American Symphony Orchestra, Amherst Saxophone Quartet, Arcata String Quartet, The Ballet Arts Orchestra, Gerhard Samuel, Paul Chihara
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The works of Paul Seiko Chihara (b. 1938) are informed by and continue the rich tradition of the association of music with theater, dance, and film; for at the center of his music lie the conflictual actions of drama, and even the purifying cathartic power of ritual. Indeed, not only his music for film and stage, but much of his purely instrumental music reflects his concern for narrative and/or protagonist situations. This tendency is made manifest by such formal devices as pitting a single voice against a sound mass of fused instrumental groups in such works as Wind Song (1971), or by contrasting and interpenetrating distinct instrumental choirs in an agonistic exchange of timbral colors, as in Forever Escher (1993-94).
Forever Escher (Double Quartet), an octet for saxophone quartet and traditional string quartet combined, is a tour de force of polyphonic writing and acoustical balance. Chihara allows each quartet its unique timbral identity (though from time to time they merge) while interchanging and metamorphosing much, but not all, of the melodic and harmonic material associated with each.
The music of Shinju (1973) is most notable for its integration of electronically processed authentic ancient Japanese song and instrumental music into the orchestral fabric. For his sound source, Chihara recorded performances by two Japanese master musicians and then transformed these ancient melodies and ensembles via the technique of tape manipulation known as musique concrète. The otherworldly atmosphere evoked by the musique concrète passages greatly enhances the shroud of doom that begins to spread from the first sounds of the orchestral prelude.
The idea for Wind Song came to Chihara while he was working on a re-composition of the Cello Concerto in A Minor by the German composer Robert Volkmann. While reconstructing the concerto, he began to collate impressions emanating from his interaction with Volkmann's material, eventually forming a concept for a cello concerto of his own. At first, he conceived of a concerto of "heroic" proportions, like those formally typical of nineteenth-century Romanticism. What he settled on, however, was a music that is at times both penetratingly understated and vitally lyrical. Like the natural phenomenon of wind itself, this music undulates precariously from the subtlety of a spectral whisper to seemingly inconsolable melancholic howls, touching all the gradations between the two extremes.