Longmont Symphony connects with sister city, explores Japanese influences in music

“A Cultural Affair” introduces pianist Taka Kigawa from Chino, Japan

By Peter Alexander Nov. 8 at 10:05 p.m.

The next concert of the Longmont Symphony, titled “A Cultural Affair,” features a Colorado premiere and a Colorado debut.

taka-Ruby Washington:The New York Times

Taka Kigawa makes his Colorado debut with the Longmont Symphony. Photo by Ruby Washington/New York Times

The performance, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday (Nov. 10) in Vance Brand Civic Auditorium, introduces pianist Taka Kigawa in his first performance in Colorado. The premiere, on the other hand, is not so much an introduction, since it features a composer from Altona, Colorado: Conor Brown, whose How to Relax with Origami was premiered by the Detroit Symphony in 2017 but has not yet been played in the composer’s home state.

In addition to Brown’s piece, the program features Kigawa playing Ravel’s Concerto in G, and the LSO will conclude the concert with Debussy’s La Mer.

The genesis of the concert was the fact that Kigawa is from Longmont’s sister city of Chino, Japan. “When I did my audition (with the LSO in 2016), I was made aware that Longmont has two sister cities,” Moore says. “And it happens that Taka is from Longmont’s sister city in Japan! One of my goals is to connect people through music, and I think that right now is a great time for this.”

C.Brown

Conor Brown

Another theme of the concert is influences that cross cultures. That is evident in Brown’s How to Relax with Origami, which has been shaped in some very specific ways by the principles of origami.

“Japanese origami is very intricate but small,” Moore says. “But it’s a very specific, intentional, beautiful, small art. And each one of the eight movements in Brown’s piece is a very intricately designed compact composition that in that way relates to origami.”

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Ravel (seated) with American bandleader Paul Whitman

With the Ravel Concerto, one of the external influences is American jazz, which Ravel had heard in a tour of the United States. This is something that Kigawa, the native of Chino, Japan, has come to feel very comfortable with.

“Living in New York I have not only classical musician friends but also jazz music friends,” he says. “They quite often invite me, ‘Hey Taka, let’s jam!’ And I say ‘sure,’ just for fun.”

The Concerto in G is one of Kigawa’s favorites. “I think this concerto is one of the best concertos,” he says. “I mean literally ‘concerto,’ concerto means ‘playing with.’

“This concerto is not like Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninoff, the pianist showing off his hand dexterity and power. This is really chamber music. I would be very happy if the audience will listen to the mixture of piano sound and other instrument sounds, and how Ravel pulls that into a coherent piece of music.”

Debussy.by Stravinsky.Hokusai

Debussy in his home with Hokusai’s print on the wall.

To fill out the concert, Moore wanted another piece with a Japanese connection. This led him to Debussy’s La Mer, which was inspired by a famous print by the 18th– and 19th-century Japanese artist Hokusai, The Great Wave off Kanagawa. Debussy, who was very interested in Asian art, had a copy of Hokusai’s print in his home.

Moore finds a Japanese imprint on La Mer not only in the inspiration from Hokusai’s print but in the music itself. For example, Debussy uses pentatonic (five-note scale) fragments of melody, which sound Asian to Western ears. Those fragments appear and disappear throughout the piece, in a way that Moore relates to eastern philosophical ideas of impermanence.

He also points out that the very opening of the piece represents dawn on the sea—which occurs in the east, not the view of the sea from France. “The sun rising in the east is depicting that we are taking this voyage to an eastern country,” Moore says.

“Of course the piece is about the sea, and there’s a lot of things about the sea in the music,” he adds. For example, each of the three movements portrays a different aspect of the sea: “From dawn to noon on the sea,” “Play of the waves,” and “Dialog of the wind and the sea.”

In the first movement, Moore says that the instrumental sound becomes brighter and warmer as the movement proceeds toward noon. Then, “certainly the second movement is about the play of the waves,” he says. “It’s much more playful than the first movement. One of the images that I have is bubbles coming up to the surface—I hear that sort of lightness and buoyancy in the music.”

Great Wave:Kanagawa

The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Hokusai

And he believes the Japanese influence makes one last appearance before the end: “In the last movement Debussy does put in the buildup and the crash of the great wave off Kanagawa.”

That moment, with it’s connection from a Japanese artist, to a French composer, to American listeners, is the kind of cultural connection that Moore wants the audience to recognize. “I want to use music as a catalyst to connect people, whether it’s people from Japan to Colorado, or people within the city of Longmont.

“That’s the main point of this performance.”

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A Cultural Affair
Longmont Symphony, Elliot Moore conductor, with Taka Kigawa, piano
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10
Vance Brand Civic Auditorium, Longmont

Conor Brown: How to Relax with Origami (Colorado premiere)
Ravel: Piano Concerto in G major
Debussy: La Mer

Tickets

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