WU TONG Rain Falling from the roof (5’)
YOSHIMATSU Fuzzy Bird Sonata (16’)
DEBUSSY (arr. CAPLET) La Mer (for two pianos) (25’)
In an arrangement for two pianos, this concert spotlights Debussy’s celebrated ‘symphonic sketches’ of the sea; an impressionistic, symbolist masterpiece, drawn from childhood memories and the composer’s abiding interest in Japanese art.
Before this, award-winning saxophonist Amy Dickson shares a thrilling and highly virtuosic sonata by Japanese composer Yoshimatsu and a piece by Chinese composer Wu Tong, which reflects on life during lockdown and was written for performance with Kathryn’s friend and frequent collaborator, cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
WU TONG, Rain falling from the roof
Wu Tong is a Chinese composer and performer (primarily on the Chinese bawu and sheng) who became a founder member of the Silk Road Ensemble, led by cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and has appeared as a virtuoso soloist with orchestras including the Chicago Symphony and New York Philharmonic. An extremely versatile musician, he was also the vocalist in the first rock band to broadcast on Chinese television.
Rain Falling on the Roof is a kind of song without words with flexible instrumentation. It has been played by Wu Tong himself on the sheng, and recorded by Yo-Ya Ma and Kathryn Stott in a version for cello and piano. Wu Tong himself has written that his inspiration was a very contemporary response, during the Coronavirus pandemic, to an ancient Buddhist story: ‘Upon hearing the sound of the falling raindrops, I was reminded that people depend upon peaceful coexistence with each other and with Mother Nature to live in true harmony. No one exists in isolation.’
© Nigel Simeone
YOSHIMATSU Takashi, Fuzzy Bird Sonata
The Fuzzy Bird Sonata was composed in 1991 and dedicated to the Japanese saxophonist Nobuya Sugawa. Yoshimatsu was initially self-taught as a composer, inspired by hearing European classical composers, but his own style developed into a distinctive musical language which also draws on elements of jazz. The first movement of the Fuzzy Bird Sonata (‘Run, Bird’) is propulsive and exciting (with a moment of calm at its centre), making virtuoso demands on both players. In the second movement (‘Sing, Bird’), an expansive saxophone melody is heard over piano chords. ‘Fly, Bird’ begins hesitantly, before gradually gaining momentum, enabling the bird to take flight.
© Nigel Simeone
DEBUSSY Claude, La Mer arr. for two pianos by André Caplet
De l’aube à midi sur la mer (From dawn to midday on the sea)
Jeu de vagues (Play of the waves)
Dialogue du vent et de la mer (Dialogue of the wind and the sea)
The sea’s central importance to Debussy is well documented in his letters. In September 1903 he wrote to his close friend and fellow composer Andre ́Messager about La mer, noting the amusing irony of composing the piece in the resolutely landlocked department of the Yonne in north-west Burgundy, and describing his approach to the work with an interesting analogy to landscape painting:
‘I’m working on three symphonic sketches … the whole to be called La mer. You’re unaware, maybe, that I was intended for the noble career of a sailor and have only deviated from that path thanks to the quirks of fate. Even so, I’ve retained a sincere devotion to the sea. To which you’ll reply that the Atlantic doesn’t exactly wash the foothills of Burgundy, and that the result could be one of those hack landscapes done in the studio! But I have innumerable memories, and those, in my view, are worth more than a reality which tends to weigh too heavily on the imagination.’
In July 1904 Debussy left his first wife Lilly Texier and eloped to Jersey with the singer Emma Bardac. In an undated letter from the Grand Hotel in St Helier he wrote to his publisher Durand that ‘The sea has behaved beautifully towards me and shown me all her guises.’ He returned to the subject while staying at the Grand Hotel in Eastbourne, where he was correcting the proofs of La mer: ‘It’s a charming, peaceful spot. The sea unfurls itself with an utterly British correctness.’
The English critic Edward Lockspeiser was unhesitating in describing La mer as ‘the greatest example of an orchestral Impressionist work’ and it does not seem unduly far-fetched to see a parallel in Claude Monet’s seascapes from the 1890s. The three movements form a magnificent large-scale symphonic whole which is fully maintained in André Caplet’s brilliant arrangement for two pianos. A gifted composer in his own right and a trusted friend of Debussy’s, Caplet has transcribed the work with dazzling effectiveness, remaining entirely true to the spirit of Debussy’s orchestral original.
© Nigel Simeone