other instrument

cherry blossoms drift
in tsunami’s deadly wake
spring’s heartless return

On March 11, 2011, a terrible triple tragedy hit Japan: an earthquake, a tsunami and, as a consequence of both, a nuclear meltdown at Fukushima. Miyagi prefecture was the first and hardest hit by the tsunami. By coincidence, I had been just reading books about Japanese history, aesthetics and poetry, and watched Japanese movies and documentaries, in the kind of ephemeral, but focused attention we sometimes develop for a place or a person. I was shocked and riveted by the images of the Tsunami I saw on TV, their violence and scope — and then by the meltdown of the reactor and the subsequent fallout.

empty landscape now
houses abandoned in haste
Geiger counters click

My immediate reaction was to write the Miyagi Haikus, one of the most spontaneous pieces I have ever written. The Haiku is a traditional Japanese form of poetry with 17 syllables, consisting of three short lines: two with 5 syllables and one with 7, the latter often as a second line. The final line of the poem always is a kind of summation of the first two, a synthesis or a surprise, or both.

shipwreck on airport
streets destroyed by wild seas while
far was… is the shore

In my score, the 17 haikus are themselves ordered in Haiku format: the first five are notated without fixed rhythm, the next seven are notated as rhythms, but have no fixed pitches, and the last five combine rhythms and pitches to fully notated compositions. Each of these haikus has the same internal structure: the first 5 bars create a particular musical character, the next seven another, and the final five bars present a combination of both characters.

This strict and rational order, however, must necessarily be disturbed by the performers: for the score does not say how many or which instruments should play. Each soloist or ensemble must find their own arrangement and access to the score — and even though there are clear instructions in the score on how to go about co-creating this work, a large share of the end result is still left for the musicians to realize, their preparation and their improvisation.

beauty is order.
chaos and fear know no grace
yet — there is music…

In late 2013, three brass virtuosi based in New York, Peter Evans, Dave Taylor and Felix del Tredici, collectively created their own version of the Haikus for a world premiere performance at the 2014 edition of New York’s Bargemusic Festival. Each day of that festival was opened by a sequence of Miyagi Haikus: seven on the first day, five on the second and five on the third and final day — another haiku structure. Today they will, for the first time, perform the cycle in its entirety.

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Performance