|Dimensions||21 × 15 × 1.5 cm|
Gagaku is the oldest of Japan’s performing arts, with a history of more than 1000 years, and is the oldest living ensemble music in the world. In its contemporary sense, the term gagaku signifies the whole body of classical Japanese music and dance performed by the musicians of the Kunaicho Gakubu (Music Department of the Imperial Household Agency, Tokyo).
Tokyo Gakuso is a relatively young group, founded in 1978 in response for the need for a group of expert gagaku musicians able to deal not only with traditional repertoire, but also with the challenges of contemporary pieces for the gagaku ensemble. Its forerunner, the Shigenkai, was formed in the late 1950s by musicians of the Music Department (Gakubu) of the Imperial Household Agency (Kunaicho), Tokyo, as a means to promote the public’s appreciation of the ancient art through activities outside their official duties at the Imperial Palace. Tokyo Gakuso was named by Toshiro Kido, at that time producer at the National Theatre in Tokyo, and its founding music director was the sho specialist and Imperial Palace musician, Tadamaro Ohno.
After his death in 1994, his place was taken by his nephew Tadaaki Ohno, the present music director. Like other members of the Imperial Palace group, Tadaaki Ohno has spent a good deal of his life studying and performing on several of the instruments, the dance, and the vocal music of gagaku. Born in Tokyo in 1959 into the Ohno family, one that traces its geneology back to the late ninth century, and that has been involved in the hereditary transmission of the art since at least the tenth century, Tadaaki may have been fated to carry on this tradition.
Since its formation, Tokyo Gakuso has been very active in the performance of new compositions, as well as long and rarely heard pieces from the classical repertoire. This CD marks the first time that the musicians of the Imperial Court of Tokyo have recorded for a non–Japanese record label, and as such is an essential addition to the Celestial Harmonies catalogue of important cultural documents.
The pieces on this CD, performed by a full gagaku orchestra of up to 16 musicians and over 20 instruments, are set out in an order that reflects the typical structure of the regular spring and autumn concerts given by the Palace musicians, which are open to the public. The first half of these concerts is made up of a kangen performance: several togaku pieces in one of the six togaku modes, sometimes with a saibara or roei. On this CD we have three pieces in the mode hyojo together with the saibara Koromogae. The second half of the concerts at the Imperial Music Department is composed of a bugaku performance, as a rule two dances: a togaku (or ‘Left’) dance followed by komagaku (or ‘Right’) dance. On the CD we have the togaku dance Ryoo and the komagaku dance Hassen. The CD finishes with the rhythmic togaku piece Chogeishi, which has traditionally been played at the conclusion of a dance performance.
This rare and important recording has been put together at the very highest level of expertise. Booklet annotation is provided by Associate Professor Steven G. Nelson, the only Western member of staff at the new Research Centre for Japanese Traditional Music, Kyoto City University of Arts, Kyoto, Japan.
CD review by Graham Blackley
This sixteen-track CD provides a taste of Japanese classical music performed by Tokyo Gakuso led by music director and multi-instrumentalist Ono Tadaaki, an Imperial Palace musician.
This group, founded in 1978, plays a stunning array of instruments including the ryuteki (a transverse flute), the sho (a free-reed mouth-organ), the shoko (a small brass gong), the biwa (a lute) and the kakko (a small barrel drum).
The CD booklet includes an insightful and scholarly essay by Steven G.
Nelson, Associate Professor, Research Centre for Japanese Traditional Music, Kyoto City University of Arts. Nelson carefully and thoroughly explains the genres of music covered in the collection and provides a helpful introduction to the wind, string and percussion instruments that are central to this musical form.
His detailed track by- track analysis is particularly useful for those of us unfamiliar with this style of music.
The almost meditative atmosphere generated by Gagaku & Beyond makes it the ideal chill-out soundtrack for a reflective and restorative Sunday afternoon.
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