“Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”
This famous quote, often (wrongly) attributed to the philosopher Frank Zappa, speaks of the inadequacy of words to convey the depth of human emotions that great music evokes with ease.
Cult author Haruki Murakami dances better than most.
The Japanese writer is known to be an intense music aficionado: he once ran a Tokyo jazz bar for several years, owns an enviable record collection of more than 10,000 albums (vinyl, of course), and peppers his writings liberally with music references.
In “Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World,”, for instance, he name checks Johnny Mathis, Charlie Parker, the Beatles, Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, Duke Ellington, Bach—even Pat Boone, for Christ’s sake. He even took the title of one of his most popular novels, “Norwegian Wood,” from a Beatles song.
These “playlists” serve as a subliminal soundtrack to his works, and no doubt hardcore “Murakami-ists” (as his fans call themselves) have actual Murakami playlists on their iPods.
The Japan Foundation does one better with “Listen to Haruki Murakami”, part of its Haruki Murakami Festival in Manila 2018: two evenings of live music, curated by Jun-ichi Konuma, a professor of music/literature culture from Waseda University, drawn from Murakami’s works.
‘A Wild Sheep Chase’
Although I’m not a big Murakami fan (I tried to get through “A Wild Sheep Chase” years ago and gave up midway), I had so much fun in the last Japan Foundation gig I went to (Shonen Knife!) that I couldn’t pass this up. Besides, the excellent acoustics of the Globe Auditorium at the BGC Arts Centers promised a feast for the ears.
Luckily, you don’t need to be steeped in Murakami to enjoy “Listen to Murakami” (though judging from the long lines of young people and brisk sales at the Fully Booked kiosk of Murakami titles and books by other Japanese writers like Yukio Mishima, Junichiro Tanizaki and Ryunosuke Akutagawa, most of the audience was).
The performers were obviously selected to highlight the twin poles of jazz and classical music that often appear in Murakami: the Hiroko Kokubu Trio is a straight-ahead piano trio composed of veterans of the Japanese jazz scene. The 1966 Quartet is an all-female string quartet specializing in classical arrangements of pop songs ranging from the Beatles to Michael Jackson. A special guest was rising classical pianist April Merced-Misa.
Murakami’s pop affinities were manifest in the evening’s repertoire: “Norwegian Wood,” “Danny Boy,” “South of the Border,” “California Girls,” “Slow Boat to China,” “Penny Lane,” “Billie Jean.” Serving as classical counterpoint were pieces by Mozart, Beethoven, Liszt, Janacek and Bach.
Actor David Ezra read brief excerpts from Murakami before each number.
“Through the novels of Murakami, I wanted the concert to provide an opportunity for such people to gain exposure to music they are not normally exposed to,” professor Konuma wrote about curating the concert.
“I wanted the audience to gain exposure to and become familiar with the music cited in the novels that is particularly well-known, as well as music that had an important meaning.”
By evening’s end, that particular mission seems to have been accomplished as jazz trio and classical string quartet joined together in a reprise of “Norwegian Wood,” when the artificial categories of “jazz,” “classical,” “pop” were forgotten and it was all just pure music.
I can only imagine that Haruki Murakami would have approved.
As for me, I might give “A Wild Sheep Chase” a second look.