CLASSICAL: FIRST NIGHT: Spirit Gardens: The Music of Takemitsu

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The Independent Culture
The Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu died in February 1996, and London's South Bank mounts a lavish retrospective festival this week. The composer formed many vital friendships in Britain, so much so that his premature death provoked a heartfelt outpouring of grief. Among the musicians Takemitsu knew, a number feature in "Spirit Gardens" - Oliver Knussen, Paul Crossley, Christian Lindberg and Andrew Davis, to name but a few. To all of them, Takemitsu was a unique friend. He was also a unique voice: a Western Japanese composer, straddling three continents - Asia, Europe and America - and selecting from all of them the ingredients which make up his individual soundworld. "Although I am basically self taught, I consider Debussy my teacher - the most important elements are colour, light and shadow," he once wrote.

Beyond Debussy he had an affinity with French masters in general, including Ravel and Messiaen. All three Frenchmen looked to the East for inspiration, and all three, like Takemitsu, were devoted to vibrant colours and ecstatic sensuality, and are being featured alongside him during "Spirit Gardens".

Tuesday's Philharmonia concert opens with Messiaen's L'Ascension followed by the evocative Twill by Twilight. Fantasmo/ Cantos II makes up the evening; though written for the world's greatest power trombonist, Christian Lindberg, who reprises it here, this concerto is a serene evocation of a Japanese garden. Indeed, the garden features in much of Takemitsu's output. In his words, "a garden is composed of various different elements and sophisticated details that converge to form a harmonious whole," a statement which could be read as a metaphor for his technique.

Takemitsu was slow to acknowledge the influences of traditional Japanese art and culture and only gradually allowed Japanese sounds to imbue his works. He wrote In an Autumn Garden for the Gagaku, the Japanese court orchestra of exotic wind instruments and percussion. The ensemble Reigakusha pays a rare visit to play the work alongside Japanese music and dance.

And, as part of this vital celebration of the composer, the whole of next weekend is devoted to him, with symphonic concerts, films and chamber music at the South Bank.

Philharmonia, 13 Oct, 7.45pm; Reigakusha, 14 Oct, 7.45pm; BBCSO, 17 Oct, 7.30pm; London Sinfonietta, 18 Oct, 7.45pm; Takemitsu Chamber Music, 19 Oct, 6.30pm, South Bank Centre, London EC2 (0171-638 8891)