East meets West

I went to a very odd concert last Saturday, in the Westerkerk. It was a combination of 20th Century organ music with Gagaku, traditional music from the Japanese court. I’m not sure it was a good idea.

I really enjoyed the Japanese music, the instruments used are ancient and alien. At one point in the peformance the musicians played their instruments individually giving the audience a chance to hear each ‘voice’ of the orchestra. I’m particularly fascinated by the Sho, which represents the “light of heaven” in the orchestra, mainly because I can’t see how you can learn to play it. Plus once you’re playing it you wouldn’t be able to see to read any music.

I like organ music, particularly if it’s Saint Saens. But somehow 20 Century music doesn’t work on the organ for me, it just sounds like loud crashing and I quickly lose any sense of melody. So for me the organ part of the performance wasn’t so enjoyable.

The “Koororgel” the smaller choir organ was used for one duet with a flute. It’s always interesting to watch an organist play – it’s the musical equivalent of rubbing your stomach while patting the top of your head.

The very last piece played was an improvisation on two Japanese melodies played on the organ. This was part of a graduation project (if I understood correctly) of a student from Japan, it was composed and played by her. I liked the beginning of this piece where the lightness of the Japanese original translated surprisingly well to the organ. But I was quickly lost.

Easily the most entertaining part of the whole evening was watching the Dutch being Dutch, and the Japanese being Japanese. The pragmatic equality of one, versus the formal status-conscious politeness of the other. Actually they worked better together than the music.

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