This is first piece I have written as a "resident artist" of Philharmonic Chorus of Tokyo where my dear friend Kazuki Yamada is the music director. It is also my first co-commission from The Crossing in Philadelphia, USA
When Kazuki asked me to write this piece, I remember a conversation we had a few years back in Prague. I was visiting with my family to hear Kazuki give the Czech première of my orchestral work "Rare Gravity" with the Czech Philharmonic. Kazuki was looking at my then 3 year old daughter when we all had lunch together before the concert. "Dai, you have to teach Japanese to your daughter. More importantly, you have to teach her onomatopoeia because that's the most unique thing in the Japanese language". I remember this conversation, and when I was writing for this choir piece years later, I decided to write music using Japanese onomatopoeia.
Japanese Onomatopoeia is serious. There are Haiku and other poems written only using Onomatopoeia. Apparently at the doctor's in Japan, a Japanese GP can diagnose many patients quickly, because patients can describe their pain with Onomatopoeia, which are a precise, and unique linguistic form.
So I picked several Japanese onomatopoeia, and started composing. As usual with my vocal works, the English text is written by Harry Ross, my collaborator of twenty years. We always work together, we compose and write text simultaneously, in the same room. However, this was the first time we tried combining Japanese onomatopoeia with English texts to create a narrative. Obviously, I needed to explain to him what "Zawazawa" (the first onomatopoeia I chose) meant. This was hard. To me zawazawa means….well, things go zawazawa! "Can't you feel it? no?".
So here I am in the studio explaining to Harry that zawazawa means noisy; murmuring, sawasawa means rustling etc. (I attached below the "Zawazawa" - dictionary, so you will be perfect onomatopoeia-users by the end of this concert).
Zawazawa is 15min. long, and straight after the World Premiere of this piece, Graham Mckenzie - director of /hcmf sent me a message on Twitter saying that he wants to hear it (which was nice, since people do actually read my tweets). I sent a link of the recording. 15min. later, he replied "I want to commission a sequel, can you do it?". So this became Zawazawa Part 1 and Harry and I are currently working on Part 2, which has marimba in it (also this one is co-commissioned by Philharmonic Chorus of Tokyo + BBC). The narrative of Zawazawa (Part 1 and 2), in which the text is inspired by my music (according to Harry) and my choice of onomatopoeia is best left to Harry, who writes:
So, Dai's memory of how he explained the onomatopoeia zawazawa is ever so slightly different to our actual conversation. Yes, things go zawazawa, that was his first attempt at an explanation. Then he started talking about the wind rustling in trees. I still looked a little blank obviously, since he further clarified:
You know on Hilly Fields (a park in south London we both know) when it's a Sunday afternoon, and it's windy, and the trees rustle, and things don't feel quite right? That's also zawazawa. For some reason I started thinking about
Whilst writing Zawazawa, we tried a new technique.