Performing outside the comfort zone

In 1968 acclaimed film director Seijun Suzuki was fired by the major Japanese studio Nikkatsu for making films that were "incomprehensible". A three and a half year court case followed. Although Suzuki won an out of court settlement he was blacklisted by all the major Japanese production companies, and was unable to make another film for 10 years. In 1980 he directed the first part of what became his Taishō trilogy, Zigeunerweisen. The film is a psychological thriller and takes its name from the gypsy violin music of Pablo de Sarasate used in the soundtrack.

Distributors declined to handle Zigeunerweisen, so its producer, Genjiro Arato, screened it in an inflatable mobile dome. The film was a major success, and went on to win awards at the Berlin International Film Festival and the Japanese Academy. It was later voted best Japanese film of the 1980s by the country's critics. My header image shows Tsunehisa Kimura's 1980 poster for Zigeunerweisen, the sleeve of the DVD release is seen at the foot of this article. Tsunehisa Kimura is best known as a political cartoonist. His portrayals of Hitler playing pachinko and Niagara Falls plunging through the canyons between New York's skyscrapers, which are seen below, are notable examples of art moving outside its comfort zones.

In the same year that Zigeunerweisen was made a chamber ensemble began giving performances in Britain and Europe in an inflatable geodesic dome. The ensemble took the name Domus from its Buckminster Fuller inspired portable performance space. Domus' pianist Susan Tomes (who was the first woman to read music at King's College, Cambridge in its 400 year history) records the history of the ensemble in her inspirational book Beyond the Notes. Domus made eleven CDs which range from the Gramophone Award winning recording of Fauré's Piano Quartets nos. 1 and 2 for Hyperion to a disc of Judith Weir's chamber music for the now defunct Collins Classics label.

In these today's difficult times, classical music is notably reluctant to move outside its comfort zone. The continuing obsession with new, mega-budget, purpose-built concert halls penned by personality architects is one manifestation of this reluctance. These projects ignore the fact that many more people listen to classical music on iPods in their own space than attend performances in conventional concert halls. Taking music to the people in innovative new performance spaces is surely more important than cutting the price of tickets in established venues? After music in an inflatable dome, try music on a floating stage and music in a circus ring.

Images 1 and 2 are (c) Tsunehisha Kimura. Beyond the Notes by Susan Tomes is published by Boydell & Brewer ISBN 1843830450, I bought my copy when it was first published in 2004. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk


Pliable said…
Susan Tomes now has her own blog -
As you rightly mention at the end of the post, the title of Susan Tomes' book is Beyond rather than Between the Notes.
Pliable said…
B & B - thanks for pointing out my error in confusing beyond and between - now corrected.
John said…
Does anyone know why Domus disbanded?
Unknown said…
I was the pianist of Domus, so I can answer this: Domus's repertoire was focused (in the later years) on the piano quartet, a very good repertoire but a small one. People kept asking to hear the same few works, and much as we tried to keep them fresh, it became hard to do so as time went on. We tried to vary the repertoire with non-piano-quartets, but were often told that because it is rare to hear a 'dedicated' piano quartet, that's what the audience wanted to hear. That, plus internal dissent which is no doubt common to all chamber music groups, kind of drained us of energy in the end. But it was a very special group and a special time.

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