This album features three works inspired by literature: a poetic mono-opera based on selected poems by Emily Brontë; The Woman in the Dunes for Solo Percussionist, inspired by Kobo Abe’s novel, The Woman in the Dunes; and Five Waka poems by Saigyo, which sets waka poems by Saigyo, an ancient monk-poet. I am deeply fascinated by these profound texts, each from a different era. The focal concept of this album was composing music to merge with the texts.
Emily Brontë – Through Life and Death, A Chainless Soul, is a poetic mono-opera in one act, based on selected poems of Emily Brontë and scored for mezzo-soprano and piano. I wanted to express Emily Brontë herself in this work, using her poetry as the text. Because of the extraordinarily powerful inner voice that resonates in her texts, I felt that it would serve as the perfect source for my libretto. I have felt a deep connection to Brontë’s poetry for decades. Knowing that 2018 would be the bicentennial of her birth, the composition of this mono-drama seemed a natural way to celebrate her life and work.
I choose seven poems by Emily Brontë as my libretto, and divided them into a prologue and three scenes. Each scene consists of two poems. I selected these poems in order to clearly express Emily Brontë’s unique creativity. Using very simple language, her inner spirit soars freely, far from the mundane world. It is a most remarkable phenomenon, wherein I sense a certain timelessness that can be found only in profound artistic expression. It is this spirit I aim to encompass in my music.
The role of Emily was written for mezzo-soprano accompanied by piano. I read that Emily played the piano very well. This motivated me even more to compose a piano setting.
Hoping to create a stage/performance space in collaboration with a visual artist, I contacted installation artist Toshihiro Sakuma, because the core of his art, “inochi”– meaning life that continues to exist in memory – would be a perfect fit for this project.
Sakuma’s installation consists of a ring with an approximately 4.2 meter diameter which is formed by about three hundred light bulbs placed around the center of the stage, and a video projection onto the front wall of the stage behind the ring. The ring shape suggests an eternal circle. I perceive it as a cosmic image, symbolizing the temporal passage from the past to the future. It inspired me to create the stage directions. The video projection embodies two simple concepts, pouring rain and rising luminous points. It enhances the atmosphere within the space, in which can be sensed the feeling of Brontë herself.
Emily Brontë – Through Life and Death, A Chainless Soul is performed by mezzo-soprano Jessica Bowers and pianist Marilyn Nonken in a live videotaped recording of the January 2018 premiere performance at the Tenri Gallery of the Tenri Cultural Institute in New York City, included as a DVD in this album. Since the work is a theatrical presentation, the DVD is the ideal vehicle to convey the visual as well as audio components of the performance. The DVD represents my special tribute to Emily Brontë.
The Woman in the Dunes for Solo Percussionist – inspired by Kobo Abe’s novel, The Woman in the Dunes – was commissioned jointly by the American percussionist Gregory Beyer and the Japanese percussionist Mizuki Aita. It is scored for a large set of percussion instruments, including twenty Thai chromatic gongs. The release of Beyer’s recording has been a long-awaited goal.
The work was first created as a multimedia theater piece combining music, video, and theatrical performance, and was performed in 2009 at the Flea Theater in New York City and the School of Music Recital Hall at Northern Illinois University. This recording presents a new concert version of the work. The music symbolically echoes Abe’s text. I used a group of metallic instruments centered on chromatic gongs to express the woman’s emotions, and a group of drum instruments with the bongo and conga at its core to express the turmoil of the man who is trying to escape. Ultimately, however, I wanted to express the sand world that spreads through and beyond such contrasts.
Five Waka poems by Saigyo was composed as part of Makoto Nakura’s Forest Trilogy project for marimba and mixed chorus. Waka is the oldest Japanese poetic form, and Saigyo (1118–1190) was a monk-poet who lived about 900 years ago. Inspired by nature, Saigyo traveled throughout his life, expressing his free spirit in poems that today continue to stimulate our imagination. This work has been performed in the United States, Japan, and Europe. It was a fascinating experience to hear it sung by a non-Japanese choir, because their diction enhanced the beauty of the syllables. I greatly appreciate the participation in the recording of marimba virtuoso William Moersch and director Andrew Megill, as well as the choir members.
Creating this album embodies my vision of composing a collection of works inspired by text as the focal concept. Each text by Brontë, Abe, and Saigyo exists as a strong example of how great art endures over time. That idea captured my imagination and encouraged me to work with this great legacy. — Akemi Naito
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Ravello Records is the contemporary classical label imprint of audio production house PARMA Recordings. Dedicated to highlighting forward thinking composers and musicians from around the world, the New England-based label's eclectic catalog offers listeners a cross-section of today's up-and-coming innovators in orchestral, chamber, and experimental music.
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