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Okeanos Plus

Wilton’s Music Hall 7 June 2006

Dai Fujikura Okeanos Breeze
Nadja Plein Sun Sleeping on River-Waves (awake at the waterfall) world premiere
Traditional arr Fujinaga Kengyo & Masajima Kengyo Yachiyojishi
Christian Mason under heaven: sometimes… world premiere
Toshio Hosokawa Fragmente 1
Duncan MacLeod Graffiti world premiere
Etsuko Takezawa Ichie world premiere
Traditional Shakuhachi solo
Basil Athanasiadis Ithaka world premiere

Etsuko Takezawa koto, bass koto, shamisen
Clive Bell shakuhachi
Melissa Holding koto
Robin Thompson sho, shamisen
Sally Pryce harp
Bridget Carey viola
Kate Romano clarinets, percussion
Jinny Shaw oboe, oboe d’amore

Last night Okeanos Plus made a huge impression with a concert of "music together" - not "cross-over", which generally entails minuses as well as pluses! This was a complex collaboration between spnm, Asian Music Circuit and Spitalfields Festival.

Rolf Hind, who curated it, stressed how harmony and counterpoint dominate western art music, whereas melody, rhythm and sonority are explored centrally in other cultures, and only during the last century have they been developed in the West; to some listeners colour is still a little suspect as decorative but inessential.

On both sides, people can be a little puritanical about how their instruments should be treated. The line-up as listed above was an unique one; Etsuko Takezawa, a notable innovator in new music for her instruments, came over specially from Japan to participate.

She took a full part in ensemble music by SPNM short-listed young composers, and gave us traditional Japanese koto music as well as a ground-breaking composition of her own for koto and bass koto; she is also adept on the shamisen [illustrated].

The instruments were excitingly new and unfamiliar for several of the younger composers, who relished their possibilities. The event was enhanced by their informal spoken introductions (not everyone had afforded the £4 festival programme) and those of the musicians, especially the idiosyncratic off-beat remarks of British shakhachi virtuoso Clive Bell. The general conviviality was helped too by the ambience of Wilton's Music Hall, whose split level stage was exploited to such extent that I wished cameras had been present to capture the scene for DVD.

The new music heard is a little hard to characterise and, for those of us who have devoured non-Western music over the years, the excitement was the natural blend with Okeanos's core instrumentation, and not the exoticism of the mixture. One surprising innovator was the Japanese born Dai Fujikura, now well established in international new music circles, who told us that he had never heard traditional Japanese instruments until he heard them at a Darmstadt summer school when he was 20! A no-nonsense and practical composer, he addressed his commission with a will, and took to the vibrato-free sho, and the harsh attack of the koto, to produce a viable work which can be heard again in London next month.

Hosokawa is well established on the Japan/Germany axis, and his austere Fragmente 1 was redolent of the world of Lachenmann; normal sounds banned from the instruments. I was not too convinced by the processes in Duncan LcLeod's Graffiti and opinions were divided about the tuneful Basil Athanasiadis's listener-friendly Ithaka which ended the evening, not as simple as he led us to expect, and perilously close to V-W's lark at one point!

But the first half had been unalloyed delight, perhaps more so after a surfeit of minor baroque opera by Handel, Vivaldi and child Mozart, with predictable patterning and multitudinous da capo arias! Nadja Plein's sunlight at the waterfall was delicious, and Christian Mason succeded well in under heaven: sometimes... , elucidating relationships and connections between the instruments which formed his rich tapestry. There is the making of a great Okeanos Plus CD if someone can come up with the money to record the best of this sequence?

Okeanos are well known as pioneers of contemporary chamber music, and though I had not encountered them live, I have commended a fairly recent Metier recording of music by two fine British composers, "Elizabeth Maconchy (Mrs Lefanu, 1907-1994) to whose centenary in 2007 we can look forward, was a notably uncompromising pioneer in British musical life during a period of persistent prejudice against women composers and her daughter Nicola Lefanu, who has carried the torch for emancipation of women composers, many of whom are now well established in no small part due to her efforts."

I fervently hope that there will be an opportunity for audiences farther afield to savour what these adventurous musicians are now doing, and its real originality. Meanwhile, Okeanos Plus should not be missed at City of London Festival on July 7th.

OKEANOS - St Lawrence Jewry
Friday 07 July; 18:00
Dai Fujikura Touch of Breeze Cutting Sky (world première) & Okeanos Breeze; Judith Bingham The Cruelty of The Gods (world première); Toshi Ichiyanagi Hoshi No Wa (Galaxy); Mai Fukasawa, Toshi Ichiyanagi Transfiguration of Flowers 2 (UK première); with readings from the Tanabata.

see also John Walters in The Guardian

Berio, Fujikura, Aperghis , Lachenmann & Toop

Berio Sequenza XII for Bassoon
Dai Fujikura/Ryuichi Sakamoto New Work for electronics and video (World Premiere)
Aperghis Récitations (movement 5, 8, 12) for voice
Lachenmann Toccatina for violin
David Toop New Work for voice and laptop (World Premiere)
Dai Fujikura OKEANOS for sho, koto, viola, clarinet and oboe (World Premiere)

Pascal Gallois
Lore Lixenberg
James Widden
David Toop (laptop)

curated by Dai Fujikura

Hall Two, Kings Place London, 8 November 2010, 8 p.m.

This concert, late start time and scheduled for 70 mins without a break (we have to allow up to three hours for travelling...) looked reasonably attractive before the event, given our good experience of Okeanos in 2006 [above], so we responded to urging to attend.

Berio's bassoon Sequenza XII (the longest at 20 mins) requires extended techniques, including circular breathing, glissando, and multiple sounds by singing through the instrument while playing. It was good to hear it again from its dedicatee.

The rest of the programme, played through with minimal breaks, suffered from having the auditorium darkened (? for Dai Fujikura unremarkable piece for electronics and redundant video). The gloom failed to generate "atmosphere", whilst making it impossible to consult our programmes.

Lachenmann's tiny Toccatina for violin ppp was at least audible in KP Hall Two (c.p. at South Bank last month). Lore Lixenberg despatched some of the tongue-twisting Aperghis Récitations with aplomb.

No longer novelties, sho and koto sounded best when all the Japanese and Western instruments came together in the last piece of Osaka-born Dai Fujikura's finally completed tribute to his heritage; Okeanos Breeze for sho, koto, viola, clarinet and oboe (both doubling on percussion). A CD is promised.

The programme, studied on the way home, ought to have been free. It told us nothing at all about any of the music; instead, it was filled with today's seeming-obligatory over-inclusive CVs of some participants, presumably to validate their authority in this repertoire...

The members of Okeanos were not named; I recognised violist Bridget Carey... Perhaps concerts should not be "curated" by their main composers?

Peter Grahame Woolf




© Peter Grahame Woolf