A Conversation with Eric Ewazen, composer
Eric Ewazen: A conversation with David Yang, Artistic Director NCMF (July 2020)
“The Gift to Urashima Tarō”
by Jay Reise
for shakuhachi and string trio
15 August, 2015
Newburyport Chamber Music Festival
David Yang: Artistic Director
EXIT Dance Theater
Director: Stephen Haley
Costumes: Sarah George & Susan Waldron
Set Design: Damon Jespersen & Gordon Przybyla
Lighting Design: Joe Repczynski
With Jay Reise’s retirement concert at the University of Pennsylvania coming up in a few days, I thought this would be a good time to look back at one of the most extraordinary pieces I have ever commissioned. Jay was Newburyport Chamber Music Festival’s composer-in-residence in 2015. Based on a Japanese folk tale with Rip van Winkle overtones, “The Gift to Urashima Tarō” was the result of a collaboration between NCMF and EXIT Dance.
There is a terrific video of the concert, which is essentially a ballet, on the NCMF YouTube channel:
I’ve known Jay since I began teaching at the University of Pennsylvania in 2002. He is universally beloved for his generosity as a person, admired as a world-class composer, and sought out as a teacher and mentor to many of this generation’s finest composers (some of whom have gone on to write for NCMF). I’ve had the privilege to play on world premieres of four of his works. One of the hardest-hitting is the folk tale “The Warrior Violinist” for violin, cello, and narrator. This is probably the saddest children’s story you’ll ever hear. You can listen for free here under the title “Warrior Violinist” (it is listed as #12 on “The Double Album”).
And of course there is “Urashima Tarō.” Jay and I worked closely to modify the original story until we found something that felt just right. Here are Jay’s notes:
The name Urashima Tarō first appears in the 15th century in illustrated popular fiction; however, the story itself is much older, dating back to the 8th century. The tale bears a similarity to those of other cultures including Pandora’s Box, Rip Van Winkle, and Alice in Wonderland. It has been told, retold, altered and amended to the point where it is difficult to assign a definitive or original version. Many modern master storytellers including Ursula LeGuin to Osamu Dazai have created their own versions, Dazai even stepping out from behind the curtain during his charming philosophical retelling to comment on other renditions. In my version, Urashima, rather than dying, undergoes a transformation into what I describe as the Princess of the Sea’s gift of oblivion. ‘Oblivion’ is meant to suggest something beyond conscious life but short of death, a state we cannot say does not exist, and a place from which the princess may possibly bring Urashima back into her timeless and eternal domain - the sea.
The actual folk tale can be accessed in the full program notes on the NCMF website:
https://www.newburyportchambermusic.org/program-notes/urashima-taro-for-shakuhachi-string-trio-world-premiereFor any of you living within striking distance of Philly, Jay’s retirement concert is Thursday, 3 October 2019.
Some of you may recognize these artists from past festivals:
Irina Muresanu, violin
David Yang, viola
Eliana Razzino Yang, cello
Amy Yang, piano
James Nyoraku Schlefer, Shakuhachi
The concert in Philadelphia is free and at 7:00 PM at Rose Recital Hall in Fisher Bennet Hall (34th and Walnut) on the University of Pennsylvania campus. If you can make it then for sure stop by afterwards and say hello!
David Yang, Artistic Director