Berliner Zeitung | 23.05.2011 | Ann-Christine Mecke
Stark Contrasts, Strange Rituals
Yutaka Sado conducts the Berliner Philharmoniker
Japanese conductor Yutaka Sado’s Berlin Philharmonic debut began very softly. From me flows what you call Time, Tōru Takemitsu’s esoteric percussion concerto, opens with a lonely flute melody, then the delicate sound of cymbals played by five solo percussionists are heard at different corners of the auditorium. The music shifts as the soloists move to the platform and take their places.
This work, which received its world premiere in 1990 in New York, has little in common with conventional solo concertos. It follows “the rules of a prayer”, said the composer. Wind chimes suspended from the ceiling of the Philharmonie are operated by long ribbons in the colours of Tibetan prayer flags. Isolated wind soloists and a saturated string texture reply to the highly variegated sounds of steel drum, vibraphone, bells and other, mostly metallic percussion. Takemitsu restricts his motivic material, allowing it to produce constantly new effects by variations in the tonal colouring.
It is somewhat disconcerting in a percussion concerto dedicated to time that so little is perceptible of metre and structure. The listener feels rather like a guest at a very foreign ritual: ceremonial acts, whose content remains enigmatic, are united in a fascinating process. The precision with which the five soloists play and interact has the effect of a magical connection – one based on the exacting control of time.
From me flows what you call Time is not a virtuoso concerto for athletic drummers, yet it is anything but undemanding for the soloists. Although the complex playing of Raphael Haeger, Simon Rössler, Franz Schindlbeck, Jan Schlichte and Wieland Welzel seems almost improvised, the five Philharmonic percussionists are uncannily coordinated – sensitive and inspired right to the very last tolling of the wind chimes.
An evening that began by soothing the ears and soul did not stay in that mode. In Dmitri Shostakovich’s dynamic Fifth Symphony, sounds of great delicacy are juxtaposed with outbursts manifesting almost physical violence. There has been much speculation about who triumphs over whom in the lofty, jubilant finale, about whether the composer in this work was buckling under to Stalin or only adapting his protest to a new musical form. There is no other composer with whom one would be allowed such a straightforward biographical-political interpretation.
Yutaka Sado won’t even allow it with Shostakovich. Not waiting until the controversial finale to exploit extremes in the score, he makes its stark contrasts a central feature of his interpretation right from the beginning: piercing sounds and resigned sighs, abrasive strings and quickly fading sounds underline the work’s inherent tensions.
Who triumphs over whom?
The Philharmonic musicians follow the guest conductor with absolute dedication as they generate despair, tenderness, defiance, pain and sarcasm of overwhelming intensity. The second movement is a feast of soloistic expressiveness on the edge of humour and brutality. The slow third movement nearly ruptures under the weight of built-up tension, while the bitter triumphal march of the finale is only one more form taken by the anguished struggle.
In the face of a triumph achieved so painfully, the question of who triumphs here over whom seems almost laughable. Going out of the Philharmonie, our ears were still ringing from the orchestra’s sheer force but, even more, it was the heart and soul that were left stunned by this great concert.
Der Tagesspiegel | 21.05.2011 | Sybill Mahlke
A Dream Come True: Yutaka Sado with the Berlin Philharmonic
That the dream of a young Japanese lad growing up in Kyoto should be one day to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic is indicative of the high value placed on European music in his homeland. Beethoven everywhere.
Yutaka Sado has just turned 50 and his debut with the orchestra of his boyhood dream has turned out a triumph. This is remarkable because the Philharmonic by no means gives of itself with such commitment for every debutant. Remarkable, too, because after the four Abbado concerts the players showed not a trace of fatigue. An explanation lies in the Japanese- German musicians’ friendships that have sprung up out of numerous encounters and tours.
Seated at the first desk of the first violins are the two concertmasters Daishin Kashimoto and Daniel Stabrawa. In the Philharmonie there is a meeting point for the Japanese press. The audiences, too, have a significant Japanese presence. Sado, who was once Leonard Bernstein’s assistant, still has the “Lenny leap” in his feet when, with fiery gestures, he plunges into the jagged rhythms of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony. Never mind the rebuke of the composer in Pravda in 1936. What matters in this performance is the intensity of the sonorities that the orchestra so attentively yields up to the conductor: waltzes with operetta-like flair, brilliant pizzicatos, a tranquil Largo. An interpretation full of vim and vitality.
Sado presents the orchestra’s premiere of his compatriot Tōru Takemitsu’s From me flows what you call Time (1990). Five increasingly virtuosic Philharmonic percussionists, wearing the colours of the Tibetan flag, generate more flashes of real drama than the Staatsoper managed to produce with their Takemitsu visualization My Way of Life under Kent Nagano and Peter Mussbach. Wind chimes suspended from the auditorium ceiling are operated by long multi-hued ribbons in the unfolding of a play of colours and memorable little thematic ideas – solo flute, romantic sounds, meditation for dropping out and in: world music.
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