for koto and violoncello (2015)
- Premiere: 15 March 2015 / Duo YUMENO (Yoko Reikano Kimura, koto; Hikaru Tamaki, cello) Tenri Cultural Institute, NYC
- Instrumentation: koto, cello
- Duration: 12'
- Dedication: Commissioned by Duo YUMENO, 2015
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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.
(Banner photo: Duo YUMENO)