Prayer Bell Sketch

Program Note

It is well known that Toru Takemitsu always conceived the title of a piece before composing it. In May 1988, between rehearsals for the first performance of Tree Line in London, Takemitsu and I took a long walk in Regent’s Park. One of the things we talked about was Peter Serkin’s recital programme composed entirely of new pieces, planned for the following year, to which we had both been invited to contribute. “I already have title,” he said, 'Prayer Bell'." I expressed my appreciation of this wonderfully evocative starting point, and afterwards tried to picture what it might draw from him. But Takemitsu’s piece for Peter Serkin’s recital turned out in the event to be Les Yeux Clos II (1988). Some years later, talking about titles again, I asked him what happened to Prayer Bell. “Prayer Bell may be too difficult,” was the response this time. Following his death in 1996, I spent much time trying to imagine a Prayer Bell in memory of Toru, and came to the conclusion that he was probably right – so what eventually emerged during three days in Tokyo last September is a Prayer Bell Sketch, recollections and rearrangements of a few simple bell sounds which, to me, resonate with memories of a dear friend and wonderful composer. Prayer Bell Sketch was commissioned by Ms. Masako Okamura and Mr. Motoyuki Nakagawa in memory of Toru Takemitsu, and was first performed by Peter Serkin, for whom it was written, at the new Takemitsu Memorial Concert Hall in Tokyo Opera City on 22 September 1997.

—Oliver Knussen

Oliver Knussen CBE grew up near London (where his father was principal double bass of the London Symphony Orchestra) and now lives in Suffolk. He is presently Artist-in-Association with the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and Sir Richard Rodney Bennett Professor of Music at the Royal Academy of Music. Together with Colin Matthews he founded the composition and performance courses at the Britten-Pears School in 1992 and in recent years has been invited for residencies at the Royal Academy of Music, New England Conservatory, the Eastman School of Music, and the Library of Congress in Washington DC.

Among his best-known works are the operas Where the Wild Things Are (1983) and Higglety Pigglety Pop! (1985), written in collaboration with the late Maurice Sendak, as well as three symphonies, concertos for horn and violin, and smaller-scale works, including Ophelia Dances (1975), Coursing (1979), Songs without Voices (1992), Two Organa (1995), and Songs for Sue (2006). He was appointed Professor of the University of London in February 2016.