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Spring Sounds Spring Seas - Schlefer: Shakuhachi Concerto, Haru No Umi Redux; Hagen: Koto Concerto - Genji

4.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Audio CD, May 8, 2012
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Editorial Reviews

James Nyoraku Schlefer's Haru no Umi Redux is a distinctive version of the famous duo Haru no Umi by koto master Michiyo Miyagi a seminal work from 1929 that brought Western musical influences to Japanese instruments. In 1932, violinist Renee Chemet visited Japan on a concert tour and, after hearing Miyagi perform Haru no Umi, arranged the shakuhachi part for violin. She and Miyagi recorded the work and it became an immediate hit in both Japan and Europe. Haru no Umi is perhaps the finest example of the New Japanese Music movement of the 1920s, and was a rare and early success in the fusion of Western and Japanese musical elements. The opening phrases have become Japan's musical theme for the New Year's holiday. Haru no Umi Redux presents the work in its entirety and adds new material prior to both the opening section and its return. Mr. Schlefer's original content suggests musical images of the sea.

Schlefer's Shakuhachi Concerto is a 3-movement work for shakuhachi, strings, harp and percussion, following classic concerto form. The shakuhachi is both soloist and team player, in concert or in conflict with the orchestra. The first movement opens with a brooding, somewhat unsettled section punctuated by irrepressible rhythmic utterances. The second movement begins with a cadenza followed by a cluster derived from the chords found in gagaku music. It then unfolds in a brocade of sound in the upper strings. With the exception of a brief intrusion of fast sunlight, the movement forswears a sense of pulse, allowing room for contemplation. The final movement is a Rondo in which restlessness competes with anxiety, and solo sections alternate between the violins and shakuhachi.

Daron Hagen is well known as an opera composer, and not surprisingly his quite operatic Koto Concerto: Genji is 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 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 ever having seen her, but rather only after hearing her play the koto from afar for many years. The result is a concerto in five scenes, based on five psychological situations from the novel, with the conceit being that their love is consummated in the final moments. Kyo-Shin-An Arts' commission to Mr. Hagen was his first venture writing for an instrument from a different musical tradition. He immersed himself in the repertoire and traditions of the koto, and combined 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 21st century. The piece is scored for koto with single winds, two French horns, strings and marimba.

Kyo-Shin-An Arts is dedicated to integrating Japanese instruments specifically koto, shakuhachi and shamisen into Western classical music. Founded in 2008 with an initial purpose of commissioning established composers, KSA both presents concerts and partners with an international array of chamber ensembles and orchestras to perform the music. The intent is to bring forth the outstanding beauty of these instruments within the context of Western classical music, and build and promote a body of repertoire that does justice to the greatness and exactitude of these two classical traditions.

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Product Details

  • Conductor: Kenneth Woods, David Curtis
  • Composer: James Nyoraku Schlefer, Daron Hagon
  • Audio CD (May 8, 2012)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: MSR Classics
  • ASIN: B0081GLCP2
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #427,192 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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By Dr. Debra Jan Bibel TOP 500 REVIEWER on May 28, 2015
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
The incorporation of traditional Japanese instruments in a Western orchestra began in the early 20th century, and Toru Takemistsu and Minoru Miki had contributed concerti and other symphonic works for koto, shakuhachi, and biwa. Lately, Western composers, such as Elizabeth Brown and Robert Carl, learned shakuhachi themselves and wrote some interesting works in Western form. This album honors both approaches. The first piece is by Michiyo Miyagi, originally for koto and shakuhachi and orchestra but via French violinist Renée Chernet in 1932, the shakuhachi part has been transcribed for violin. Some additional material is by James Nyoraku Schlefer. The piece is clearly Japanese in flavor. Schlefer is a shakuhauchi Grand Master of the Mujuan Dojo in Kyoto and has studied with several Japanese masters. His Shakuhachi Concerto (2009), in which he also performs, is scored for strings, harp, and percussion. This is a definite Western composition with the flute timbre of the shakuhachi. From a gentle moody entrance, the first movement develops with rhythmic flourishes and harp flowing and bell-like ornamentation, along with a koto-like arpeggio. The second movement, Crystal Solitude, is unrestrained by beat. As in traditional Japanese style, the shakuhachi opens alone with an improvisation (cadenza); development by harp and strings are influenced by the harmony and drones of gagaku court music. Toward the end of the movement, the score seems to be of a Japanese drama, No or Kabuki, with percussion and silences. The final movement, a rondo, starts out rhythmically with rapid 1-2 1-2 1-2-3-4-5-6 pulses as the flute soars above. The composition ends with pounding drums.Read more ›
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Format: MP3 Music Verified Purchase
If you like Japanese music you'll love this. I can detect very little Western influence--a definite plus! Take time out in 'the floating world.' If you happen to hallucinate, the goddesses as well as the geishas will come to you. :-)
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Spring Sounds Spring Seas is a remarkable disc. It was recorded live and the energy clearly comes through. The music is so unusual, using Japanese instruments with an orchestra seems like a strange idea at first, but it really works! Gorgeous sonorities in truly well-written music. Hagen's concerto for koto is romantic and ethereal. Schlefer's concerto is rythmic and percussive and melodic all at once. I had a great time listening.
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