Letter from Japan, or – how a conductor becomes a tamer

Interesting works – rarely heard

Under the motto “listened – played” we want to present extraordinary works from case to case, which we have discovered in the course of our archive work and which – to our knowledge – are played only rarely. Now you will believe that these are only “high-grade” compositions? Far from it, there are also works of medium difficulty, which are allowed to carry the title “extraordinary”! “Extraordinary” does not mean, however, that it is up to date or new. No, it may well be works with “a few years on the hump”. And of course you can also propose works to us which you would like to award the title “Extraordinary”.

The work we present to you today was published in 2006. It is a piece that depends on the creativity of the musicians. They create the sound, dynamics and articulation themselves. The special thing about Klangkörper are the nine teams that play with and against each other. The conductor himself guides these teams – like a tamer his wild animals – carefully and sensitively through the arena. The task for the musicians is to represent a “wild, stormy sea” and a “starry night”.

So “Letter from Sado” is an exciting piece for young bands, based on a Japanese haiku (= a traditional Japanese poem form) with the same name. Sado refers to Sado Island in Japan, where many years ago various artists, religious and military leaders were exiled. The island has always had a strong community of Taiko drummers, and as such the piece includes optional homemade Taiko drums.

Composer Jodie Blackshaw writes: “To capture the idea of interpretation and the concept of reading between the lines, the musicians are invited to become decision makers for specific sections in the music. For example, the opening and closing sections of the piece use the same material, which is a selection of repeated melodic figures. The musicians themselves decide how to play these figures as individuals, in small teams and then as a whole band. Their decisions include ideas about tempo (how fast?), dynamics (how loud?) and articulation (smooth, short or hard?). To inspire them, we use the haiku poem, i.e. the opening part invites the participants to play the material like a “stormy, wild sea” and the closing part invites the musicians to play the same melodic figures, but this time they are inspired by “Heaven’s River” or, as we know it, the Milky Way.

In between there is an elaborate, strongly structured section, which becomes more and more powerful. The music only rests harmoniously when the whole orchestra plays in unison. These multiple layers of sound represent the many thoughts and ideas that would have surrounded these individuals who were exiled to Sado Island, the final harmony is representative of their own groundbreaking experience leading them on a path to inner peace and acceptance.”

Letter from Sado is an interesting piece for middle school orchestras, which we have linked to videos, score video and complete radio track as well as further information and pictures about the island “Sado” (near Japan).

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