Classical music fans have a bad habit staying in a Western frame of mind, steeped in the sounds of mostly long-dead European composers, maybe allowing a few North and South American experiences for good measure. Music of the Orient rarely filters through such a mind-set, which makes this week's "Music of Japan Today 2003" festival and symposium exceptionally valuable.
This enterprise by the Department of Music at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, running tomorrow through Sunday, is the largest of its kind in the country. Concerts, lectures and panel discussions will provide a detailed look at the world of contemporary Japanese music, which encompasses a stylistically broad spectrum that includes both indigenous and Western influences. Three major composers will be on hand - Tokuhide Niimi, whose prize-winning works have been performed in Japan and Europe; Akira Nishimura, another multiple prize winner who has written for the Kronos Quartet and others; and Joji Yuasa, one of the deans of contemporary Japanese music and a valued teacher.
An eminent leader of the new music movement in his country, Toshi Ichiyanagi, will participate via live video conferencing from Japan. He studied with John Cage, worked with the almost legendary avant-garde group Fluxus and has been at the forefront of experimental music for more than 40 years. (He was also Yoko Ono's first husband, by the way.)
Performances will feature UMBC's resident new music ensemble, Ruckus, along with UMBC students and guest artists from near and far. About two dozen events will be held, practically around the clock; all of them are open to the public.
The three main concerts by Ruckus are at 8 p.m. tomorrow (program includes Nishimura's Madoromo III for clarinet and piano and Yuasa's Cosmos Haptic II for piano); 7:30 p.m. Friday (includes Niimi's The Soul Bird for flute, Nishimura's Organum for violin, flute, clarinet, vibraphone and piano); and 8 p.m. Saturday (includes Ichiyanagi's Cloud Atlas X for piano and Cosmic Harmony for cello and piano, and Niimi's Lux Originis for violin, clarinet, cello and piano). These performances are at UMBC's Fine Arts Recital Hall, Hilltop Road. Admission is free tomorrow; tickets are $10 ($5 for students and seniors) Friday and Saturday. Call 410-455-2787.
For a complete rundown of activities - from a lecture/recital focusing on Japan's most successful 20th-century composer Toru Takemitsu at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow, to a performance of recent piano works by Japanese women composers at 10:40 a.m. Sunday - check out UMBC's Web site: www.umbc.edu/arts.
Shriver Hall series
The Shriver Hall Concert Series promises another classy lineup for the 2003-2004 season. The Emerson String Quartet, one of this country's most distinguished chamber ensembles, will open the series with clarinetist David Shifrin; the exquisite clarinet quintets by Mozart and Brahms will be performed.
More chamber music will come from the Eroica Trio, which has earned almost as much attention for its looks as for its dynamic playing; and the noted Aulos Ensemble, one of the first "period instrument" groups in this country. In an admirable move, the Shriver series will also present a concert by Continuum, the extraordinary contemporary music ensemble from New York.
Recitalists next season include two top young talents - violinist Gil Shaham and cellist Alicia Weilerstein - and eminent, veteran Czech pianist Ivan Moravec. Vocal music will be on the schedule, too, with a recital by much-admired German baritone Stephan Genz.
In addition to those subscription concerts, Shriver Hall also will offer invigorating pianist Lang Lang in recital.
Subscriptions go on sale Monday, single tickets on Sept. 1. Discounted tickets to the Lang Lang recital will be available to subscribers. For more information, call 410-516-7164.
Meanwhile, don't forget the current Shriver Hall Concert Series, which continues with a rectal by Jean-Yves Thibaudet at 7:30 p.m. Sunday. The imaginative French pianist will play works by Chopin, Liszt (including the Dante Sonata), Debussy, Satie (including the famous Gymnopedie No. 1) and Messiaen (the finale of the monumental Vingt Regards sur l'Enfant Jesus). For tickets, call 410-516-7164.
Just a fraction of pending events to consider:
Leonard Bernstein's controversial, eclectic and (to me) arresting theater piece called Mass will get a rare production this weekend by Catholic University's Benjamin T. Rome School of Music. It will be conducted by the school's new dean, Murray Sidlin, who started his career as assistant conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra during the Sergiu Comissiona era. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at CU's University Center, 620 Michigan Ave., N.E., in Washington. For tickets, call 202-319-5416.
The Municipal Opera Company of Baltimore will offer a delightful work by Menotti, The Old Maid and the Thief, at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 4 p.m. Sunday at Brown Memorial Woodbrook Presbyterian Church, 6200 N. Charles St. Call 410-329-6874 or 410-448-0745.
Mezzo-soprano Leneida Crawford and baritone Gerald Phillips will sings works by Wagner, Wolf, de Falla and Poulenc at 3 p.m. Sunday at Towson University's Center for the Arts, Osler and Cross Campus drives. Call 410-704-2787.