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  • March 26, 2007

    On the road… again

    On Thursday, AEJ and I returned home after an incredible eight days in Japan. I definitely intend to write several blog entries about the trip — an entry about our arrival, the rehearsals for “Kingfishers Catch Fire,” the premiere, the crazy autographs (I signed things I never imagined signing — but nothing inappropriate, perv)… an entry about our two days in Kyoto… my first real sushi dinner in Japan… our night at Tawaraya, a 300 year-old inn in Kyoto… our last day in Tokyo… so much stuff — probably at least 5 entries worth. I want to write about the concert first, and I hoped to post that entry today, but time got away from me.

    Newman picked us up at the airport on Thursday, and we spent much of the day going through mail and trying to recover. On Friday, I spent the day mastering the recording of the premiere of “Kingfishers Catch Fire.” (It sounds, I have to say, phenomenal — the most successful premiere I can remember, thanks to the performance the students gave. It usually takes a half-dozen performances before I feel like I’ve heard a piece, but it’s going to be tough to get a better performance than this premiere.) Saturday, I printed scores and such for this week’s CBDNA convention in Ann Arbor, and that night, AEJ, Newman, and I had dinner with Eric Whitacre and his lovely wife (and soprano-extraordinaire) Hila Plitman. Sunday, we accompanied Newman to the USC performance of his piece, “Chunk,” under the heavily-groovy baton of H. Robert Reynolds. (You really haven’t lived until you’ve seen H. Bob conduct dirty funk. It was funktastic. It was funking sweet.) We had dinner after the concert, and then Newman headed back to NYC.

    Today I spent the day binding scores for Shattinger Music to sell at CBDNA, and ran a big ol’ list of errands to prepare for the trip. I leave first thing in the morning, and I haven’t started packing yet. So, unfortunately, no Japan entry today.

    But here are a few teaser photos. Here’s the view from our hotel room the first night, in the Ginza section of Tokyo…

    Here’s Ichiro Saito conducting the dress rehearsal of “Kingfishers Catch Fire“…

    (I wish I could pull of orange pants, but it just wouldn’t work on me.) And here are some musicians waiting for an autograph — while mothers are taking my picture. It was kind of insane…

    We took over 1400 pictures while we were there, and a ridiculous number of them turned out well. It’s kind of hard to take a bad picture of a beautiful Japanese temple. So, those will be coming soon. But for now, it’s off to Ann Arbor, where I’ll have three performances this week: “Turning” with the Texas Christian University Wind Ensemble (conducted by Bobby Francis), “Redline Tango” with the Central Michigan University Wind Ensemble (conducted by John Williamson), and “Turbine” with the Florida State University Wind Orchestra, conducted by Rick Clary.

    Oh, and there will be lots of drinking.

    I’ll be home Sunday, and then I’m done traveling for work until fall. So I’ll just be writing the Sax Concerto, and catching up on blog entries — I promise!

    1 Comment

    March 19, 2007

    Kobe beef

    AEJ and I have been in Japan since Thursday (Japan time — which is Wednesday-ish in America), and a whole lot has happened. Kind of an amazing amount, considering how long we’ve been here. And every minute has been incredible. I’ll write a lot more over the next few weeks — it’s going to take at least that long to get these blog entries out — but I wanted to write a short one tonight, just about tonight, because this was a special evening that I’ll remember for a long, long time.

    Tonight, AEJ and I were dinner guests of Mr. Kohtai Yoh, one of the consortium members of my new piece, “Kingfishers Catch Fire.” (The work premiered here in Japan on Saturday — that’s why we’re here — but more on that another time.) Yoh-san conducted a wonderful performance of “Redline Tango” with the Kannonji Daiichi High School band — also on Saturday. Yoh-san lives in Kobe — the birthplace of Kobe beef. I think you know where this is going.

    So Yoh-san invited AEJ and I — as well as his friend, Toshiya Iwata, another consortium member of “Kingfishers Catch Fire” — to join him for Kobe beef dinner tonight. Kobe beef is… well, here’s one definition I just found:

    “Kobe Beef is a legendary delicacy of Japan, a type of beef that is so well marbled that it goes right off the charts for Prime grading in any other country. The meat ends up looking like it has been left out in the snow because of the intensiveness of the white fat marbling, rivals foie gras for richness and caloric content, and costs an obscene amount, often $300 a pound or more for the real thing from Japan.”

    This was, to state the obvious, the most “real thing” this real thing can be. We had it not just in Kobe, but at the steak house that created what Americans know as the “Japanese Steak House” — Kobe Misano, the first Teppanyaki-style steak house. Think Benihana — but with Kobe beef, and with a mastery of cooking, rather than the mastery of flipping flaming shrimp tails into your shirt pocket.

    So the trip started by taking the Shinkansen (the Japanese “bullet train”) from Kyoto, where we’re now staying, to Kobe, about a 30-minute ride. (Sorry — it’s really difficult to get a picture of the Shinkansen in focus.)

    Kobe is a lovely city. The area where the restaurant is located is bright, cheerful, bustling, and like every other part of Japan we’ve seen — immaculately clean.

    And this is Kobe beef. This is probably over a pound of it. I’ve no idea what it actually costs in Kobe — typical of Japanese tradition, Yoh-san would not let us pay, or even see the bill — but in the US, I’ve seen “Kobe” beef for $30 an ounce. This, in America, would have easily been $400 worth of steak. And worth every penny, I have to say.

    But that was just to look at — for now. And I wasn’t the only one who wanted to photograph the beautiful pieces of beef. Iwata-san took a picture with his camera phone.

    Our first course was this incredible appetizer, which I believe was a cured ham. Mmm…

    And then something I wouldn’t have expected — and would never have thought of trying had I been anywhere else : Kobe beef sashimi. Completely raw, fresh Kobe beef, served just with wasabi and a little dish of soy sauce.

    This was the first chance I had to taste it. Oh. My. God. Even served sashimi-style, it melted in my mouth. You’d expect, with all of that marbling, that it would be fatty, but it didn’t “read” fatty at all. It had the texture of incredible fish sashimi. And the flavor was amazing. I loved that we were given the opportunity to experience the beef completely pure like this.

    Other things were cooked, of course. Here is the onion, mushroom, and Japanese eggplant. I have to say that it was the first time I’d had eggplant and actually liked it.

    Remember our lovely steaks from the beginning? Here they are, finally cooking — just on sliced garlic. They’re cooked not in oil, but only in their own fat, rendered from the previously cooked steaks.

    And there was this nice, simple salad.

    Things are getting going on the steaks now…

    And here was the first serving. (It just kept coming, but the chef only prepared a little at a time so we always had hot steak to eat.)

    Even the sprouts were incredible. Sprouts! Who the hell loves sprouts?! Not me, normally — but tonight, the secret was that they were cooked in Kobe beef fat. I had thought things were delicious when cooked in bacon fat, but this was worlds beyond that. I’ve honestly never had such delicious (and rich) vegetables in my life. From now on, I want all of my veggies cooked in the fat of the most prized beef in the world.

    Also cooked in the Kobe beef fat: fried rice. Just simple rice, garlic, and beef flavoring. Good lord, would the deliciousness ever stop?!

    Japanese pickled vegetables.

    And at last, after two hours of incredibly decadent food, a lovely, light dessert. The raspberry sorbet totally hit the spot after all of that beefy goodness. (Sadly, the other ice cream was simply vanilla — not beef flavored. The only mis-step in an otherwise fantastically beefy meal!)

    And here I am, back at the train station in Kobe, with two of the kindest people I’ve ever met — Toshiya Iwata (left — holding an autographed score of “Kingfishers Catch Fire”) and Kohtai Yoh (right).

    This was one of the most incredible meals of my life. How many people have Kobe beef — in Kobe, Japan, at the steak house that invented the Japanese steak house?!?! I hate the word “blessed” and all of the baggage that goes along with it, but tonight, I sincerely felt blessed. As I’ve felt every day in Japan, there aren’t words to thank Yoh-san — and everybody we’ve met — for their generosity.

    Japan has the loveliest people I’ve ever met.

    3 Comments

    March 12, 2007

    PONIES and CHICKENS!

    It’s been a crazy couple of days, getting ready for our trip to Japan. Today, we picked up our rail passes (it’s cheaper to buy train tickets here than in Japan), bought gifts to give to people there (it’s a custom that I think should be more common here — I want more gifts!), and ran various other errands. I also finally accepted all of my pending MySpace friend requests. (That took over an hour, as I always verify that the request is from a real person, not a stripper or some band I’d never listen to.) Tomorrow, we’ll pack, and then it’s off to the airport on Wednesday morning. Our flight leaves at noon, and the flight lasts 12 hours, but by the time we arrive, it’ll be 4pm the next day. Gotta love an 16 hour time difference. And coming home will be even better. We’ll leave Tokyo around 4pm, but arrive in Los Angeles at 10am on the same day we leave. It’s some crazy form of time travel or something. I’ve no idea how I’ll adjust to the jet lag.

    Last week, AEJ and I drove up the coast to San Luis Obispo for a performance of “Turbine” at the American Bandmasters Association convention. Gary Hill conducted a (typically) spectacular performance of the piece with his ensemble from Arizona State. Before the concert, AEJ and I took a tour of the Hearst Castle. Man alive, it’s spectacular. Here’s a guy who knew how to spend his (insanely massive amounts of) money. It was a beautiful day for a tour of the grounds. This chicken agreed. (AEJ calls all birds “chickens.” It doesn’t matter if it’s a robin or an ostrich. It’s “chicken.” I assume they all taste roughly the same anyway.)

    This is the view from the deck of the house. Imagine owning as far as you could see.

    Hearst had a collection of sarcophagi, some authentic, some not. Not sure which this one is, but I like the random fruit on the ground next to it.

    The castle has over 60,000 square feet, and over a hundred rooms. This is but one of the libraries. The books were all locked behind bars — not by the people who run the museum, but by Hearst himself, who didn’t want his guests — unseemly types like presidents and actors — wandering off with his stuff. Dude, I’m right there with you. I’m not one for sharing, either. I tell myself it’s because I skipped kindergarten, and therefore never learned to share, but maybe it’s just because I’m a bastard.

    I’m digging this bedroom. It’s kind of bordering on creepy, which would make for a fascinating night’s sleep.

    Now THIS is a kitchen. Like the view from outside, it goes on as far as you can see.

    Awesome sink. CHICKENS!

    Kind of the best thing in the house is the indoor pool. This picture doesn’t do it justice, but it was pretty spectacular. If I had this pool, it might be enough to convince me to learn to swim.

    For contrast with Hearst Castle, we stayed at The Madonna Inn.

    This place is insane. Every single one of the 109 rooms is decorated individually, each room more over-the-top than the next. The rooms range from “American Beauty” (a misnomer, I assure you – but also not related to the film) to the “Caveman Room to “Just Heaven”. We stayed in “The Chestnut Foal” room. Yeah, it’s horse themed, ’cause AEJ is a “horse fancier.” Check out the merry-go-round horse mounted on the ceiling.

    Now here’s a palette for you: crazy multi-texture high-gloss blue-heavy wallpaper in the bathroom, a green door, and the reddish-brown western-theme wallpaper in the main room. I almost had a seizure. The good kind of seizure, though.

    The beautiful bathroom sink. Totally our style.

    One of the horse wall-hangings.

    It’s tough to tell, but not only is that a popcorn ceiling, it’s a glittery popcorn ceiling. And did I mention that there’s a pony hanging from it?

    Outside, there was more beauty to behold — like this fountain. Again, totally our style.

    And here’s the building that houses the reception desk. (The whole complex was huge.)

    We loved the place. It was actually one of those places that was so awful it was fantastic. As AEJ said, “it just plows right through tacky, straight to the land of awesome.”

    So, there you are : Hearst Castle and The Madonna Inn. Two completely personal, but fantastically different, achievements in memorable design.

    3 Comments

    March 6, 2007

    Japan isn't just for crazy watches

    AEJ and I are flying to Japan a week from Wednesday, where we’ll be for a week. We’re flying there for the premiere of my new piece, “Kingfishers Catch Fire,” commissioned by a consortium of Japanese high schools and colleges. (I haven’t written much about this piece, but that’s because until a few days ago, I didn’t know if it worked, as I hadn’t heard a note of it. I received a recording last week, though, and I have to say that I’m cautiously optimistic about it. It’s ridiculously difficult — it’s for Japanese bands, after all – a county where there are middle school bands playing “Redline Tango” — but difficulty aside, I think the piece is a keeper.)

    This will be my first trip abroad. The only foreign country I’ve been to previously is Canada, and lovely as Canada is, the most “foreign” difference is the fact that the money has pictures of chicks instead of dudes. Japan, though, will be an adventure.

    Wataru Hokoyama, our friend (and first-rate composer) has been helping us a great deal as we prepare for the trip. The trip is shaping up nicely. Here’s the current itinerary…

    • Thursday, March 15: Arrive in Tokyo. Stay in hotel in Tokyo that night. Maybe have some sushi.
    • Friday: Bullet train to Okayama / Shin-Kurashiki. Rehearse with the band. Ichiro Saito conducts.
    • Saturday: Festival opening concert, including Kannonji Ichi High School band performance of “Redline Tango”
    • Saturday evening: premiere of “Kingfishers Catch Fire”
    • Sunday: “Meet the Composer” session. This should be interesting. It’s me, in front of a Japanese audience. I’ve no idea how this will go. I think I do okay on panels when the audience speaks English, but I’ll be at the mercy of my interpreter, Tetsuya Nakayama. Mr. Nakayama used to be a student of Eugene Corporon’s at North Texas, so I’m sure that’ll go just fine — but I’m still a little nervous.
    • Monday: AEJ and I head to Kyoto. We’re staying in a standard hotel in Kyoto on Monday, but on Tuesday night, we’re staying in the Tawaraya Ryokan, a traditional Japanese-style inn. Tawaraya is reportedly the best ryokan in the world (and some have called it the best hotel in the world), and has been run by the same family for 11 generations. The place is 300 years old. Guests have included members of the Imperial family, as well as Leonard Bernstein! (There are only 18 rooms; I hope we get the Bernstein room!)
    • Wednesday: head back to Tokyo.
    • Thursday: fly home to LA.

    I plan to take a zillion pictures in Japan, especially of the Tawaraya Ryokan, but I need to make sure I also just enjoy the experience. I just found this little blurb by the travel writer from the New York Times:

    On a recent business trip to Kyoto, I stayed at the Tawaraya Ryokan, one of the oldest hotels in Japan. We had a traditional multicourse kaiseki dinner one evening, and with each elaborate dish they poured more sake. While everyone else savored their meal, I was scribbling notes and asking people around me: “That was mackerel, right? What was in the soup again?” I stopped documenting our dinner only after the sake made it difficult to write anything coherent.

    That could be me on this trip. I don’t want to worry too much about taking pictures of every moment — especially since those pictures will be increasingly blurry as the sake kicks in. Who knows if I’ll ever be back to Japan, so I want to take it all in, and not just worry about getting a picture of every delicious piece of sushi. Wow, it’s going to be an incredible trip.

    And hell, maybe I’ll buy another crazy-ass Japanese watch while I’m there. Like this one! What the hell is going on here? It makes no sense at all! It’s perfect!

    5 Comments

    March 4, 2007

    … and the only prescription is more trombones.

    AEJ and I are driving up the California coast on Thursday. Gary Hill is conducting “Turbine” that night at the American Bandmasters Association convention in San Luis Obispo, about three hours north of LA. He’s doing the piece with his group from Arizona State University.

    And he’s using seven trombones.

    4 Comments