Dream/Window, Ichiro Nodaira, Kent Nagano, Kyoto, Los Angeles International New Music Festival, Mari Kodama, Momo Kodama, Nguyen Thien Dao, Saiho-ji Temple, San Francisco, Tetsuji Honna, Toshio Hosokawa, Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra
“With all the changes in the world, the world never changes.” Toru Takemitsu
As Autumn begins, I’ve been thinking of Japan, our friends here in California and over the Pacific in Japan. Though I’m at home in Pasadena, I’ve wanted to share with you a tour that Jan and I experienced in 2013 at Saiho-ji Temple in Kyoto, I hope a good introduction to our reunion with friends in San Francisco a few weeks ago as I’ll toggle locations in this post.
Home to hundreds of varieties of moss, Saiho-ji was the favorite Zen garden of Toru Takemitsu and inspired his Dream/Window of 1985. Let’s have a look….
Saiho-ji Temple is a 14th century temple and garden complex from the Muromachi Period designed by Muso Soseki. Takemitsu often took his best friends to Saiho-ji. I wanted to channel the steps of the late Peter Lieberson. Jan and I had a wonderful dinner in the mid 90s at Cafe Pinot by the Central Library in Los Angeles with Peter, his wife Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and Sue Knussen, all who left us far to early.
Jan and I knew that visiting this temple would not only be rewarding unto itself, but provide an essential window into the music we love by Takemitsu. And allow us to remember a wonderful time with good friends who have left this world.
The Japanese wisely restrict entrance to this temple, which is home to hundreds of fragile varieties of moss in its garden. As a foreigner you need to make a reservation before you arrive in Japan, if not, you’re out of luck. This policy supports the temple from becoming over tourist-ed, which is a legitimate concern and makes your planning effort part of the experience before you arrive.
And take a taxi from the closest Kyoto transit line, it’s far to off the main roads to locate easily on your own. You do not want to be late for your appointment.
I hope you know your Buddhist sutras. Because the first thing you do, in fact you can’t do anything else, when you arrive at Saiho-ji is go to a large sangha meeting hall. No photos allowed, even in Japan. And until you finish copying the sutra, you are not allowed into the garden of Soseki.
You are given a complete sutra in Japanese calligraphy, tracing paper, calligraphy ink and pen and blotter and take your seat on the floor at a writing desk with everyone else who has an appointment. In silence.
And you proceed to copy the entire sutra on your tracing paper. Obviously the Japanese know what they are doing. But you’re in for a revelation if you don’t read and write Japanese. The experience was wonderful, as if you’ve landed in Japan and are beginning the process of learning the language. The amount of repetition in the calligraphy was eye opening. The script went from impenetrable to organized in a short period of time. Of course you’re writing this blind if you don’t speak Japanese. But the time spent creates the correct atmosphere to then tour the gardens at your leisure.
There are no souvenirs to buy at Saiho-ji. What a relief…
I’m not going to attempt to describe the design, I’d be much more comfortable discussing Takemitsu’s Dream/Window inspired by the gardens of Saiho-ji. There is a book being written behind this blog about such things, don’t worry. Your perspective is constantly changing. How you get to where you are is visually erased each time the path turns. A natural realization of mindfullness.
And you will circle the central pond.
And the moss carpets are everywhere. Don’t worry, the Japanese wouldn’t even think of putting up a “keep off the moss” sign. Saiho-ji Temple is a pilgrimage, not a tourist destination. Kyoto has plenty of temples for that.
Perhaps you will enjoy this very brief video that might give you a sense of the pond and its perimeter.
With this in mind, let’s move to a few weeks ago in August in San Francisco.
Jan and I have been friends with Kent Nagano for over 35 years. Jan and Kent go back over 40 years to the Boston Opera Company of Sarah Caldwell.
We aren’t often in the same city and time zone but the opportunity came up in late August. We found time to go up to San Francisco and reconnect. I’ve started this blog with Saiho-ji because of Kent’s great interaction wit Toru Takemitsu.
Kent had shared with me that after Takemitsu passed away he remained hopeful the finished score of Takemitsu’s opera Madrugada, which Kent had commissioned while he was in Lyon, would be found in his home. Everyone searched and searched. Kent’s fingers were crossed tight. After all, Takemitsu had told him the opera was completed and not to worry.
Kent does a very good imitation of Takemitsu’s speaking voice, and his way of sharing Takemitsu’s pitch for the story of the opera was great fun. A tale of nuclear fall-out in a dystopian world, the opera would end with a magic act that might prove difficult to do on stage.
“Kent-o-san! Imagine the whales swim directly into the audience to end the opera!”
But no score ever appeared. As Kent admitted to me, he had to accept that Takemitsu’s idea of “completed” meant all was finished in his mind. All he needed to do was write it down. Which a horrible cancer prevented.
Now back to Japan. Enter composer/pianist Ichiro and Tami Nodaira
Kent encouraged us years ago to meet his good friends Ichiro and Tami Nodaira. The two had met in Paris, not Japan, when Ichiro was at IRCAM in the 80s when Kent was there. And Kent would turn to Ichiro to compose an opera with the libretto by Barry Gifford of Madrugada as a homage to Takemitsu, a powerful torch passing. Jan and I have kept in touch with Ichiro and Tami since our first meeting in Tokyo in 2002, and I’m certain that the timing will be right one day for an important project for us all together. If nothing else, I hope you find the sukiyaki place they took us to in the Shinjuku District of Tokyo!
And we all enjoy our meal. The best sukiyaki we’ve ever encountered, using raw egg to mix with the beef made for a tremendous flavor experience, one I won’t forget!
My blog is often pointing out how ideas and food go together. And meetings in Japan perhaps set the standard for how to discuss ideas without pressure but with respect and patience. The first time we met in Tokyo in 2002, they met us and took us to this wonderful yosenabe restaurant in Asakusa. If you want the name, let me know, I can find it by eye only!
One always gives gifts in Japan. And Ichiro and Tami’s to us made a strong, lasting impact. In the West we are very direct and to the point, which borders on rudeness in the East. I’m looking as I write this at a calligraphy chop from Ichiro and Tami that means “dream.” We talked about dreaming a lot that night, and whenever we see each other. Perhaps the most important part of a good collaboration. I am sure, one day, the dream will be reality both here and in Japan. No one is in a hurry…
Oh, and if you find this restaurant in Asakusa, I can recommend the duck yosenabe!
Now let’s go back to San Francisco.
We’d also not seen Kent’s wife, Mari, in many years. Their daughter Karin grew up in the last decade and is beginning a career as a pianist. Our schedules hadn’t crossed, or we’d missed each other closely. Mari is one of the few pianists who Alfred Brendel taught and Jan and I presented her in all the Beethoven sonatas (which we will admit did facilitate her husband being in town while he was being courted by LA Opera in the 90s). She’s finished recording them all, a great accomplishment. What fun to reconnect!
And finally, we’d never met Mari’s sister, pianist Momo Kodama. Facebook has made us good friends and I know of her advocacy for Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa, as she just premiered a major work written for her in Lucerne. She is that rare pianist who is great with both old and new music. She leaves no doubt about her commitment, that’s for sure. A composer’s dream musician.
As I’ve often said there are only facts, not coincidences. Here’s come one that has food for thought written all over it.
Because via Facebook, I hear from Tetsuji Honna, the music director of the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra in Hanoi. Momo had played a concerto by Nguyen Thien Dao on tour to Japan with the VNSO last fall, right before Jan and I had dinner with Dao! He is writing a new piece for our next festival, which is an important project for the LA International New Music Festival. Unbelievable that his pianist had been Momo Kodama and none of us knew it at the time!
Both the U.S. and Japan have had a rocky history. You have to search for the best in any culture, refine it, perfect it and find a way to be proud of who you are. Friendships help us understand each other, our differences and our similarities. My nuance will soon enough meet decisiveness, but it all goes through a Dream/Window. The thoughts and plots of the next LA International New Music Festival keep on moving forward.
I’ve left my heart in San Francisco but keep dreaming of my best friends in Japan.
Best, best, best,