Monday, June 11, 2007

Zen and the art of Aldeburgh


Aldeburgh Festival's new production of Benjamin Britten's Death in Venice has been hailed as a 'triumph' by the critics. Director Yoshi Oida is singled out for particular praise, and this production is yet another example of Japanese influence on cosmopolitan Aldeburgh. Britten's homage to Noh Theatre, Curlew River, is the best known Eastern connection, but the Festival has some other interesting, and lesser known, Japanese links.

In 1984 Toru Takemitsu visited the Aldeburgh Festival for the first time, and fell in love with that most sublime of all performing spaces, Snape Maltings. The result of his visit was the Festival commission, Archipelago S., which was given its first performance at Snape in 1993. The work is an essay into surround-sound, and uses two mixed ensembles on either side of the main stage, a brass quintet along the back wall (there is no balcony at Snape), and two clarinets play behind the audience to either side of the auditorium.

Archipelago S was commissioned by Oliver Knussen when he was artistic director of the Aldeburgh Festival. Knussen has recorded it on a DG CD which also includes Takemitsu's Dream/Window from 1985. Archipelago S is for large orchestra with integral small ensemble, and the composer described it as follows: The title "Dream/Window" is taken from the Buddhist name of a Zen priest of the Muromachi Period. Muso (mu = dream, so = window) Soseki (1275-1351). Among the many famous gardens designed by Muso Soseki is that of the Saiho-ji Temple (popularly known as the "Moss Temple") in Kyoto. My music has been profoundly influenced by Japanese historic gardens. For example, "Arc" for piano and orchestra (1963-66/76) and "In an Autumn Garden" in the complete version for gagaku orchestra (1979) were based on relatively concrete images of gardens.

I was fortunate to visit Kyoto some years back and visit the famous temples, and this sparked a fascination for Japanese garden design. I bought a copy of Kiyoshi Seike's book on Japanese gardens when working in New York in the early 1980s, and created my first garden using it a few years later. My photo above is another example of Japan meets East Anglia - it is the view from my study here in Norfolk where I write On An Overgrown Path, and shows the small Japanese garden outside the patio doors.

No post tomorrow as we are at Aldeburgh for a full day of music, Nono in the morning followed by a picnic on the beach, and then Death in Venice at Snape in the evening. But continue the thread with going Buddhist with Lou Harrison.
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