My peregrinations have brought me today to Bath Spa University, where, for one reason and another, I am sitting in the student cafe with Sibelius open, my latest score on display, and the orchestral music of Toru Takemitsu playing through my headphones. Oh, and I am clearly writing my blog at the same time – talk about multitasking.
If I had to choose my five favourite composers I think Takemitsu would certainly be on the list. I have always found his sonorites and textures fascinating, the way he encapsulates a world that has gone through the music of Debussy and Messiaen and come out the other side, that fusion of East and West, the way scenes unfold without that narrative structure that so drives Western art music, the music as the garden and the composer as the gardener. Frankly, I love it.
At times like this I wonder why I do not listen to this music all the time, and at least part of the answer would surely be that it would make me too depressed about my own ability to write something even remotely comparable, but that does not mean that I cannot listen, study and learn. I heard once that Takemitsu began his composing day by sharpening his pencils, looking out at his trees, and listening to a bit of the St. Matthew Passion, so I am surely permitted to fire up the laptop and listen to a little of From Me Flows What You Call Time.
And then there are the titles, as you have just seen, and the gentle sense of theatre as well. I have always loved A Flock Descends Into The Pentagonal Garden, but it was only when I saw it performed in concert that I realised that the freedom of the string writing means that all those bows are firing in different directions before coming to rest, like beating wings just before birds settle.
It is hard not to love an imagination like that, also the kind of mind that provided the score to one of my very favourite films, Kurosawa’s epic Ran. When Takemitsu died I wrote a piece for two recorders in tribute, called Naturesway and that was way back in the 90s, so my love affair with his music has been burning for a while. On today’s evidence it still has a way to go.