Music and Vision homepage Jenna Orkin: Writer Wannabe Seeks Brush With Death - From the heights of greatness (the Juilliard School; musicians Rosalyn Tureck and Nadia Boulanger) via way-ward paths to the depths of wickedness these reminiscences will entertain and enlighten.


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Yoshiko Endo joined the Quartet for the McCabe première. Strong, descriptive music, this -- immediately disturbing, with menacing regular low notes repeated by the piano at the opening, and a kind of crying theme from the Quartet, with glissandi. The composer explains, in his programme note, that the piece was inspired by the image of an old woman calling out the names of her children, over the ocean -- part of the final scene from Kenji Mizoguchi's 1954 film Sansho Dayu in which kidnappers separate a mother from her two children -- a daughter and a son -- who become slaves. The son eventually escapes, and finds his (by now) blind and crippled mother living on a remote seashore.

John McCabe. Photo (c) 1999 Peter Thompson

The programme note concentrates on the music's structure -- a long slow movement containing faster central scherzo and trio sections, and with closely related thematic material, all based on the calling motif. The composer avoids, sensibly, any mention of emotion, but my goodness, it's all there in the music -- the mother's heart rending calls and the sounds and movement of the sea in various moods, including what must surely be a storm! As the son eventually finds his mother, so the music, after one hell of a journey, reaches its eventual resolution, ending softly.

Peter J Mallett, a British university lecturer, living and working in Japan, commissioned The Woman by the Sea for the performers, and dedicated it to the cause of cancer research and in memory of Alison and Geoffrey Mallett, who both recently died of cancer. There was a strong sense of loss about the occasion, heightened by the recent US tragedy and by the emotional power of this superb performance, and Peter should be proud of this strong and lasting memorial to his parents.

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Copyright © 13 September 2001 Keith Bramich, London, UK








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