A reciprocal fascination between Japanese and Western music has been long standing, however it has developed significantly since the second half of the nineteenth century. Within the sixteenth century the Spanish and Portuguese Jesuit missionaries began introducing European music to the Japanese, while at the same time getting to know the traditional Japanese instruments. However, in the two ollowing centuries, Japan shut iself away and only in 1868 in a new era of politics opened the doors to the West, revolutionising the country. The assimilation of Western knowledge happened across all areas of culture, from the learning of visual arts to dressing fashion. It is not by accident that in the twentieth century, Japanese composers started to form a Western-style education to rediscover their own roots. Traditional culture was often experienced as a memory of an authoritarian and woeful world, however it was not the same for Western people, quite the contrary. Europeans and Americans looked to traditional music as found in the nō theatre and kabuki, but also to the Bunraku puppet theatre as inspiration. The great Universal Expositions, starting from that of Paris in 1889, opened up a previously unknown aural world to the west, leading to a new concept of timbre and of musical temperament. The fashion of was initially articulated in terms of exoticism and landscape, implying the Western mimesis of Japanese intervals and harmonies. Later, particularly French composers would explore timbral aspects and sound spatialisation used in Japanese music. Messiaen evoked traditional Japanese instruments in his Sept Haïkï, where the economy of ideas is typical for the poetic form of the haiku surfaces. Debussy suggested deeper elements of thought, particularly shown with the ideas of stasis and “time stretching” which provided important stimuli for both John Cage and Steve Reich, also known to fascinate Boulez as well. Another continuing aspect is the co-existence of several distinct sonorities in the orchestra, inspired by the Japanese. It is unlike the density of Central Europe’s Romantic symphonic style, with its dramatic importance attributed to sound gestures and an opulent taste for a variety of vocal ranges. In contrast the musical value is assigned to silence and the importance given to the sounds’ attack. In the theatrical field, Japan attracts playwrights such as Claudel, Brecht, Artaud and Peter Brook. In music, it fascinated Stravinsky, Ravel, and Britten. Continuing in their footsteps, a concept-album influenced by the Japanese style, using only the sparse duo of double bass and harp is in keeping with greats of the past. Like a typical, minimal Japanese ensemble, the joint presence of these two instruments allows a variety of timbres and attack on the strings through the use of non-conventional techniques. Such techniques are employed for evoking natural elements, for example within the piece Haru No Numi (The Sea during Spring) by Michio Miyagi: the soundscape evokes and describes the sentiment of nature. Whilst using a background motif provided by the harp, the double bass recalls traditional tunes (and vice-versa), painting a picture of the human existence in its ecstatic and painful feelings when facing nature. The Trois lyriques de la poésie japonaise by Stravinsky constitute, from their instrumentation, models for Ravel’s Trois Poèmes de Mallarmé (1913), found here in re-working by Valentina Ciardelli. Clearly, not all the forces of the original score for voice, piccolo, flute, two clarinets, piano and string quartet can be preserved with this duo; however this version keeps the essence of the Japanese simplicity. Ravel preserves the essence of precocity in Mallarmé’s poetry when he sets his words to music. This has been re-captured by Valentina Ciardelli in her reworking by the double bass resuming in itself the arpeggios originally performed by the string quartet. The harp frequently takes on the piano’s part however the arranger plays also on the unexpected, with at times, entrusting the part of high-pitched instruments to the double bass, and vice versa, the harp the low-pitched. Hirano Yoshihisa, a composer famous for the Anime score Death Note (2008), creates an enchanted atmosphere in his Elegy. In this piece we find marked contrasts as described by the composer, “from the grotesque to the nostalgic cantabile, to the rhythmic”. The dialogue between the two instruments portrays an elegiac feeling in an unusual fashion, sensuous but with a taste for harmonic transgression, with complex counterpoint generated by the ascending and descending movements of the two instruments. Influences from central Europe surface with reminiscence of Johann Straus jr. ‘s Fledermaus, but soon become alienated. The enigmatic aspects of Ravel’s ideas stand greater immediacy with the mélodie by Saint-Saëns, Sur l’eau claire et sans ride; however the composer’s fascination for the country of the Rising Sun is evident in the work La princesse jaune.
Far East, here, is synonymous with sensuous abandonment and opioid-induced ecstasy.
Igor II and After Igor are homages by Valentina Ciardelli to the beloved figure of Stravinsky. Originally for solo double-bass, Igor II belongs in a suite of four movements dedicated to four protective deities (the other movements are dedicated to Puccini, Bernstein and Zappa). Rhythmic vitality and melos intertwine as in a patchwork quilt, between pizzicatos on a bourdon note, overtones depicting folk like melodies, scratching chromatic jétés. After Igor, for harp, with patterns clearly citing the Rite of Spring, reflects on the relationship between West and East, between painstaking analysis and instinct: Neo-Classical elements are superimposed to a more visceral melos.
In Randori Suite, Ciardelli shows us three different viewpoints on Japan. The first movement is inspired by the blossoming almond tree painted by Van Gogh. The two instruments evoke a very fine pictorial pattern, and the idea of renewed life found in the large branches with white flowers against a blue sky. This regeneration idea is assuaging, but not static; indeed, it contains elements of rhythmical disquietude which melt away in the final lyricism. The second movement is the musical representation of the haiku The Old Pond by Matsuo Basho. This miniature, as epigraphic as the poetic form inspiring it, gives both the sound and the vision of the refraction of a wave-circle formed after a frog’s diving into the water. The target is not to merely imitate a sound, but to transmit the essence of an experience happening in the here and now, a sense of impermanence typical of Japanese art.
The darkest aspect of Japan comes back in the third movement, inspired by a woodblock print realised around 1845 by Utagawa Kuniyoshi. The scene is dominated by the large skeleton (Gashadokuro) made with the bones of those who died in the same battle Taira no Masakado was beheaded, in 940. To take revenge, his daughter Takiyasha unleashed the giant skeleton on Kyoto. It ravaged the city until Masakado’s head was moved to Shibasaki, a fishing village that eventually became Tokyo. The print gives life, in music, to a sort of danse macabre, with a visceral emotional power. Here, aspects of ancestral Japan surface as if in an oneiric ritual, evoked also by the performers’ tapping with hands on the wood.
In Ukigumo, Stefano Teani sets to music a form of iaido, a Japanese martial art, i.e. the “flowing cloud”. The double-bass’s overtones evoke a cloud which, from the mountain’s feet, rises, lifted by the wind, embracing the peak all around.
Butterfly Effects is more than a simple postcard-like evocation of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, the archetypal work of japonisme in music. Ciardelli employs timbres and string attacks to suggest the opera’s most disquieting aspects. This regards both the dark sides of Japan’s traditional world (culminating in Butterfly’s seppuku), and what concerns Pinkerton’s terrifying colonialist attitude.
A sense of mystery and foreboding inhabits the score from its beginning, where double-bass and harp pizzicato intertwine in a bewitching texture . The Japanese themes used by Puccini to weave his opera are here used as intro and outro of the intermezzo. The double-bass takes the floor more often in the more properly melodic section – Butterfly’s visceral voice – and the harp does not limit itself to playing the background. The two instruments realise a dialogue which, at times, leads to their merging, and, at other times, becomes the struggle of opposing principles, as in the opera. The closing is in an unexpected, dreamy waning, where neither joy nor pain exist anymore.
Luca Ciammarughi © 2022
Translation: Chiara Bertoglio
After her Bachelor and Master studies at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et Danse in Lyon, Anna Astesano joined the harp class at Trinity and Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in the Postgraduate Advanced Diploma course in London. Between 2014 and 2015 she has been harpist at “Teatro alla Scala” Academy in Milan. In June 2015 she won the audition as first harp at “Luigi Cherubini” Orchestra, conducted by Maestro Riccardo Muti. In 2018 she was the harpist of the Future Foyle First Programme, promoted by the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Since 2017 she has been awarded scholarships offered by the Turin CRT Foundation, “De Sono” Association and Turin "Lions Club". In 2018 she was awarded the "John Marson Prize for best performer" and the “Featured Young Performer” Award by the London Ear Festival, playing as a soloist and in chamber music concerts with the Uroboros Ensemble. She has collaborated with: the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale (RAI) in Turin, the "Teatro alla Scala'' Orchestra, the "Maggio Musicale Fiorentino'' Orchestra, the Kobolov Novaya Opera Theatre of Moscow, the London Southbank Sinfonia, under the baton of conductors such as Muti, Mehta, Pappano, Jurovskij, Krivine, Gatti, Luisi, Russell-Davies, Coleman. She has performed as a soloist and alongside chamber music ensembles in prestigious London concert halls such as the Purcell Room, the Queen Elisabeth Hall, St. Martin's In-the-Fields, Wigmore Hall and the British Museum. She is a Concordia Foundation and Park Lane Group Artist. Anna Astesano is the harp teacher at the "A. Scontrino" Conservatoire in Trapani.
Valentina was born in Pietrasanta (Lucca - Italy) to a German mother and Italian father. Initially a pianist, she started to play double bass in late 2009, graduating with Honours from the “Istituto Musicale L. Boccherini” in Lucca in October 2014. She then gained her Master of Performance (Honours) at the Royal College of Music in July 2016. Valentina also focused her attention on composition, graduating in March 2014 with Honours in conservatoire Giacomo Puccini in La Spezia. Valentina has won several awards and prizes including first prize in the RCM Double Bass competition 2016, the Vernon Elliot Double bass Competition 2018, the Vivian Joseph Classical Concerto Competition 2018 and the De Simone and Partners in the Chamber Music Festival in Rome. She won a place with a scholarship in the Accademia Chigiana in summer 2018 with Maestro Giuseppe Ettorre. Additionally, Valentina was a finalist in important national and international competitions such as the Migliori Diplomati D’Italia (best young Italian music graduate) 2015 and Double Bass international competition Galicia Garcia Graves. She was selected with other 16 young double bass players around the world to perform in the live final rounds at the worldwide double bass solo competition granted by the Bradetich Foundation in Denton, Texas, at the end of august 2017. Valentina also won several orchestral auditions such as the Gustav Mahler Academy 2016, BBC SO training scheme, Lucerne Festival (reserve list 2019), Southbank Sinfonia 2018 and the Gran Teatro Giacomo Puccini Torre del Lago Orchestra (Lucca). Between 2013 and 2016 Valentina has played, mainly as principal or co-principal, with several symphonic and chamber orchestras. She also has wide experience in solo performance. She recently won the Artist in Residence at BANFF, Alberta (Canada), who will host her from 15th till 28th September 2019. She gave a performance with “I Solisti Veneti” with Maestro Claudio Scimone (double bass concerto in A major by Domenico Dragonetti and the Fantasia sui temi della Sonnambula by Giovanni Bottesini) and she won the prestigious scholarship granted by this Academy (Proliber). She has performed as a soloist in the prestigious London concert halls Wigmore Hall and St. Martin-in-the-Fields. She was invited to the pre-opening of the Zappanale 2018 in St.Katharinen Kirche (Hamburg) with her Trio featuring the Worldwide saxophone virtuoso Napoleon Murphy Brock. Valentina is a young artist of Talent Unlimited (UK) and she lives and works in London. She been awarded a Junior Fellowship at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire, London for the academic year 2018/19. She also won a scholarship from associazione Animando in Lucca for a research project investigating the music of Giacomo Puccini’s ancestors and her work had been published by Da Vinci Editions. Valentina is focused to expand the double bass solo repertoire composing new virtuoso pieces, transcribing (mostly Frank Zappa’s Repertoire), playing new composition written for her from many contemporary composers such as Bernard Salles, John Alexander, Alexandra Harwood e Kurt Morgan. She also has a wide Jazz experience playing in important Jazz Festival such as Dusseldorf Jazz Marathon, Villa Celimontana Jazz Festival, Tuscia Jazz, Umbria Jazz Clinics and she got to final in competition such as Tuscia Jazz as Best double bass and electric bass player and Nicola Tiberio Awards in 2012. She plays a Scipioni doublebass 2014.
Camille Saint-Säens: (b Paris, 9 Oct 1835; d Algiers, 16 Dec 1921). French composer, pianist, organist and writer. Like Mozart, to whom he was often compared, he was a brilliant craftsman, versatile and prolific, who contributed to every genre of French music. He was one of the leaders of the French musical renaissance of the 1870s.
Franz Zappa (b Baltimore, 21 Dec 1940; d Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles, 4 Dec 1993). American composer, rock musician and guitarist. His family moved to California in 1950, where Zappa played the drums and guitar in high-school bands with, among others, Don Van Vliet (later to become Captain Beefheart). He studied briefly at Chaffey College, Alta Loma, but left to write music for B-movies. In 1964 he formed his band the Mothers of Invention (originally the Soul Giants); the personnel changed frequently and Zappa disbanded the group in the 1970s to work with musicians selected for particular projects, including Ian Underwood (keyboards, saxophones, brass, guitar etc.), Ruth Underwood (percussion), George Duke (keyboards and trombone), Aynsley Dunbar (drums), Sugar Cane Harris (organ, electric violin and vocals) and Jean-Luc Ponty (violin).
Maurice Ravel (b Ciboure, Basses-Pyrénées, 7 March 1875; d Paris, 28 Dec 1937). French composer. He was one of the most original and sophisticated musicians of the early 20th century. His instrumental writing – whether for solo piano, for ensemble or for orchestra – explored new possibilities, which he developed at the same time as (or even before) his great contemporary Debussy, and his fascination with the past and with the exotic resulted in music of a distinctively French sensibility and refinement.
Michio Miyagi [Wakabe; Suga], [Nakasuga Kengyō]
(b Kobe, 7 April 1894; d Kariya, 25 June 1956). Japanese player of the zoku-sō (the 13-string koto) and composer. A son of Kunijirō Wakabe, he was given the family name of Suga as an infant. By the age of seven he was totally blind. He became in 1902 a disciple of Nakajima Kengyō II, a koto master of the Ikuta School; in 1903 he made his début as a solo performer, and in 1905 he received a certificate of highest proficiency in koto playing, earning the professional name of Nakasuga. Two years later he went to Korea, where he taught the koto and shakuhachi in Jinsen (Inch'ŏn) and then in Keijō (Seoul). In 1909 he wrote his first composition, Mizu no hentai, a song with koto solo which won considerable fame. He received the professional title of Kengyō in 1912; and in 1913, when he married Nakako Kita, he assumed the surname Miyagi, after which he became best known as Michio Miyagi. In 1914 he met Seifū Yoshida, who became a lifelong friend and with whom he began in 1920 the Shin Nihon Ongaku (New Japanese Music Movement), aimed at adapting elements of European music to composition for Japanese instruments. Meanwhile he had returned to Japan in 1917 and settled in Tokyo. The first concert devoted to his music was given successfully on 16 May 1919 and was followed by more in 1920 and 1921.
Yoshihisa Hirano was born in the Wakayama Prefecture of Japan on Dec.7th, 1971. Having been attracted to baroque music, he started to study composition by himself as an elementary student. He found jazz in high school. He enthused over the music of great jazz masters such as Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Eric Dolphy and John Coltrane. His admiration of them once gave him dreams of becoming a jazz musician, but he then discovered contemporary music. Specifically he gained interest in the works of John Zorn, one of the musicians who had the biggest influence on him in his youth. On the other hand, symphonies by Shostakovich also greatly impressed him, and helped him make up his mind to study composition seriously.
After many twists and turns, he moved to the United States. He entered Eastman School of Music in NY and studied composition with Christopher Rouse and Joseph Schwantner. Getting engrossed in books by 20th century french writers and thinkers including Bataille, Klossowski, Mandiargues and Genet, he spent most of his time reading and composing rather than attending classes.
After many twists and turns, he quit the school. He made his debut as a film composer in 2001. Thereafter he has composed a large number of soundtracks of TV shows, films and games.