumi Kurosawa, koto / Orchestra of the Swan / David Curtis
large orchestra version
17 May 2014
Yumi Kurosawa, amplified koto / Hawaii Symphony / Naoto Otomo
I. Cicada Shell
II. Falling Flowers
III. Maiden on the Bridge
IV. Floating Bridge of Dreams
V. Vanished into the Clouds
Mr. Hagen is well known as an opera composer, and perhaps not surprisingly, this operatic work was based on the 11th century Tale of Genji. The eponymous character Genji is the son of a Japanese emperor, relegated to commoner status for political reasons. The long and complex story of his life unfolds during the course of the novel partly in the recounting of his relationships with women. The concerto follows the seminal story of Genji falling in love with a woman, without seeing her, but only after hearing her play the koto from afar for many years. The result is a concerto in five "scenes", each three to five minutes in length, with the conceit being that their love is never consummated.
This commission is Mr. Hagen’s first venture writing for a traditional instrument from a different tradition. He has immersed himself in the repertoire and traditions of the koto, and is combining what he refers to as “the koto’s magisterial past” with his own musical experience, using the life of this instrument to convey new ideas and emotions in the twenty-first century.
In Mr. Hagen’s words, "Music’s subtlety and abstraction are for me ideally suited to an exploration of Genji. Although certain extra-musical associations are inevitable when one has chosen chapter titles from a book as movement titles as I have, I’d like to stress that this concerto is not a programmatic work. Rather than constructing a through-story, or narrative, for the piece, I have chosen five psychological situations from the novel and explored them as one might explore them in an opera without words." --Meg Fagan, 2011
World premiere of the small orchestra version of the Koto Concerto by Yumi Kurosawa and the Orchestra of the Swan, conducted by David Curtis.
Daron Hagen's extemporaneous comments about the commissioning and composing of Genji: Koto Concerto.
Encounters between traditional Asian music and Western music have come to occupy their own niche on the concert stage: Too frequent to be a gimmick, they retain an undeniable curiosity factor, particularly when they involve a composer who, like Hagen, had never written for the koto before.
The instrument is a kind of dulcimer, a board laced with plucked strings tuned with pyramidal blocks, set at intervals under each string, that give the curving surface the look of a mountainscape diorama.
The sound is slightly twangy, robustly banjo-like, with a range and even volume beyond a banjo's. Hagen presented the piece as a dramatic dialogue in five sections between the Western and Eastern voices: Now the koto sang a solo over suspended string lines; now the two groups exchanged folk-like melodies, the Westerners' contribution sounding like a sea shanty; now the solo strings traded off romantic solos over the koto's plucking.
The result was a vivid and appealing piece that even sounded idiomatic. Just how idiomatic only became clear, at least to Western ears, when Kurosawa followed the concerto with two solo pieces.
— Anne Midgette, The Washington Post, 10/14/2011
BEST RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR - 2012
The subtitle of Daron Hagen's Koto Concerto is a reference to the 11th-century 'Tale of Genji', a longwinded romance involving a royal son made commoner through political shenanigans who falls in love with a girl about whom he knows only that she plays the koto divinely! With Hagen eschewing direct extra-musical narrative, the Concerto's five sections capture various psychological states from the story, although the overall feel is a generally cheery one, ending in consummation - or, as the story discreetly puts it, 'Vanished into the Clouds'. For anyone interested in hearing the zither-like koto played both virtuosically and expressively, this is a work to experience. Hagen's colourful, lively writing for orchestra pushes things along, skilfully and tunefully blending Japanese and American styles. Yumi Kurosawa, young but immensely experienced, is a koto player par excellence.
In 2009 she debuted with a solo disc of her own pieces for the 21-string koto, a so-called 'world fusion' collection aptly entitled 'Beginning of a Journey' and available through her website. Her performance here can also be viewed, in another splendid high-definition YouTube video this time on Hagen's website.
— Byzantion, Music Web International, December, 2012
More overtly sensuous is Daron Hagen's 2011 Koto Concerto: Genji, an "opera without words" based on an 11th Century narrative. It consists of five psychological portraits. The second, ‘Falling Flowers', has a poignant violin solo; III, ‘Maiden on the Bridge', demonstrates the subtlety of koto soloist Yumi Kurosawa, who makes her ancient instrument sound like
[Photos of the premieres of each version of the concerto: (top) Yumi Kurosawa, Otomo, Hawaii Symphony Orchestra (large orchestra); (middle) Kurosawa, the Lark String Quartet; (bottom) Kurosawa, Curtis, Orchestra of the Swan (small orchestra).]
— Sullivan, American Record Guide, May/June 2013