for koto and violoncello (2016)

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  • Premiere: 1 May 2016 / Duo YUMENO (Yoko Reikano Kimura, koto; Hikaru Tamaki, cello) Nakashima House and Studio, New Hope, PA
  • Instrumentation: koto, cello
  • Duration: 12'
  • Dedication: Commissioned by Duo YUMENO, 2016
  • All orders are digital downloads. To order paper scores please visit our partner distributor, Theodore Front.
(l. to r.) Hikaru Tamakai, Hagen, Yoko Reikano Kimura

(l. to r.) Hikaru Tamakai, Hagen, Yoko Reikano Kimura


"Played with precision and deep feeling by the duo—cellist Hikaru Tamaki and koto player Yoko Reikano Kimura—the piece was a gripping, gorgeous narrative of the life of a woman in 12th-century Japan. Full of idiomatic flavor, it made compelling use of the techniques of the Western classical tradition, especially polyphony and formal design. Most impressive was how the music told a clear, succinct, and unsentimental story using vocal sounds without texts." -- New York Classical Review


Program Note

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.”

A year ago I composed at the invitation of Duo YUMENO "Appassionato." In that work 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 this work, “Cantabile,” I chose another key character in the story. I have created three movements (Without, Cavatina, Within) that address the historical (and literary) figure Taira no Tokuko's three states of existence. Without is a portrait of her as, in turn, daughter, consort, and mother of an emperor. Cavatina is a portrait of her years as a recluse and Buddhist nun. The final movement, Within, is a setting of the following poem, said to have been written by the great lady in her twilight.    

Ai-je jamais rêvé
Que je contemple la Lune
Ici, sur la montagne -
La lune que j’ai l’habitude de voir
Dans le ciel dessus le palais?

Did I ever dream
That I would behold the moon
Here on the mountain —
The moon that I used to view
In the sky o’er the palace?

(Banner photo: Hikaru Tamakai and Yoko Reikano Kimura at Bargemusic, NYC)