Ruckus showcases new music of Japan

Festival continues at UMBC today through Sunday


April 04, 2003|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

On these shores, Japanese composers have not enjoyed as much exposure as Japanese performers; only the late Toru Takemitsu, whose impressionistic soundscapes are among the last century's most distinctive works, made significant inroads here. For an idea of what we've been missing, check out this weekend's "Music of Japan Today" festival at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

On Wednesday night at UMBC's Fine Arts Recital Hall, the faculty contemporary music ensemble Ruckus offered a preview of the festival, including the first performance of a piece by Akira Nishimura.

Commissioned by and dedicated to the Ruckus members who premiered it, the new piece is the latest in a series of chamber works that use the same title, - Madoromi, a Japanese term, Nishimura says in a program note, that means "under the spell of sleep," especially the shallow sleep that allows for intense dreams.

Madoromi III is scored for clarinet and piano and makes use of each instrument's sonic possibilities. The clarinet is called on to play microtones (the notes in between regular notes) and multiphonics (two notes played simultaneously), though never for mere effect; an expressive point is always behind the technique. Same for when the pianist alters the tone from inside the piano. Such elements are hardly new to modern music, yet Nishimura manages to make them seem quite fresh.

Almost jazzy, kinetic riffs that have both players in tight sync contrast with long, sighing clarinet lines floating above dense, soft piano chords that are sustained to create a harmonic haze. Clarinetist E. Michael Richards and pianist Kazuko Tanosaki, who received the tricky score by fax only two weeks ago, already sounded at home in this dream world. They're likely to sound even more so when they repeat the work tonight.

On Wednesday, Tanosaki gave an assured, sensitive account of Joji Yuasa's beautifully constructed Cosmos Haptic II. The music has a floating quality, interrupted periodically by pointillistic splashes of long-sustained chord clusters, like sudden whitecaps on a placid sea.

Yuasa's A Winter Day: Homage to Basho for flute, clarinet, harp, percussion and piano is a haiku-inspired work that somehow conveys motion and stasis at the same time.

It reveals some identifiable ethnic traits; a pitch-bending gong and the tapping of the piano's innards, for example, recall the sounds of Japanese folk instruments. The complex, sometimes improvised music achieves its effects through minimal means (not surprising for a work generated by haiku), such as the repeated, insistent notes passed among the different instruments at the start. A throbbing, crying flute solo later suggests the isolated voice of a poet.

Conducted by Franklin Cox, Richards, flutist Lisa Cella, harpist Julia Martin, percussionist Tom Goldstein and pianist Thomas Moore made the music speak eloquently.

The "Music of Japan Today" festival and symposium - concerts, lectures, etc. (many free) - runs today through Sunday at UMBC. For information, call 410-455-2787.

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