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Appassionato for Koto and Cello (World Premiere)

  • Tenri Cultural Institute, NYC 43 W 13th St New York, NY, 10011 United States (map)
Duo Yumeno

Duo Yumeno

The World Premiere / Duration: 11 minutes


In my concerto for koto and string quartet (later, orchestra) I essayed the classic Japanese story Genji. For this duo, I  have embraced The Tale of Heike, an epic medieval chronicle, which was compiled from oral stories chanted by  traveling monks who sang to the accompaniment of the biwa, an instrument somewhat like the lute.

In the duo,  the koto player chants “Hei,” an alternate reading of the first character of Taira, the name of the family that figures centrally in the story.  The core theme of the chronicle is the Buddhist law of impermanence. In The Tale of Heike, arrogance and pride of power  lead to the Taira family’s destruction. Helen Craig McCullough’s translation begins with this statement: “The proud  do not endure, they are like a dream on a spring evening; the mighty fall at last. They are as dust before the wind.”  

The title “Appasionato,” suggested by Duo YUMENO, inspired me to juxtapose throughout overtly emotional, dramatic  musical gestures and contemplative, static, otherworldly gestures.  Rather than attempting to craft an extra-musical narrative for the  duo, I chose a single situation near the end of the  story that manifested most vividly the work’s theme.

I created three movements (Before, During, After) that addressed  empress Kenreimon’s moment of truth: in the first movement, she remembers the glories of the Taira family. In the second,  she describes a dream in which she saw Taira asking her to pray for the family’s salvation. In the final movement, she  struggles to separate from this world, invoking Amida’s name, and is at last welcomed by Amida Buddha to the Pure Land. 

Earlier Event: March 14
Little Nemo in Slumberland
Later Event: March 20
In Context: Daron Hagen