The Reluctant Masquerade - Stevens
was completed in 2000, with both music and libretto by James Stevens.
(See below for programme notes). Preparations for
this World Première recording, made in Prague, were started in
2002 and completed in 2006, at the composer's expense. Pristine Classical is delighted to have this opportunity to offer it as a download
- the first time a major orchestral and vocal recording of this nature
has been premièred on the Internet.
the composer, James Stevens (b. 1923):
initially with Benjamin Frankel in his exclusive class at the Guildhall
School of Music in London. There he won several prestigious awards including
the Royal Philharmonic Prize for his First Symphony; the Wainwright Scholarship
for 'composer of the year'; and a French Government Bursary which took
him across the Channel to study with Darius Milhaud at the Paris Conservatoire.
There he met Nadia Boulanger who made him one of her star pupils who received
Saturday evening tuition free of charge. He also enjoyed an open invitation
to Arthur Honegger's classes.
won the coveted Lili Boulanger Memorial Prize in Boston, USA, for 'composers
of exceptional talent and integrity' awarded by a panel of judges which
included Stravinsky, Copland and Villa-Lobos. Another award was the Mendelssohn
Scholarship which even Benjamin Britten failed to achieve, despite several
attempts! As a result of this he spent some time in Berlin at the Hochschule
für Musik. He also won the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths' Award
while his most recent honour was the BDK International Award in Tokyo
for his Buddhist requiem Celebration for the Dead played by the Tokyo
commenced his extensive film career while still a student and was acclaimed
at the Ealing Studios where he constantly devised new film music techniques
which are now standard practice.
Stevens has never confined himself to one particular musical genre and
has taken every opportunity to take part in pop music, jazz, films, television
scores, and musicals; his musical Mamízelle Nitouche being revived
in London's West End in the autumn of 2001. Although also concerned with
serious avant-garde works, his music is melodic rather than atonal.
year he was the only British composer to be selected for the annual International
Society for Contemporary Music (with Etymon) while having a disc at number
one in the Melody Maker charts (with Exploding Galaxy). In 1990 he was
nominated for the BAFTA music award for his contribution to Chelworth
- eight one-hour episodes. In 1995 he was invited to give a 'James Stevens
Day' in Cincinnati, shortly after which he was invited by the Musicians
Union of Japan to represent English artists at the Hiroshima and Nagasaki
50th anniversary memorial ceremonies.
the Cleveland Orchestra Piano Trio gave the world premiere of Concertante
a Tre and in 1999 Stevens was commissioned to write David's Round for
a 9-year-old prodigy violinist, also in Cleveland, USA. The following
year he was commissioned by members of the Cleveland Orchestra to write
a work for cello and piano called Duo Per Umanita. Also in 2000 Stevens
completed his magnum opus The Reluctant Masquerade, dealing with the human
psyche and nature of time. In 2001 he wrote the incidental music for American
writer Daniel de Cournoyer's epic one-man theatre show Bells to Hell and
also a Processional for a wedding in Australia.
Note by the composer:
Japanese have a concept of the outside and the inside of human personality,
that which is shown to the world as opposed to the real inside person.
This is known as tatamae and honne, or disparagingly aware (the Japanese
always know how to have your cake whilst eating it) omote and ura. The
person who demonstrates this dichotomy in extremis was the great post-war
writer/actor Yukio Mishima.
all intents and purposes he was a successful public figure with a beautiful
wife and a happy family, but at heart he was a homosexual who deplored
the state of contemporary Japan and begged for the restoration of earlier
ideals. At the same time he suddenly realised his homosexuality when he
saw the night-soil man emptying the buckets, his biceps vividly in view.
From then on he had to live two lives. Hence the title of this work. He
ran his own private little army to "bring back the glory of the Emperor".
his last tetralogy, "The Sea of Fertility", he demonstrates
all his contradictions. He adopted the Buddhist ethic with its acceptance
of reincarnation as a basis for the ongoing narrative, which brings into
consideration the nature of time.
planned a final show-down at the Eastern Army Headquarters on November
25th, 1970. This work opens at the point where, having delivered the last
pages of his tetralogy to his publisher, he has the general tied up to
a chair with the crowd bellowing outside. It goes on to suggest the Buddha
shedding tears for the state of the world and finally the problem of the
central character in his last work (Satoko, reformed prostitute, now Mother
Superior) confronted with the problem who she is really in love with,
the characters in the book or the author, which brings up the question
of the nature of time.
Review of Stevens:
"The Reluctant Masquerade" (Steven Gadd, Maya Shono, Susan Buckley, City of Prague Phil, Mansur)
and "Concertetto Concitato" (Jaromir Klepac, City of Prague Phil, Klemens)
An interesting and beautiful short opera, magnificently performed.
The primary subjects of the opera are Yukio Mishima and the Japanese character. Mishima was an extraordinary eccentric whose life has already inspired several biographies and one quite famous movie. He was born in 1925 and was raised by his grandmother, who was pathologically besotted with the ideas of Japanese bushido and crushed her grandson with them. At 12 his father took over and practiced the kind of tough love that involved holding Yukio very close to passing trains and insisting that he show no fear or be beaten. His father also tore up any literary efforts of Yukio on the grounds that they were unmasculine. Whether because of this background or not, Mishima went on to become a fanatical believer in the samurai tradition, used weights to build an almost perfect physique and collected a body of like-minded cohorts. He practiced homosexual and sadomasochistic actions in and out of his group. He also managed to marry and father two children.
Were this all to be told, he would hardly be worth James Steven's opera. Mishima was also one of Japan's very greatest 20th century authors and playrights, who was mentioned several times for the Nobel Prize in Literature. He wrote 40 novels and 20 plays. Among his most famous novels is "The Man Who Fell From Grace With The Sea". And yet this remarkable productivity and world fame did not still the furies within. He led a ridiculous, comic opera attempt to take over an army base in 1970, and after abject failure, committed seppuku (disembowlment) according to the approved old Japanese manner. He was 45.
Steven's opera is divided into four rather unequal parts and yet they work together very well. The first part is devoted to Mishima's despair and suicide and is simply magnificent. Stevens catches Mishima's surface toughness and just beneath his terrible yearning for family and love. Lacking these, he was obsessed with glory and death. This part of the opera is divided into five parts where extremely powerful orchestra agitatos alternate with calmatos. I was absolutely gripped by Steven Gadd's portrayal of the multiple sides of Mishima's soul here. His powerful and cantabile voice here must be heard!
The second part of the opera is a brief scene by grandmother, very beautiful, but surprisingly in a lilting Broadway idiom. May Shona sounds completely at home with this idiom.
There is a very long interlude that forms Part Three. It is totally orchestral. It has great beauty and power. It whets the appetite for Steven's orchestral works. It seems to recapitulate different aspects of Mishima's character, but suffice it to say that it is well worth hearing on its own. The final fourth part has Satoko, in a monastery, reviewing her loves, and deciding the Mishima the only person she really loved. It is in her soliliquoy that we get other dimensions of the Japanese character. The accompaniment is different. It is strong, but yet elusive. Susan Buckley gives out some beautiful cantilena here.
The "Concertetto Concitato" is much more than a filler. It is a very vigorous work for piano and orchestra. Its time length is short, but its gestures are quite bold. It certainly shows an awareness of both Stravinsky and Bartok, but Stevens is his own man. The piano part is exceptionally brilliant with numerous martellato passages.
The sound throughout is powerful, but not harsh.
To be added
Libretto with composer's annotations
covers to print:
(NB. Disable Page Scaling before printing)
CD-writing cuesheet (save as .cue):
(Use this to split MP3 files - see here)
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