On March 17, 2011, just six days after a massive earthquake and tsunami struck northeastern Japan, killing thousands, displacing many thousands more, and threatening a nuclear disaster, the New York Philharmonic made a surprise addition to their concert at Avery Fisher Hall. Conductor Alan Gilbert opened the evening by addressing the audience and expressing the Philharmonic's sympathy and admiration for the people of Japan, and then leading the orchestra in a performance of the Requiem for Strings by the late Toru Takemitsu, rightly termed "Japan's greatest composer" by Gilbert. This recording is of that performance.
The Requiem is not one of Takemitsu's more commonly-heard works, so it is worth hearing this performance in any event; but of course it takes on even greater significance as an expression of humanity in the face of the inexpressible and perhaps incomprehensible. This is not a thundering, rage-against-the-dying-of-the-light Requiem, a la Giuseppe Verdi. Nor is it the comforting, consoling, and even pastoral Requiem of a Gabriel Faure. Takemitsu's work is a curious piece: built around softly questioning lines of strings, interrupted at several points by chromatic snarling from the horns. It may hint at acceptance; or perhaps it hints at hoping for acceptance, although the brassy interjections keep that from actually happening. If there is anything particularly "Japanese" about the Requiem For Strings, it is perhaps its brevity. At eight minutes in length, the piece says what it has to say and then returns us to our own world, and our own thoughts.