On today’s date in 1967, the New York Philharmonic gave the premiere performance of a new piece entitled “November Steps” by the Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu, a work commissioned by the Philharmonic as part of its 125th anniversary celebrations. In addition to the usual instruments of the Western symphony orchestra, Takemitsu included in his score two traditional Japanese instruments: the shakuhachi flute and the biwa, a kind of Japanese lute.
The New York Times reviewer wrote, “The grafting of the Japanese instruments onto a Western orchestra worked smoothly, for Mr. Takemitsu is extraordinarily sensitive to timbre. He was able to create a homogenous blend of sounds, using delicate, transparent blocks of orchestral color in which the biwa and shakuhachi were at home.”
Eight years after the Takemitsu premiere, an organization called Music from Japan was founded to help make other Japanese contemporary music feel “at home” in America. Music from Japan has presented some 400 works across the U.S. and premiered over 40 new works, many of them specially commissioned.
On today’s date in the year 2000, to celebrate its 25th anniversary, Music from Japan presented a gala concert at Carnegie Hall, which included the premiere of a new orchestral work by the talented young Japanese composer Karen Tanaka, one of the rising stars of her generation. Among Tanaka’s recorded works is a piece entitled “Night Bird” for two decidedly Western instruments: saxophone and piano.