When I received this commission, for the Fiddler X recital series in Minneapolis, I was intrigued by the stipulations that accompanied the request. The piece was to be based two very different sources: one of these was Bach’s famous Double Concerto in D minor, and the other was some kind of East Asian music of my choosing. Having written for many Asian instruments, I was familiar with plenty of music from Asian cultures, but nothing immediately stood out as complementary to the Bach. In the end, I found my inspiration not in Asia, but in my proverbial backyard.
In Hawaii, as in Japan, the summers are filled with Bon dances, festive ceremonies in which revelers welcome the spirits of their ancestors with music and dance. Perhaps the most famous piece of Bon dance music is “Soran Bushi,” a song originally sung by fishermen in the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. Like Bach’s concerto, this is energized music, and in “Soran Bushi” jubilant shouting is interspersed with singing.
In Summer Spirits
, I juxtapose elements of Bach’s music with the Bon dance melody, at times quoting and at other times making veiled references to the source materials. While the Bach makes more direct appearances throughout, “Soran Bushi” emerges as time passes, finally revealing itself quietly near the end. And just before the piece finishes, for a brief moment, the Bach and Bon dance melodies are played simultaneously.