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Interview with Toshio Hosokawa


Toshio Hosokawa

Fotografia: Maria Ivanova

The valuable contribution of Toshio Hosokawa to present music is the metaphorical description of a praise of the inner movement of the sound. Toshio Hosokawa was born in Hiroshima in 1955; he develops his work with a sonorous precision of eventful compositional experiences. His work stands out because of his delicate way of cultivating the knowledge of reality. The Japanese composer explains the present with an almost metaphysical discourse. He contemplates, ponders and chisels a musical form that contains copious sonorous planes.

Hosokawa’s music reveals strictly mental impressions of sound and long silent spaces. He composes sonic fields of absolute lyricism cultivated with a meticulous and masterly writing style. The voices of his work include an intimate space where poetry and the numerous abstractions that inflame tempers in the very depths of human consciousness are merged.

In Hosokawa’s music the rare combination of the Japanese traditional music and the compositional model of the German musical vanguard of the post-war period is found. His sound discourse stands out because of the careful attention to sound – especially the timbre – and smooth and untimely daring sonorous intrusions. It is expressed through a contemplative thought highlighting the silence.

When he speaks of his music, his personal expression is suggestive, his hand movements and his deep glance communicate an extremely safekeeping of the words and the ideas. Toshio Hosokawa belongs to the ancestry of composers and thinkers of the music who own an absolutely incorruptible character.

Carme Miró: Many years ago I discovered your music listening to your wonderful work “New seeds of contemplation” based on the traditional Japanese Gagaku music. What I’d really like to know is Zen meditation present in your work, in the rhythmic and the sound proportions of your music?

Toshio Hosokawa:
The meditative music comes from my nature, so I don’t want to compose pensive music on purpose, in a way this is what comes naturally from my body. Tonight you can listen to the concert; indeed my last work is quite contemplative. (I would need longer time to put in plain words how or where it comes from.)

In my music breathing is very important – exhaling-inhaling. This is of the most significance in Zen meditation. You have to exhale very slowly and then inhale. So you go from nothing, from the zero point. Firstly it’s like breezing and with this I’m alive again. This breezing is very important in my work – it comes and goes, goes and comes like a wave in the ocean. I’d say that this is circulating. European music in this point is quite lineal, and this is like a building. My music is always stretching in time and quite fairly this space, that is always changing, is very different idea. It also may be the kind of singing which makes my music more meditative and thoughtful. “Go and come”, exhaling-inhaling – it’s like a Zen meditation.

Where do you get your inspiration from?
TH: There are a lot of different things, but the most important for me is the nature and the experience I get from it. Also my past, when I was a child I spent a lot of time in the countryside with my parents. I still remember that time and those happy memories it brings back, are very important to me. I’m not so naïve about nature; I always look for the harmony within the environment and this is what I try to show in my music. Maybe you know that in our (Japanese) culture we always seek the nature in all its forms and the relationship it has with human beings – the harmony they create together. This is the base of the whole Japanese culture. My music, consequently, comes from this tradition, which is very close to the nature.

Vitis Mound © Andrea Geile 2010

Vitis Mound © Andrea Geile 2010

Let’s talk about “Voiceless Voice in Hiroshima”, work for soloists, narrator, chorus, orchestra and tape. In this impressive work, its subtle tones create a network of sonic fields of recitation, song, voice and contemplation. Can the horror and the beauty be simultaneous emotionally? How do you relate to them?
My newest work “Sternenlose Nacht” is my second piece in which I talk about the horrors of the war – Dresden and Hiroshima. I composed the “Voiceless Voice in Hiroshima” about ten years ago and now comes the second which is a little bit different. There are, of course, some similarities in the two albums and some differences as well however, I think the in the second one you can sense some kind of development, expansion and maturity. Today, we are living in a world full of horrors, where many terrible things happen, and I simply do not want to close my eyes for these horrendous travesties, I want to see that reality. I still think the music can achieve something different and nicer because it expresses and reveals beauty; we can make music against this horror. We need the nature but we also must not forget the horror and the chaos.

I must see the reality through the music and that is the one thing I can do as an artist – create beauty through my work. A very good friend of mine, the German composer – Lagemann, told me about beauty. He showed me two pictures: one gorgeous of Marilyn Monroe, and the other was a painting by Alfred Durer, which represented his angry old mother. Then he asked me which of them represents beauty? One could argue that the old angry mother is indeed more beautiful than the picture of Marilyn Monroe because it depicts the real life. The artist must work within his own reality and in this we have to find the beauty he tries to convey. So the old proverb “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” in some way becomes true.
Beauty can also be deceptive and changeable and it speaks to the listener in a unique and personal way – that is why some people find Mozart’s music so moving, while for others it is just some noise.

Which are the common points of your experience of silence and sound in your work?
For Japanese traditional musician silence is very important and very different unlike the European musicians. A good example of that difference can be shown with Japanese calligraphy – the Japanese calligrapher draws a line but he does not start on the paper rather the beginning starts at some point in the air. And what you see on the white paper is the drawing, but it is only one part of the movement, not the whole experience. I have to say that those hidden air movements are essential to the drawing and without them there would be nothing to see. For me, the music is like that. I can also use the Japanese traditional music as an example or the Japanese Noh Theatre… there is instrumentalists hayashiwho played like this -with his hands, Hosokawa show us a visual and auditory example of how it sounds. He move one hand drawing a semicircle in the air and then clap his hands. There is a longer point you cannot listen, but then comes the hit, that is the sound. This part is the silence and the silence is as important as the sound itself. The silence makes the sound more intensified and without that the sound will be faint.
You can as well find this in my music. In Japanese traditional music we say: Ma– the silent movement-intensity- between sound and sound. In Japanese culture this Ma is very essential. Japanese architects also use it. We can find this interaction in the nature, between two seasons- autumn and winter, between night and day.
Maybe in European music the only important thing is the resound hit, that is a sonorous blow. This is like a big cathedral; where you can find eternity. But for us the beauty can be found in a cherry blossom and this is such because it remains very short time – there is no eternity. The flowers whiter but then they bloom again the next year. This is another example of “in between”- Ma. For the Japanese this Ma is very significant, also for life itself that is why life is beautiful. There is no eternity; we have no God.
Sound is like a blossom, because it comes and goes and the silence is not nothingness, the silence is full of sound if we could only hear it. If I can put this very strong intensity in the silence, then the sound becomes stronger. To make a strong sound we need a very strong silence.

Your musical structures express deep emotions. Is this your message?
It also comes from within myself. In our culture the paintings or the calligraphy are also other expressions of the body, not only of the soul. The whole body is present in this action. And for us the body and the spirit are one consistent thing. That’s way we practice judo, kudo, etc. They develop the whole body, not parts of it, just like Zen.

Will the present sonorous phenomenon create new paradigms on the way we listen to the music?
Today we have very few chances to listen to contemporary music. Germany is a very diverse place where you can listen to every kind of music. For example today is normal classical concert with work of Gustav Mahler and my work that is contemporary. In Japan there is a very small scene for classical music with “selected” audience, which makes it very hard for the musicians. On the other hand they have lost the habit of communicating with each other and there are no interactions between different styles. What makes it even harder for us is that younger people like pop music and they don’t listen to our contemporary music.
I hope with the passage of the time people will learn to listen to contemporary music.

Could you, please, talk about your premiere “Sternenlose Nacht” in Baden- Baden on 3rd October 2010?
This is my second big oratorio after “Voiceless voice in Hiroshima”. It is about Dresden Frauenkirche (literally Church of Our Lady) – a very big church which was destroyed during the Second World War. Now this demolished church is restored and very beautiful. I was asked to compose a piece for the church and the oratorio will be played next month in Dresden, but the first performance will be in Baden- Baden (3th of October 2010) as commissioned by Mahler Chamber Orchestra and WDR Rundfunkchor Köln.

This oratory is structured by 9 movements. It represents the four seasons; it starts with the winter, then spring, summer and the autumn – those are the “new” seasons destroyed by human beings. I put the winter first because the church in Dresden was destroyed in February 1945, along with thousands of innocent people. The second story represents my home town – Hiroshima, where the atom bomb was dropped on 6th August 1945. One year in which two great catastrophes took place, and for which people are responsible.
So I put two tombs – the first tomb is for Dresden, the other is for Hiroshima- there are two musical movements. There is also an angel song overlooking this catastrophe, and he is very angry. In Dresden everything was completely destroyed, only one angel remained – després ens ensenya una pintura de Paul Klee- the Paul Klee angel. I used the text by G. Scholem (philosopher and friend Varta Vinyamin- Jewish German philosopher) who wrote about Paul Klee’s painting of angel. Varta Vinyamin bought the picture of Paul Klee in Switzerland and after his death the picture went to a new owner – Scholem and he wrote a very beautiful text. The angel is very angry because of the wicked human beings. I saw that picture in an exhibition in Berlin few years ago as well as the text written by Scholem and that is where the idea and the inspiration for my newest work came from.
In Dresden two speakers are going to read the text – they represent two children who saw the whole tragedy.

Which is the influence of the different playing styles of East and West over your music?
I love European classical music very much – you can listen to it everywhere and I do not think it is in any way strongly bound to the place where it comes from. On the contrary our traditional music is powerfully united with the place/the land or the situation. There are special music ceremonies, dances and even special locations. You can’t bring it outside and even if you “export” it to a different country (for example the Gagaku style) I think there would be something quite essential missing from it. It also happen, in my opinion, with African or Indian music – they need they own place, their ground and climate. Music is also like a language – I mean without the language of Schubert or the one of Schonberg I can’t compose my music.
I also need my own roots – I started to study Japanese traditional music, thinking and philosophy not only to expand my horizons but also to have more creative matter.

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