Ned Rothenberg’s Ryu Nashi, New Music for Shakuhachi

Tuesday, May 24, 2016 @ 8:00 pm

Riley Lee, Ralph Samuelson and Ned Rothenberg, shakuhachi
Yoko Hiraoka, shamisen and voice
Stephanie Griffin, viola.

Mivos String Quartet, premiering Liaison, for shakuhachi and string quartet
Olivia de Prato, Lauren Cauley, violins
Victor Lowrie, viola
Mariel Roberts, cello

The evening will showcase original compositions for the 5-hole Japanese bamboo flute, the shakuhachi.  Ned Rothenberg has been playing the instrument for 35 years and had the opportunity to study with 2 of the preeminent masters of the instrument, the late ‘living national treasure’ Yamaguchi Goro, and Yokoyama Katsuya, widely known for his work with Toru Takemitsu.  He will be joined by 2 of the greatest players outside Japan, Riley Lee, who also worked and studied with Yokoyama-sensei and Ned’s original teacher in New York, Ralph Samuelson, a disciple of Yamaguchi-sensei.  Ryu Nashi means ‘no school’ and represents Rothenberg’s embrace of his outsider status and the perspective it affords.  His writing for shakuhachi seeks to lead from the instrument’s strengths, those special aspects, which are owned by no particular school. At the same time, he has no interest in ‘westernizing’ the instrument so people with little exposure to this instrument may feel the music is quite Japanese.  Rothenberg draws largely on the aesthetic of honkyoku, the zen-based solo music that Yokoyama-sensei’s teacher, Watazumido, described as a kind of breathing meditation, rather that music. But musical it is, and listeners who are well acquainted with this music will hear that these compositions constantly try to stretch traditional constrictions.

Mr. Samuelson and Yoko Hiraoka will play Naki Tokoro Nite (Where there is neither).  This pieces uses the traditional pairing of shakuhachi and jiuta shamisen, central instruments in the sankyoku tradition of Japanese classical music. Here Rothenberg has striven to retain sankyoku’s aesthetic profile while combining it with the more complex contrapuntal and rhythmic designs of western chamber music. Most notably, the endless 2/4 meter of most Japanese traditional music can be quite limited.  Japanese poetry, on the other hand, such as haiku and tanka are based on phrases of odd lengths. This piece utilizes the meter of tanka poetry, 5-7-5-7-7, for much of its rhythmic structure. The opening and closing tanka, beautifully sung by Yoko Hiraoka, express the frustrations of the poet, Toki Zenmaro, with the pitfalls of the Japanese language:

 

It’s hazardous

To live in Japan and say

In the language

of the Japanese people

What’s on my mind

(written 1912 (!))