Dai Fujikura – Glorious Clouds
Dai Fujikura – Koto Concerto
Nippon Columbia (daifujikura.com/#discography)
Prolific London-based Japanese composer Dai Fujikura (b.1977) used to dream of composing music for the movies. His studies at Trinity College of Music of the scores of Pierre Boulez, Tōru Takemitsu and György Ligeti, however, propelled him decisively in another direction: toward the concert stage. Fujikura’s compositions have since been championed by musical notables including the London Sinfonietta, Ensemble Intercontemporain, Boulez and many others. In Toronto, Arraymusic, Thin Edge New Music Collective and the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music coproduced the Dai Fujikura: Mini Marathon concert in 2020, showcasing “one of the most active composers on the international stage.”
At close to two and a half hours of music, Fujikura’s ambitious album Glorious Clouds comprises 15 substantial works for orchestra, ensembles and soloists, embracing concerti, chamber music, art song, instrumental solos and electronic genres. Sadly, I can only touch on a few samples of this rich musical horde here.
The impressive orchestral Glorious Clouds, evocatively performed by the Nagoya Philharmonic Orchestra, was inspired by the interconnected microbiomic networks found everywhere on Earth, rather than by the atmospheric phenomena suggested by the title. Recounts the composer: “I thought, Ah!!! Various small microorganisms make the survival of the whole world possible – just like processes within an orchestra.” Glorious Clouds maintains a dynamic tension between floating, swirling sonic textures and an overall harmonic structure and thematic progression. My ear was initially reminded of Debussyan orchestral sonorities and colours, yet soon enough Fujikura’s emerging strident effects, sonic shapes teetering on melody, plus novel orchestration and formal balances were reminders that we’re in another century entirely.
Sparkling Orbit for electronics and electric guitar follows, incisively performed by Daniel Lippel. Opening with atmospheric passages, it turns abrasive and edgy, the guitar repeating in the last section a rhythmically complex distorted chime-like overtone pattern over electronic craquelure. Serene, derived from Fujikura’s Recorder Concerto, is quite distinct again. Its three solo movements are given a powerfully dramatic performance by recorder virtuoso Jeremias Schwarzer on three contrasting recorders. I found the middle movement opening, scored for the sopranino, evocative of the nohkan, the characteristically bracing, high-pitched Japanese transverse bamboo flute commonly played in Noh and Kabuki theatre. While a recent work, I can see Serene being widely adopted as a standard recital piece; it’s that good.
Finally for this review, Motion Notions features Mari Kimura’s brilliant violin playing. In addition, she’s also strapped a motion sensor to her bow arm wrist. It sounds like it controls various types of synthesized sounds and perhaps also live processing. The result is an interactively polyphonic, slithery texture, an unusual, and very effective, musical dialogue between the violinist’s acoustic music and the electronic sounds directed by her motion sensor. It’s another album favourite of mine.
Fujikura shares album credits on a second release with rising star LEO (Leo Konno b.1998 in Yokohama) who the label calls today’s “hottest koto artist.” The record features the premiere recording of the substantial single-movement Koto Concerto with the Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra conducted by Masato Suzuki, plus three related solo works for koto, all scored by Fujikura.
While the 25’42” concerto is an impressive work judicially illustrated with the composer’s signature deft orchestration, the three solos make a strong case for the koto achieving its finest, most delicate, satisfying musical moments in a solo capacity.
All the works here are rendered with sensitive bravura by LEO and vibrantly recorded by Nippon Columbia’s engineers. Bravos all around.