Midori Celebrates Schnittke and Takemitsu

Classic Arts Features   Midori Celebrates Schnittke and Takemitsu
Midori showcases two distinctive contemporaries in three Lincoln Center concerts, the first of which takes place on February 13.

In the midst of her 25th anniversary season, violinist Midori comes to Lincoln Center in 2008 with three unusual concerts, all featuring the music of two important composers who flourished in the final decades of the last century, Alfred Schnittke and Toru Takemitsu. Her Lincoln Center series is part of a schedule that includes more than 90 concerts in Europe and Asia during her 25th season of public performance.

Midori celebrated another anniversary in 2007, the 15th year of Midori & Friends, an organization formed in response to serious cutbacks in music education in New York City schools, whose mission is to provide children with access to a variety of great music, regardless of age, race, social class, location, or financial means. In the ensuing decade and a half, over 140,000 children have benefited from this program, which provides comprehensive music education, workshops, and concerts to children who might not otherwise have the opportunity to experience the arts. Numerous New York City schools have enthusiastically embraced the program. Midori performs at many of the schools, as do musicians representing other musical genres, from jazzers to African drummers to Chinese flutists. Midori & Friends now also presents an all-day children's music festival annually in New York City.

The work of Schnittke and Takemitsu brought each composer worldwide distinction, yet neither has become truly popular. Midori hopes to bring their distinctive musical voices to a wider audience by combining their works with familiar repertoire staples on each program, all to be performed in the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

The first and second concerts will feature pre-concert talks. Midori will speak before the first with Peter Grilli, Executive Director of the Donald Keene Center of Japanese Culture at Columbia University in New York. A longtime friend of Takemitsu, Grilli was the composer's personal representative in the United States. Laurel E. Fay, a musicologist, writer and scholar of Russian music, will lecture before the second concert.

Takemitsu (1930-1996) and Schnittke (1934-1998), despite being contemporaries, composed in sharply different styles. Nevertheless, they shared an interest in writing film music. Takemitsu's scores for The Woman in the Dunes and Kurosawa's Ran are perhaps his best known. Schnittke composed music for more than 60 films; in fact, it was his livelihood during the years when he was banned from performance in the former USSR.

Largely a self-taught composer, Takemitsu's early works were influenced by the Second Viennese School and the aleatoric style of John Cage. He later fell under the spell of Debussy, Ravel, and Messiaen. That Gallic influence and a gradual incorporation of elements of traditional Japanese music led Takemitsu's mature works to distinctive celebrations of quiet and solitude.

Schnittke, after early musical studies in Vienna where he was exposed to the latest postwar musical influences, developed as a composer in the repressive artistic atmosphere of the former USSR. He came to favor "collage" works that featured sharply juxtaposed musical styles. This polystylism was often combined with an angst- and dread-filled expressive landscape, often with markedly ironic overtones that contribute to the still controversial nature of his music. The Concerto grosso No. 1 from 1977 was one of the first works to bring his name to prominence.

Midori describes Schnittke and Takemitsu as "singular 20th-century voices whose music seems complementary, like two facets of the same prism. Look at their photographs, which show strong similarities in their appearance," Midori notes. "Schnittke reveres the formal structure of Bach and his Soviet predecessors. His polystylism was at least in part a reaction to the many different aspects of his life. Both composers were persons of contradictions and their music is very different, but both took Bach as inspiration. In his First Violin Sonata, Schnittke incorporates the notes of Bach's name (B[b-flat], A, C H[b natural]." Bach was Takemitsu's god, says Midori. "Before he began a new work, he always listened to the St. Matthew Passion. By virtue of growing up after the War, Takemitsu shunned his Japanese identity, but in his mid-twenties he was mesmerized by the music of the Bunraku puppet theater and began to incorporate Japanese elements into his works."

On the first program (February 13) Midori and pianist Marc-Andr_ Hamelin will begin with Ravel's Sonata for Violin and Piano, and later will be joined by cellist Johannes Moser in Takemitsu's Piano Trio, Between Tides (1993). The Mir‹ Quartet will perform Debussy's String Quartet in G minor, Op. 10 and Takemitsu's Quartet, A Way a Lone (1981). The second and third programs will both take place on Sunday afternoons. Works of J. S. Bach will respectively open and close them. The former (February 24) contrasts Bach's Trio Sonata in G major, BWV 1038, with Schnittke's Violin Sonata No. 1 and his Septet for Strings, Winds and Organ. It concludes with the Piano Quintet of his great Russian counterpart, Dimitri Shostakovich. The final program (May 4) is a small orchestra concert that sets off Takemitsu's Toward the Sea II (1981) and Rain Coming (1982), and Ravel's Introduction and Allegro with a second half offering two varying views of the concerto grosso: Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, BWV 1050 preceded by Schnittke's Concerto grosso No. 1.

In between the two February dates at Lincoln Center, Midori returns to the West Coast to welcome Vadim Repin, whom she invited to present master classes at the University of Southern California's Thornton School of Music, where she holds the prestigious Jascha Heifetz Chair and also recently was named Chair of the Strings Department. The two violinists have jointly initiated the Midori/Repin Commissioning Project. Two of the four commissioned works have already been received: Passeggiata by Lee Hyla, and Gypsy Melody by Rodion Shchedrin.

Midori seems to have taken to heart these words of Alfred Schnittke: "How important it is to catch up with yourself! There are enormous forces lurking within everyone, but many people die without having discovered this." However, she won't rest on any silver anniversary laurels. "We're focused on thirty!"

Dennis D. Rooney writes frequently about the arts.

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