Jun Märkl: Thoughts on the work of Toshio Hosokawa

For several years now I have been working on and performing a large part of the oeuvre of the Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa.

I started in April 2006 with the world premiere of “Lotus under the moonlight – hommage à Mozart” for piano and orchestra, a work commissioned by Norddeutscher Rundfunk Hamburg and dedicated to the wonderful pianist Momo Kodama, who played the solo part. The logical pairing for the work (in this and many subsquent concerts) was Mozart‘s Piano concerto A-Major KV 488,  performed before Toshio Hosokawa’s work.  Mozart’s theme in the slow movement is cited at the end of “Lotus”, creating the wonderful surprise of hearing the Mozart theme in the Hosokawa moonlight.

In 2007 I conducted the first French performance of “Circulating Ocean”, and took the work on tour to Japan with the Orchestre National de Lyon for its Japanese premiere in Tokyo (Suntory Hall) and Osaka (Festival Hall).

Soon afterwards, in 2008, I had the chance to conduct another Japanese and English premiere: “Cloud and Light”, a work with passages full of delicate atmosphere. It is a kind of concerto for the traditional Japanese instrument SHO. Mayumi Miyata, who played the sho, has joined me in all the later performances i.e. at the Pacific Music Festival in Sapporo, in Leipzig, and at the BBC Proms.

In May 2012 I conducted the NHK Symphony in a concert dedicated to Toshio Hosokawa’s work; all the works in the programme received their Japanese premieres. We began with the impressive “Woven Dreams” followed by “Sternlose Nacht”, a Requiem for singers, narrators, mixed chorus and orchestra. The work is a very profound statement, full of  beauty e.g. in the passages with the two female voices (performed by Ms Handa and Ms Fujimura); and drama eg. in the scenes of the narrators and chorus. The chorus part is extremely demanding, though the Tokyo Ongaku Daigaku Chorus were excellently prepared and great to work with. The opus, I would call it an oratorio, combines impressions and scenes of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima with the bombing of Dresden in World War II, and leaves nobody untouched by its power and emotion. As always the NHK orchestra played marvellously.

In September 2013 I had the opportunity to perform two other recent compositions in a concert with the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra in Takemitsu Hall: “Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra” (solo part played by Jeroen Berwaerts) and an aria from the opera „Matsukaze”, sung by Barbara Hannigan – a world premiere in this version.

During the rehearsals and performances I often had the chance to discuss his music with Toshio,  whether detailed questions concerning the performance of the works, or the philosophy of his writing and the origin of the spirit of the music. It was always delightful to work with this really wonderful person, musician and composer.

These many performances of Toshio Hosokawa’s works gave me the idea of recording some of his works for Naxos to prepare for his 60th anniverary in October 2015. The 2 CDs are now on the market (released in February and September 2014), and both give an excellent overview of the most recent works of this great composer.

Orchestral Works 1 features the Horn concerto “Moments of Blossoming” (solo horn Stefan Dohr); “Lotus under the moonlight” (with Momo Kodama) and “Chant” for violoncello and orchestra (soloist Anssi Karttunen).

Orchestral Works 2 features “Blossoming II”, “Circulating Ocean” and “Woven Dreams” , all played and recorded with the marvellous Royal Scottish National Orchestra.

Have a look and listen to it; it’s all on the Naxos Label (8.573239 and 8.573276)!

Jun Maerkl, November 2014