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Snowfall in winter

KEITH BRAMICH at a performance by
Tamami Honma and friends

 

When Madoka Saji, an attaché at the Japanese Embassy in Vilnius, mentioned over a meal on 1 May 2003 to composer John McCabe that 'Snowfall in Winter' (the translation of the name of a pudding -- a particular Lithuanian sweet dish) might make a good name for a piece of music, she may not have dreamt that McCabe would actually write such a piece, nor that she could be in England for it's world première. (You can read more about the beginnings of this piece in McCabe's Lithuanian Diary via the link at the end of this article.) Snowfall in Winter (McCabe's Study No 9 -- Hommage à Debussy) was written for Tamami Honma, who gave the first performance at St John's Smith Square in London on 28 November 2003 at a concert promoted by Operest: Opera East London. Snowfall begins with high, soft flakes -- gentle note clusters -- and is slow, clear, meditative and quiet throughout. Besides a strong feel of the soundworld of Debussy, there seemed also something here (both in the music and in the title) of the clarity and honed simplicity often found in Japanese culture. I guess that a composer couldn't dream of a better first performance than this, and the piece neatly connects three of the cultural elements of this concert -- Lithuanian, Japanese and British.

From left to right, the inspiration, the composer and the performer: Madoka Saji, John McCabe and Tamami Honma. Photo: Keith Bramich
From left to right, the inspiration, the composer and the performer: Madoka Saji, John McCabe and Tamami Honma. Photo: Keith Bramich

John McCabe's ongoing series of piano studies have been written at various times throughout a long and distinguished dual career as pianist and composer. He gave the première of the first study -- Capriccio (1969) -- himself at the 1969 Dublin Festival, and other study premières have been given by Valerie Tryon in Cardiff and by the various candidates of the 2002 Scottish International Piano Competition in Glasgow. The most recent three studies all pay homage to particular composers -- to Paul Dukas (Evening Harmonies, Study No 7), to Domenico Scarlatti (Scrunch, Study No 8), and most recently, to Claude Debussy.

Studies Nos 8 and 9 were both written for Tamami Honma, who gave the first performance of No 8 in June 2002 at New York's Carnegie Hall, and who also gave a stunning performance at this St John's Smith Square concert. Studies 8 and 9 couldn't be more different -- Scrunch is wild, fast, jazzy and disjointed. If, real or imagined, Snowfall connects with Japan, then Scrunch connects with the powerful, direct and untamed wildness of Lithuanian music.

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Copyright © 4 December 2003 Keith Bramich, County Mayo, Ireland

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