- Flowers, Birds, Wind, Moon: Music by Marty Regan by Duo Yumeno
Group Duo Yumeno collaborated with composer Marty Regan to attain the goal of this CD, which was released in May 2015: exploring possible dialogues between classical Japanese and Western music by blending each genre's particular performance practices into one cohesive sound.
Duo Yumeno blends Western and Japanese music by joining together the talents of cellist Hikaru Tamaki, and koto, shamisen, and vocal performer [End Page 167] Yoko Reikano Kimura. Both hold impressive accomplishments within their own fields of expertise. Tamaki served as the principal cellist for both the Fort Wayne Philharmonic and the Chicago Civic Orchestra. Kimura graduated from Tokyo University of the Arts and went on to receive first prize at the prestigious Kenjun Memorial National Koto Competition and Great Wall International Music Competition. Together, they have received multiple grants and awards, including the Chamber Music America Classical Commissioning Program grant in 2014 and the Aoyama Baroque Saal Award in 2015.
Marty Regan, associate professor of music at Texas A&M University, is well known among modern traditional Japanese musicians from his work under distinguished Japanese composer Minoru Miki. Regan works annually with AURA-J, one of the premiere contemporary-traditional Japanese music ensembles in Tokyo and has repeatedly been commissioned to write new works for Japanese instruments both within and outside of Japan. He was also the recipient of the Helen Wurlitzer Foundation Artist Residency grant and Clare Hall Visiting Research Fellowship in 2015. Regan's music is known among traditional performers as feeling natural to play on Japanese instruments, invoking the sound of nostalgic traditional melodies while pushing new musical ideas inspired from the West.
To establish a dialogue between both cultures' musics, the traditional Japanese theme of Ka-Chō-Fū-Getsu (花鳥風月), or the fertile concept of flowers, birds, wind, and moon, was chosen. Even though the theme is very traditional, the music itself feels contemporary, exploring modern musical tastes through exciting rhythms and harmonic and timbral interplay while also incorporating Japanese traditional music theory. So how is the theme of Ka-Chō-Fū-Getsu heard in practice?
The musical structure for the first three compositions on this CD, "Flowers Dance," "Flocking with Birds," and "Riding the Southern Wind," remains consistent. The opening sets up the main theme with a rhythmically quick ostinato or musical line in the koto that represents the image of flowers, birds, or the wind. The cello accompanies the koto, adding ornamentation to the main musical line and generally mimicking the sound of the koto. A slower tempo then creates contrast to the opening by focusing on both instruments' individual timbres over quick melodic lines. Finally, each piece ends with a return to the first theme at the quicker tempo. Both instruments display a wide range of extended techniques, as if searching for a middle ground of sound that could more effectively blend the short, percussive strumming of the koto with the long, sustained bowing of the cello.
It is within this middle ground that some of the most compelling musical material can be heard, particularly in how the cello mimics the sound of the koto. For example, the scratchy sound of the koto striking the string is blended [End Page 168] with aggressive bowing from the cello. Furthermore, the pressing down of the string on the koto, to raise the pitch, while scraping an adjacent string with the edge of the finger pick is blended with the sound of sliding up on the string and ending on a plucked note on the cello. Although these are essentially different specialized techniques for very different instruments, the resulting interlocking sounds are both effective and musically intriguing. Within the contrasting section of each piece, the number of notes each instrument plays decreases while the silence between each pitch increases, giving the listener an effective comparison of the differences between Western and Japanese instrumental timbres and playing techniques, creating a clear dialogue between these two instruments.
But because the rhythmic and melodic structure of each piece is...