Tuesday, 27th March, Kodály Choir of Fukusima, Béla Bartók Memorial House

Tuesday, 27th March, Kodály Choir of Fukusima, Béla Bartók Memorial House
The Japanese Kodály Choir of Fukusima gave extraordinary performances of works by Bartók, Kodály and Kurtág in the house where Bartók spent his last years in Hungary. They also presented Japanese traditional songs and dances.

Conductor Dr Furija Mijako is a graduate of the Tokyo Muszasino Music Academy but in 1987 she studied at the Franz Liszt Music Academy in Budapest. On returning to Japan she founded the Kodály Choir of Fukusima, which is still going strong. The choir consists mostly of teachers from the Fukusima and Tohoku areas.
Bartók's 27 choruses for children and women voices are based on Hungarian folk poems. The Fukusima group did not only sing the pieces in Hungarian but mostly from memory and with perfect diction. This meant a full hour singing (and standing) without any rest for voice, legs and memory. Yet musicality was dominating throughout. I could not help wondering: how many European choirs would master Japanese songs of such length with such dedication?

Kurtág's What is the word was composed for voice and piano. The piece was inspired by Samuel Beckett's poem, which Kurtág read in Hungarian translation by István Siklós in 1989 that is at the time of Beckett's death. Another inspiration was the actress Ildikó Monyók who, as a result of a car accident, lost her ability to speak but after seven years of hard work managed to express herself with a few words. Kurtág composed What is the word for Monyók who then went on performing it on stage for a few years while she was able to do so. The singer speaks, stutters and screams the words while the pianist plays with one finger to provide supporting sounds.

In Kurtág's version for chamber ensemble, the piece is concluded by a solo violin which is meant to illustrate the stuttering words with sounds of crying and wimping.

The version for chorus, performed for the first time at this concert, was initiated by Furija Mijako. She and her choir are based in Fukusima where the nuclear disaster a year ago caused many to struggle for words. In this version the final violin solo is replaced by a piano piece which Kurtág composed for Mijako. Perhaps appropriately, words fail me to describe the performance of the ten ladies who recited Beckett' words (in Hungarian, from memory) with the most moving performance. One could not help thinking (and observing) that their experience of the nuclear disaster made them specifically qualified for this piece.

The three hours long concert included several Japanese songs and dances, the Hungarian National Anthem as well as the Evening Song by Kodály (the latter two items again in perfect Hungarian from memory). Karibosikiri uta, an ancient Japanese song in a transcription for mixed choir was performed by the 25 chorus members without a conductor. Notwithstanding the intricate polyphony, the ensemble was rock solid while the collective expression was deeply moving. Where do these Japanese teachers get their energies from? Inspiration clearly comes from the remarkable Mijako but their strength and discipline seem almost a miracle (rather than Japanese tradition).
Musical Criticism.com (10 April 2012)