A Thousand Cranes

3:00pm Saturday, February 23, 2019

Strings of the Washington Heights Chamber Orchestra
Chris Whittaker, Conductor
In partnership with
Tampopo Ramen

Led by music director Chris Whittaker, the strings of the WHCO come together to perform music inspired by Japan and Japanese-American composers. After the concert, Friends of WHCO enjoy a food and sake tasting courtesy of Tampopo Ramen. Kenji Bunch's Supermaximum opens the program -- a work inspired by the songs of Depression-era chain gangs in the American deep south.  Next we hear Toru Takemitsu's Requiem, a piece from earlier in his career which launched him into prominence after the work was discovered by Igor Stravinsky. By the end of his life, Takemitsu had become one of the most unique voices and influential composers in both Japanese and western classical music. Japanese-American composer Karen Tanaka's Dreamscape follows -- a lush and imaginative work, featuring harp and violin solo. The concert concludes with Christopher Theofanidis' A Thousand Cranes, named from the Senbazuru legend that states if one crafts one thousand paper cranes his or her wish will be granted. The piece is inspired by the story of Sadako Sasaki, a young girl who died from leukemia after initially surviving the 1945 nuclear bomb detonation on Hiroshima. Sasaki began making cranes while in the hospital, and her story renewed a culture-wide interest in the practice. In 1958, a statue of Sadako holding a golden crane was unveiled in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and installed in the Hiroshima Peace Park.

Our concert is followed by a reception for Friends of the WHCO, sponsored by Tampopo Ramen.

FREE! Young listeners welcome!


Kenji Bunch: Supermaximum
Toru Takemitsu: Requiem
Karen Tanaka: Dreamscape
Christopher Theofanidis: A Thousand Cranes
         I. Stars and Sonnets
         II. Wind Spirit
         III. Sadako

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About the composers

Kenji Bunch uses his work as a composer and performer to look for commonalities between musical traditions, for understandings that transcend cultural or generational barriers, and for empathic connections with his listeners. Mr. Bunch draws on vernacular musical traditions, his interest in history, the natural world, and his classical training to create new concert music with a unique personal vocabulary that appeals to performers, audiences, and critics alike. After nearly three decades as a professional musician, whose work has been performed by over sixty American orchestras, by chamber musicians on six continents, and has been recorded numerous times, he considers his mission to be the continuing search for and celebration of shared emotional truths about the human experience.

Mr. Bunch maintains an active performing career, and is widely recognized for performing his own groundbreaking works for viola. In the ongoing search for fluency in other musical styles, he developed a deep interest in vernacular American music and improvisation. Mr. Bunch was the fiddle player and vocalist with the band Citigrass for over 15 years, and is a frequent collaborator with jazz, pop, folk, country, rock, and experimental musicians. He has also collaborated extensively with choreographers and filmmakers.

A graduate of the Juilliard School, Mr. Bunch left New York City after 22 memorable years to return to his native Portland, Oregon, where he currently serves as Artistic Director of new music group Fear No Music, and teaches at Portland State University, Reed College, and for the Portland Youth Philharmonic.


Toru Takemitsu was born in Tokyo on 8 October 1930. He began attending the Keika Junior High School in 1943 and resolved to become a composer at the age of 16. During the post-war years, he came into contact with Western music through radio broadcasts by the American occupying forces – not only jazz, but especially classical music by Debussy and Copland and even by Schoenberg. He made his debut at the age of 20 with a piano piece Lento in Due Movimenti. Although Takemitsu was essentially a self-taught composer, he nevertheless sought contact with outstanding teachers: Toshi Ichiyanagi acquainted the composer with the European avant-garde of Messiaen, Nono und Stockhausen, and Fumio Hayasaka introduced Takemitsu to the world of film music and forged contacts to the film director Akira Kurosawa for whom Takemitsu produced several scores to film plots. Alongside his musical studies, Takemitsu also took a great interest in other art forms including modern painting, theatre, film and literature (especially lyric poetry). His cultural-philosophical knowledge was acquired through a lively exchange of ideas with Yasuji Kiyose paired with his own personal experiences. In 1951, the group “Experimental Workshop” was co-founded by Takemitsu, other composers and representatives from a variety of artistic fields; this was a mixed media group whose avant-garde multimedia activities soon caused a sensation. Takemitsu taught composition at Yale University and received numerous invitations for visiting professorships from universities in the USA, Canada and Australia. He died in Tokyo on 20 February 1996. Peter Mussbach and the Berlin State Opera Unter den Linden commemorated Takemitsu in their staged project "My Way of Life” in 2004.

Takemitsu’s earliest works display influences of Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg, whereas the compositions of his second creative phase reflect his preoccupation with French Impressionism, particularly Debussy. The composer gained initial recognition at the end of the 1950s with his Requiem for strings (1957) which incorporates serial techniques. Takemitsu’s interest in a wide variety of artistic expressive forms and his individual sense of freedom developed through his autodidacticism shaped the character of his avant-garde style. As early as 1950, he utilised a tape recorder to create musical collages from “real” sounds ("musique concrète": Water Music, 1960; Kwaidan, 1964). In the early 1960s, two new elements appeared in Takemitsu’s works: on the one hand, traditional Japanese music (November Steps, 1967, for biwa, shakuhachi and orchestra) in the form of the deliberate juxtaposition of Eastern and Western musical culture and, on the other hand, the musical representation of natural phenomena (ARCI for orchestra, 1963-1966). Representations of the art of Japanese gardens through the utilisation of symbolic musical metaphors are frequently encountered in his compositions (A Flock Descends into the Pentagonal Garden for orchestra, 1977).

Although Takemitsu’s artistically most ambitious works are focused on the genres orchestral and chamber music, the composer also displays great interest in popular music including jazz, pop and French chansons. He composed around a hundred film scores (Dodes’ka-Den, 1996). His 12 Songs for Guitar (1977), containing passages with arrangements of world-famous pop classics (including songs by the Beatles), demonstrate Takemitsu’s affinity with the broader musical tastes generated by the hyper-cultural influences of a media-dominated world.

I can well imagine Toru Takemitsu travelling through Japan, not to capture different aspects of the moon, but let’s say to experience the wind whistling through different trees, and returning to the city with a gift. This gift consists of the transformation of nature into art. (John Cage)

(Courtesy of Schott Music)


Karen Tanaka is an exceptionally versatile composer and pianist. Her works have been performed by distinguished orchestras and ensembles worldwide including the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Utah Symphony, Netherlands Radio Symphony Orchestra, Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Norwegian Chamber Orchestra, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Kronos Quartet, Brodsky Quartet, BIT20 Ensemble, among many others. Various choreographers and dance companies, including Wayne McGregor and Nederlands Dans Theater, have often featured her music.

Born in Tokyo, she started formal piano and composition lessons as a child. After studying composition with Akira Miyoshi at Toho Gakuen School of Music, she moved to Paris in 1986 with the aid of a French Government Scholarship to study with Tristan Murail and work at IRCAM. In 1987 she was awarded the Gaudeamus Prize at the International Music Week in Amsterdam for her piano concerto Anamorphose. She studied with Luciano Berio in Florence in 1990-91 with funds from the Nadia Boulanger Foundation and a Japanese Government Scholarship. In 1996, she received the Margaret Lee Crofts Fellowship at the Tanglewood Music Center. In 1998 she was appointed as Co-Artistic Director of the Yatsugatake Kogen Music Festival, previously directed by Toru Takemitsu. In 2012, she was selected as a fellow of the Sundance Institute’s Composers Lab for feature film and mentored by Hollywood’s leading composers. Recently, she served as Lead Orchestrator for the BBC's TV series, Planet Earth II. Karen Tanaka lives in Los Angeles and teaches composition at California Institute of the Arts.


Christopher Theofanidis has had performances by many leading orchestras from around the world, including the London Symphony, the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Atlanta Symphony, the Moscow Soloists, the National, Baltimore, St. Louis, and Detroit Symphonies, among many others.  He has also served as Composer of the Year for the Pittsburgh Symphony during their 2006-7 season, for which he wrote a violin concerto for Sarah Chang.

Mr. Theofanidis holds degrees from Yale, the Eastman School of Music, and the University of Houston, and has been the recipient of the International Masterprize, the Rome Prize, a Guggenheim fellowship, a Fulbright fellowship to France to study with Tristan Mural at IRCAM, a Tanglewood fellowship, and two fellowships from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.  In 2007 he was nominated for a Grammy award for best composition for his chorus and orchestra work, The Here and Now, based on the poetry of Rumi, and in 2017 for his bassoon concerto.  His orchestral work, Rainbow Body, has been one of the most performed new orchestral works of the new millennium, having been performed by over 150 orchestras internationally.  He has served as a delegate to the US-Japan Foundation’s Leadership Program, and he is a former faculty member of the Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University as well as the Juilliard School.  Mr. Theofanidis is currently a professor at Yale University, and composer-in-residence and co-director of the composition program at the Aspen Music Festival.



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Concert Location:

Fort Washington Collegiate Church
729 West 181st Street
New York, NY, 10033

The concert will last approximately 1.5 hours with intermission.