The devastating tsunami that swept over Japan in early 2011 left a staggering level of destruction in its wake. The loss of life, the destruction of property, and the sheer number of Japanese citizens ripped from their homes will forever be a scar on the psyche of not only the Japanese nation but the world. Despite the magnitude of the tragedy–or perhaps because of it–the very best of human instincts came to the surface and to Japan’s aid. The global response to Japan’s need reminded us that humanitarianism and altruism are not dead: they showed themselves in benefit concerts, organized aid, help from all over. Even in moments of great darkness, the press at the time showed us heartwarming (albeit heart-wrenching as well) images: volunteers rushing into nuclear zones to recover neighbors’ lost pets, displaced victims sharing makeshift housing in convention centers. These images reminded us of that extraordinary human ability to take something beautiful from even the darkest of times.
It is now Japan’s turn to share some of the bittersweet beauty that they were able to extract from this disaster, and some of the foremost of Japan’s composers have finally had the chance to tell their own emotional story. Toshio Hosakawa, Toshi Ichiyanagi, and Somei Satoh are among the most respected of contemporary Japanese composers. The first two produced works based on their experiences with and reflections on the tsunami. These works were given their American premiere in Charleston by the Spoleto Festival Orchestra, meeting with excellent reviews. The works ranged from Toshio Hosakawa’s Meditation, barely finished in time for the performance and scored for a gargantuan orchestra, to Toshi Ichiyanagi’s cinematic Symphony No. 8: Revelation 2011 to Somei Satoh’s ethereal Listening to the Fragrances of the Dusk, which was written in 1997 but acted as a tranquil foil to the violence of the music that preceded it. All three pieces showcased the talent of the composers and gave a much-needed artistic catharsis to the pain and tragedy that Japan has met with in the past year, with the music providing a canvas for meditation and reflection: a wonderful way to honor not only the victims of the tragedy but the survivors as well.