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Composer Satoh stretches meaning of `new music'

The term ``new music'' is taking on deeper meaning as more composers and performers combine musical styles from various cultures in inventive ways. This happened in the pop field when Paul Simon collaborated with South African musicians on last year's ``Graceland'' album. And a recent concert of the works of Japanese composer Somei Satoh at the Asia Society here displayed another facet of the trend. Mr. Satoh began his career in 1969 with an experimental group in Tokyo. One of his more famous performances involved the positioning of eight speakers on mountain tops about one kilometer apart. As manmade fog rose in the valley below, Satoh's music eminated from the speakers, while laser beams created light patterns in the fog.

The music Satoh presented here however, was far removed from such spectacles, though no less interesting.

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Chinese pianist Margaret Leng Tan [see interview below] was the featured soloist, and her pianistic excellence, sensitivity, and personal charisma added much to the evening.

She gave a dramatic performance of ``Cosmic Womb,'' for pre-recorded and live acoustic piano. Tan evoked a tremolo from the piano that was at times thunderous and intimidating, at other times delicate and gentle. The tape created an echo with overtones that resembled a full orchestra with brass, flutes, woodwinds, and strings. It was a fascinating piece that progressed through a series of harmonic and pitch changes to a particularly moving ending, when the taped piano trailed off into silence.

Another highlight was ``The Heavenly Spheres Are Illuminated by Lights,'' for piano, percussion (mostly marimba), and soprano. It was Satoh's intention that singer Lise Messier's pure soprano would create the illusion of an endless melodic line, with no stops for breathing, while the piano and marimba took subsidiary roles underneath. Miss Messier's voice was pure indeed, though she lacked control in the softest passages. And the overall effect was transcendent and lyrical.

In the program notes, Tan described Satoh as a composer who is ``reworking the traditional Japanese music aesthetic in a broader, abstract context, infusing it with a new vitality.'' American listeners can hear Satoh's music, with Margaret Leng Tan and Lise Messier, on the album ``Litania,'' from New Albion Records (584 Castro, No. 463, San Francisco, CA 94114).

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