From Me Flows What You Call Time
Length: 36 minutes
Orchestration: 3 flutes (1st and 3rd = piccolo, 2nd = alto flute), 3 oboes (2nd = oboe d'amore, 3rd = English horn), E-flat clarinet, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet (= contrabass clarinet), 3 bassoons (3rd = contrabassoon), 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, 2 harps, celesta, and strings
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performances
It was a stroke of luck for Toru Takemitsu the day Igor Stravinsky accidentally played the wrong side of a phonograph record and was struck by the 25-year-old's intense Requiem for Strings (1957). International attention (and prizes) quickly ensued and the career of a giant in late-20th-century music was born. Initially rebelling against the music of his homeland, Takemitsu fell in love with "music of the West" during his time as a soldier in World War II. It seems he gained a real appreciation of traditional Japanese music (as well as philosophy) through his friendship with American composer John Cage, whose use of Zen principles and "roll of the dice" methods of composition Takemitsu would incorporate into his own work. In fact, Takemitsu's heritage was ever-present in his music. Works as varied as the James Joyce-inspired riverrun (1981) for piano and orchestra (commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic), In an Autumn Garden (1979) for traditional gagaku orchestra, and his lauded score for Akira Kurosawa's film Ran (1985) clearly come from the same steady hand and are as expressive and well-crafted as a bonsai garden.
Commissioned by Carnegie Hall for the Boston Symphony Orchestra and its music director Seiji Ozawa, From me flows what you call Time is a perfect example of Takemitsu's particular blend of East and West. Performed on the occasion of Carnegie Hall's centenary, the work is meant to spiritually reflect the century of music that has "flowed" through the venue. Takemitsu took the evocative title from a poem "Clear Blue Water" by his friend, Japanese poet Makoto Ooka.
Central to this work are the individual performers of the Toronto-based percussion ensemble Nexus, who performed the premiere. For Takemitsu, each of the five members was made to represent an aspect of the Tibetan Buddhist principle of "Wind Horse," an image conjured from the notion of the enlightened human being "riding" Nature. At the premiere performance on October 19, 1990, five colored ribbons, representing the five natural phenomena of water (blue), fire (red), earth (yellow), wind (green), and sky (white) linked the performers to bells placed about the theater. This effect, as well as the huge array of world percussion (including Japanese temple bowls placed cleverly on top of timpani drums, Indonesian wooden angklungs, and Pakistani Noah bells, to name a few) infuse the work with deep solemnity and an atmosphere of ritual.
A solo flute intones a delicate phrase whose initial 5-note motive becomes an idée fixe as it is passed between instruments throughout the work. This opening phrase, named in the score "A Breath of Air," turns out to be an invocation, inviting the soloists to enter the hall. Once the players have reached their positions, tremolo cellos and basses emote a "Premonition." A chorus of Caribbean steel drums bring a brief "Plateau," and a repeating marimba figure gives way to a section curiously titled "Curved Horizon." "The Wind Blows" sets harps into wispy glissandos and an active, quasi-Arabic solo cello theme portrays a momentary desert "Mirage."
As the piece proceeds, there are several opportunities for the percussionists to improvise around a loosely grouped series of notes. One of these extended improvisations, featuring hollowed-out log drums, gives way to an expansive statement portentously titled "The Promised Land." The seldom-heard oboe d'amore (imported from the Baroque era) leads us into "Life's Joys and Sorrows," in which desperately Romantic gestures disappear into thin air as quickly as they arrived. Another improvisatory section featuring a Turkish darabukkah drum and tom-toms leads to a simple "Prayer" for the closing moments of the work whose sound takes on an unexpectedly three-dimensional perspective.
-- Christopher Anderson-Bazzoli is an Emmy-nominated composer and has served as the Los Angeles Philharmonic Publications Assistant.