Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Risset Concerto premiere in Japan

On Sept. 5th in Tokyo, I had one of the best musical experiences in my life, giving the world premiere of Jean-Claude Risset's violin concerto written for me at Suntory Hall in Akasaka, Tokyo. I also played my own cadenza which Jean-Claude let me write --- I am so very grateful for the honor. The concerto is the first one in the world using Subharmonics all over the place, aside of my own Concerto I wrote and played in 1999 for a Mexican orchestra. (I like the first 2 movements but desperately need to rewriting my 3rd movement. And exactly when do I have time to do that....)

I said in a speech I gave at a small toasting backstage after the concert that Jean-Claude made a history in violin concerto literature that night.

If you are a violinist you might shiver hearing what I am about to tell you, but the day before my big Concerto premiere in Tokyo, the tip of my bow BLEW OFF. The ivory that holds the hair simply came off. I was loaned a wonderful bow, but at the end I had to use my own second bow priced Canadian $5 bought in a flea market about 20 years ago! It has a fake "Tourte" engraving---but somehow I felt I could control it better. But all worked, although it was SCARRRRY!

Anyway, my biggest challenge was to create a Cadenza worthy of this monumental concerto (it's nearly 25 minutes long), compositionally sound so that I don't ruin Jean-Claude's music (!!) but also, as a violinist composing my own cadenza one needs to SHOW OFF your ability, right? So what I did was in fact -- believe or not -- first systematically making a list of what I want to show off (!) unrelated to the concerto itself---I want to show that: 1) I can play one octave below on the G string, while playing normally on D string thus creating a ultra-wide double-stop like diminish 18th :) etc; 2) I want to show that I can play the Subharmonic 3rd--which is to say if I play an Open G I get the E (3rd below); 3) then I want to show that with those Subharmonic 3rd I can still play normal notes on D string, so again a double-stops with Subharmonic 3rd nobody has ever done before, etc. etc. Then I went back to Jean-Claude's 1st movement and went through it compositionally, picking materials that I can use or modify and made the 2nd list. When I combined these two lists, I pretty much had put together the Cadenza.

Also, since Jean-Claude Risset is world famous for using Shepard Tone: so-called "un-ending glissandi" in his compositions, I made my version of an extremely long glissando from one octave below open G (cello's G) all the way up, SIX octaves up on the E string while switching the fingerings seemlessly as possible, and sliding up on the fingerboard at the same time. It is quite tricky but again, "Wow" factor + "Homage to Risset" factors both accomplished. I thought first that this is where the orchestra should come in to end the 1st movement. Then I had thought that coming in after the long glissandi must be a bit unnerving for the orchestra+conductor, and also I wanted NOT to be jumped or cut short of this glissandi by accident. So I added a three-measure pizzicato phrase using both hands (in 4 vs. 3 rhythm, in homage to the melodic segregation technique Risset uses, I did the rhythmic one--plucking in 4 with the right hand, while plucking in 3 with the left hand on the fingerboard) after the glissandi, a kind of a way to 'get back to reality' from the Cadenza, back to the final part of the 1st movement. These are all the compositional creative process. Then I moved onto my performance process, which is an entirely different one. In any performance, even in improvisation, I typically frame myself with some kind of an 'emotional logic', to be able to deliver the music to the audience while I remain emotionally committed but also able to be objective -- that is to say that I will not break down and cry or laugh while performing since that is the job of the audience :) -- it's what I learned from reading Stanislawski's "Actor Prepares". But this is a topic for another day....

This must be hard to understand without listening to it, so when I get a recording I will try to post it somewhere... But I got so much reaction from this Cadenza and people really liked it, and so says ever-gentle and kind Maestro Risset... in any case I thought that those who really liked the cadenza maybe interested in how I composed it.

Another news is that my new solo CD of electronic music for violin came out from Bridge Records, officially on 9/18 in the US. ( In fact I was able to sell nearly 50 copies while in Japan already, thanks to YAMAHA which came and opened a little booth for me at the concerts in Tokyo. I guess I work so slowly in terms of recording -- everything in this CD was recorded in 2004-5 (!) but it was like a baby that I couldn't give birth waaaayyy past the due date :) It took me forever and ever to finish mastering. My resolution (as if that means anything!) or my hope is to start working a little faster, a faster turn-around on recordings which I really want to do a LOT more in the coming years... It was such an honor, pleasure and a learning experience working with everyone at Bridge. I had never really understood the art of recording, which I am absolutely convinced now that it is a very, very different art from performing live.... I learned SO MUCH from working with the wonderful recording engineers for this project.

4 comments: said...


I appreciate your log on performance planning (even for what you wanted to "show off") and framing as actor preparation. I understand your emotional logic also as a frame to execute what you have planned to substantiate underlying coherence, not necessarily of logical coherence but of performative time suspension; to phrase rather oddly, to perform is to cohere in time. It is delightful to hear virtuoso such as yourself could state performance orientation in such simple ways.

Mari Kimura said...

Hi Insook,

Thanks for your comment. I very rarely discuss this aspect of performance, the more emotional preparation, because I believe that everyone has his/her own way to stay true to one's performance and this is highly personal. I think that I started to use the 'method' of Stanislavski, way back when I was still at Toho school in Japan in my late teens, since I had such a demon within me that would completely destroy any reason or sanity with stage fright before a performance :) I had learned then, to physically train myself to calm my nerves, by doing a simple physical exercise to put my body to near-sleeping state, which would send a message to my brain to relax. That would be a topic of another day...
To this day, as a reflect from this personal training of the past, before a big (or small, or 'important') concert I get rather sleepy, if not really take a very short nap instead of getting nervous.

Around the same period, I started to really self-examine what is it that makes me nervous :) After practicing day in and day out playing the same pieces over and over again, I found that it was difficult for me to keep the same emotional concentration albeit my physical competence in carrying out the performance. And that emotional inconsistency, would actually harm my physical expression in playing the violin as well. After reading "Actor Prepares" by Stanislavski, I went through a phase of theater going and being obsessed with plays. I had discussed this with Risset, that when I create the 'emotional subtext' as Stanislavski calls it, I follow his instruction that 'emotional subtext' must be fresh, and not to be used too far in advance before the performance. So, in any performance, whether classical, contemporary, etc. I try to find the 'subtext' typically about 3-4 days before the performance and not more. Usually these subtext I find are quite emotional (whether a personal conversation, a book, an article, or pure fiction) that the first day of following the subtext tends to be quite teary :) I wouldn't be able to carry out without sobbing or something---really, seriously! By the second or third day though, having to cry or laugh enough, but not too much, the emotion is still fresh and my emotional subtext is still in tact, but not too emotional to disturb my actual physical performance. THAT is the perfect day for the performance. If the performance is for multiple dates playing the same pieces, I developed the way to practice with and without the subtext, so that technically I am in tact but emotionally I am not stale. Actually, I have worked out quite a precise routine to carry me through those few last days before the concert; when to use subtext, how to play during the dress rehearsal just tracing the physical movement and not the emotional one, etc. but that would also be for another day.... Again, this is highly personal but I don't mind sharing since it has been working for me. With this 'emotional subtext', I am armed with my musically coherent identity on the stage, and I can be quite void of 'self' as "Mari Kimura". I would be able to 'serve' the music, so to speak, because I am following the emotional logic that I created, but not my own subjective emotions. Therefore there is nothing for "Mari Kimura" to lose, and this logic frees me from stage fright as well. This is hard to explain.... said...


Your description is quite clear. I find the emotional subtext angle is interesting. In a way it is an inverse strategy to the construction of literary subtext which uses text as a carrier to implicate readers to read beyond the surface structure. In your case, the emotional subtext serves as an internalized (and rehearsed) personal vehicle not only to liberate yourself from the weighty gravity also to serve the performance execution to be rendered properly. I agree with your statement that it is a very personal thing and it seems to be working for you. It was many years ago when you performed "U" at ICMC and computer crashed twice right after you started the piece. Upon your third attempt I remember thinking you were going through some kind of particular process of recovery during that quiet moments you deliberately prolonged. You were not just taking time until you recovered, it was more than that. I appreciated that event: necessity brings dare.

I think the content of the emotional or internal subtext which performers may use does not matter, for there is no way for its content to be any relevance for a listener. At this instance, I am reminded of one of my students quoting somebody, "I don't want to know whether the name of the cow was Mary or Lo. Just serve me a steak." I don't mean this to be anything analogous to your practice. This quote was brought about when I set class to analyze the relationship between requisite technological construct to render the work of art and the resulting work of art. Of course, the matters in this domain present completely different logistics from the subtext as a vehicle for performance, and it is other days of discussion, but still it is in an interesting neighborhood.

Going back to your subtext, I wonder whether there are subtexts in plural forms. Or rather, a subtext for carrying a performance may have a complex syntax.

- insook

Mari Kimura said...

EXACTLY! The reason I never really discussed this before, is because this is the 'cow' :) This is a pure "shop talk" and less it is known to the audience the better. Can you imagine the audience going, "Hmm, wonder what she read today?" !!

The ICMC 1992 San Jose performance of "U" was one of my most memorable, and the most frightening and disastrous ever. I had never had anything remotely going wrong like that on stage ever in my life. In fact I never had a memory slip on stage, but that concert was worse. I learned the hard way what it means to play interactive music LIVE!

It is curious you thought that my 'taking time' to recover was something more. I remember very well what happened. The computer crashes were due to the fact that I was using IRCAM's (then) new ISPW to pitch track, which was too sensitive for my slow laptop. Not knowing what would happen at the third try, I was trying to input the trigger notes as carefully as I could. However, that is my "shop", but on stage, I needed to convey that I maybe more "expressive" and "serene" than being panicking or being cautious.

When performing interactive computer music and you might suspect something wrong might happen (bugs, crashes etc) I realize that the performer on stage needs the skill to 'act' and to IMPROVISE extremely quickly so that those gestures become musically coherent to the audience. If you are nervous or worried, the best thing you can do then is not to show it. Again, this is a very much "shop talk". I hope my audience won't read this :):) Now I must seem like a deceiving deviant :) But seriously, I find that trained performer would do this naturally anyway in any musical genre. It's just another responsibility that comes with being a performer.