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Name of Work

Takemitsu, Tōru (1930-1996)
Waves for clarinet, horn, percussion, trombone



May 16, 1999

Larry Combs, Clarinet
Gail Williams, Horn
Mark Fisher, Trombone
Charles Vernon, Bass trombone
James Boznos, Percussion
Michael Mulcahy, Conductor


Composed in 1976

At the age of sixteen, while mountain climbing in his native Japan, Torn Takemitsu dropped his camera into a waterfall. Trying to retrieve it, he caught pneumonia and was forced to spend many weeks at home, convalescing. It was there that he listened to music on his radio and decided to become a composer. Significantly, Takemitsu first studied Western, not traditional Japanese music. ("During the war in Japan, listening to western music was forbidden," Takemitsu recalled. "And so, when the war was over, we young people were thirsty for Western music.") It was another decade before he became aware of the music of his own land. Ultimately, in a way that gave his output its distinctive sensibility, he has worked through two different things at once—western innovation and Japanese tradition.

Takemitsu was one of the first important composers to bridge the musical worlds of the East and West. He was inspired, above all, by the complex relationship between the two—those things in common as well as the differences. The assimilation was not always easy. (He once remarked, for example, that it is very difficult for Japanese composers to write fast music.) In time Takemitsu's characteristic cross-fertilization came full circle—John Adams (as American as his presidential name) took the final measures of Takemitsu's riverrun as the point of departure for his own Eros Piano.

Takemitsu has a larger understanding of music than most composers, because he learned our music as a foreigner, and he studied his own country's music as someone who knew western music first. In 1967, working on a commission for the New York Philharmonic, Takemitsu attempted for the first time to write for symphony orchestra and traditional Japanese instruments. That work, November Steps, forced Takemitsu to accept differences so profound that they were, as he remarked, beyond words. In his fusion of these traditions and cultures Takemitsu has anticipated what he envisions as our future: "Indeed, I believe that, in time diverse cultures born of diverse peoples will be merged into one synthesis, that human beings will come to have one culture, immense and on a global scale."

In Waves, Takemitsu melds several influences, from sounds of the shakuhachi, a Japanese bamboo flute, to the harmonic language of the French impressionist composers and the world of Duke Ellington. Takemitsu once hoped to study orchestration with the American jazz master, and his fondness for Ellington's style survives in the dance band scoring of Waves, and in its bending and sliding brass tones. Waves begins, at Takemitsu's direction, in darkness, with the lighting gradually revealing the ensemble on stage. After the last sustained chord, as the lights fade to black, Takemitsu asks the musicians to breathe into their instruments (the drummer rubs the drum membrane), filling the hall with shimmering vibrations and sighs.

Program Notes by Phillip Huscher

Performed May 16, 1999

Performance Audio

The audio file for this performance is unavailable at this time.