Hosokawa: Solo Concertos Vol. 2

Photo: Hosokawa: Solo Concertos Vol. 2



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Toshio Hosokawa Cello Concerto,
Voyage Vii,


Rohan De Saram, Cello , Jeroen Berwaerts, Trumpet , Olivier Dartevelle, Clarinet .

Orchestre Philharmonique Du Luxembourg, Robert Hp Platz.


It was Isang Yun, his first composition teacher in Germany, who showed Toshio Hosokawa “what it means to be an Asian”. He acquainted him with post-serial music, a music of colourful sound-surfaces into which Yun wove East Asian stylistic elements such as long sustained sonorities, various types of glissando and pizzicato and a multitude of ornaments. If Yun conveyed to him the impact of yin and yang in music, it was Tōru Takemitsu, his longstanding role model and a personal acquaintance from the early 1980s, who taught him about the aesthetic of silence that became essential to the emergence of his personal voice.

“Silence or emptiness – it can also be shadow. Silence and sounds, shadow und light: that, too, is yin and yang. You can interpret this in quite different ways … Takemitsu had a strong influence on me in this respect; he demanded sounds ‘as strong as silence’.” Another influence came from Helmut Lachenmann: noisy distortion helps to transform the orchestra into an instrument for the composer’s special musical language. In Hosokawa’s case he primarily varied and pursued shades of piano. He succeeds in causing the timbres of the instruments and instrumental families to become so similar that they produce a uniform, homogeneous colour, causing his orchestral tuttis often to sound like a breathing organ.

Takemitsu also supported Hosokawa in practical terms by arranging for performances of his music at festivals in Tokyo (Music Today, 1982), London (1991) and Seattle (1992). His death on 20 February 1996 (just a few months after Isang Yun’s on 3 November 1995) moved Hosokawa to write two pieces in his memory: the requiem Singing Trees (1996/97) for the children’s choir Little Singers of Tokyo, and the Cello Concerto – In memory of Tōru Takemitsu, commissioned for a portrait concert in Tokyo’s Suntory Hall (1997).

This latter piece, too, was a sort of requiem. Premiered by Julius Berger and the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra under Naohiro Totsuka on 6 October 1997, it consists of four sections suggestive of a life story. Long, gradually ascending sustained notes are offset by a second level of low, earthy sounds until a catastrophic tutti brings this first section to a close. The cello also dominates the second section, with its diverse interspersed pizzicato effects and descending gestures. The slow third section sounds like a shadowy collective in which isolated orchestral sounds symbolising nature or the outside world obtrude and enter a dialogue with the cello. The cellist’s cadenza is followed by an elevatio, at least hinting at an ascent into a world far above our own.

Voyage is the term Hosokawa assigns to a series of concertos in which the soloist – the lyric persona – is opposed not by an orchestra, but by the smaller forces of an instrumental ensemble. Here “voyage” means a journey into the interior, a breathing meditation in which the technique of “circular time”, “coming and going”, inhalation and exhalation is crucial to the compositional structure of the animated sound.

Voyage VII for trumpet and strings with percussion (2005) was commissioned by Norddeutscher Rundfunk for its concert series “das neue werk”. Its premiere took place in Hamburg on 17 July 2005, with Hosokawa conducting an ensemble drawn from the Orchestra Academy of the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival. The piece is dedicated to the soloist who gave the premiere, the Belgian-born trumpeter Jeroen Berwaerts. Hosokawa begins by “painting” wind sounds, enticing ethereal harmonics from slow glissandos in the strings. The trumpet, initially muted, is ingeniously developed: the phrases, at first relatively short, are spliced together into longer, more intricately wrought melodies leading to a grand dramatic climax. Then, in a coda, the music withdraws into the interior.

Metamorphosis for clarinet and string orchestra with percussion (2000) was composed for the Lucerne Festival, whose annual theme in 2000 was “Metamorphoses”. Sabine Meyer, the work’s dedicatee, played the premiere with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe conducted by Heinz Holliger. Here the string orchestra is augmented with an echo orchestra (six violins, cello, double bass) to produce subtle spatial effects. (Hosokawa’s Cello Concerto also uses an echo group, this time a brass ensemble). Metamorphosis, too, has an escalating dramatic structure, conveying the impression of a wordless drama. The title relates to the contrast and combination, growth and interweaving of musical germ-cells: high and low registers, expansive upward gestures, moments of collapse, gently undulating cantabile, buoyant expansion in space, unification with the orchestral sound, a solo cadenza and a spatial fade-out into the world of nature.

Walter-Wolfgang Sparrer
Translation: J. Bradford Robinson

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