Video Premiere: American Wild Ensemble Performs Adaptation Variations by Takuma Itoh

Today’s video premiere features American Wild Ensemble performing Takuma Itoh’s Adaptation Variations with stunning video footage by Jorge Arzac.

The video is a result of a commissioning and performance initiative that took American Wild Ensemble to Hawaii in February 2020. The newly commissioned works by composers Takuma Itoh, Michael-Thomas Foumai, Tonia Ko, and Byron Yasui–all current or former Hawai‘i residents–draw inspiration from Hawaiian wildlife, geography, and traditions.

Here’s what American Wild Ensemble co-directors Emlyn Johnson and Daniel Ketter had to say about the project:

The audio here comes from the final outdoor performance of our February 2020 Hawaii tour. This concert at Lyon Arboretum was a particularly special event, allowing us to connect with an audience passionate about Hawaiian land and conservation in a stunning environment, with tropical birds calling overhead as we performed Takuma Itoh’s colorful music. Jorge Arzac’s vibrant footage captures the spirit of the project by sharing our sense of wonder at the rugged beauty and dynamic landscapes of Hawaii, encouraging all of us to celebrate, protect, and educate more people about these incredible places.

And here’s what Takuma Itoh had to say about Adaptation Variations:

When talking about evolution, biologists often use the musical term “theme and variations” as an analogy of how a single species can evolve to become a diverse array of species over time. With Adaptation Variations, I wanted to raise awareness of Hawai‘i’s incredible honeycreepers (forest birds) which performed this theme and variations over many millennia, evolving from one species that flew over to Hawai‘i to over 50 distinct species at one point–but now fewer than 20 still remain, many of which are critically endangered. The work starts off with a brief storm before arriving at a clear melodic theme. The rest of the work is a loose set of theme and variations that use some of the various honeycreepers’ distinct features as starting points for musical inspiration: the long curved beaks of the i‘iwi resulted in the glissandi section; the seed-eaters like the palila led to the percussive, rhythmic variation; the repeated notes of an ‘amakihisong or the distinctive intervals that an ‘apapane sings became rhythmic and intervallic motives throughout the work; and so on.

About American Wild Ensemble

The American Wild Ensemble began in 2016 with a commissioning project inspired by and performance tour of American national parks, in honor of the National Park Service centennial. Since 2016, AWE has continued to celebrate American places, historic figures, and events by commissioning new works and performing them in site-inspired and site-specific locations. AWE has commissioned 30 new works for 2-7 performers, with support from organizations including the National Endowment for the Arts, Chamber Music America, and Mid-America Arts Alliance, for performances in traditional and nontraditional venues across the country.

The American Wild Ensemble specializes in context-driven music that encourages audiences to explore their environment through a different lens, engage with contemporary music in a new way, and foster the sense of community between performers, listeners, and the spaces that surround them. Most recently, AWE performed on tour in Hawai‘i in February 2020, featuring new works inspired by Hawaiian wildlife and landscapes. The ensemble shared music by composers Michael-Thomas Foumai, Takuma Itoh, Tonia Ko, and Byron Yasui in performance and education events on Oahu and the Big Island, including concerts at Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park. Ensemble directors Emlyn Johnson (flute) and Daniel Ketter (cello) are both on faculty in the music department at Missouri State University.

About Takuma Itoh

Takuma Itoh’s music has been described as “brashly youthful and fresh” (New York Times), and has been featured amongst one of “100 Composers Under 40” on WQXR. In 2018, Itoh was instrumental in creating an innovative education program, Symphony of the Hawaiian Birds, which has since brought over 10,000 young students to hear new orchestral compositions alongside original animations that raise awareness of Hawai‘i’s many endangered bird species. This project further helped to inspire this project with the American Wild Ensemble that is featured here. Other recent highlights include a string quartet (with ‘ukulele doubling), American Postcards: Picture Brides (Hawaii 1908-1924), written for Invoke, which resulted in a collaboration with local Hawai‘i historian that told the story of some of the first Japanese women who immigrated to Hawai‘i; and Faded Aura for Hub New Music and shakuhachi player Kojiro Umezaki, which was performed around Japan on a tour with the Asia American New Music Institute. In addition, he has been the recipient of the Barlow Endowment general commission, Music Alive: New Partnerships grant with the Tucson Symphony, the Chamber Music America Classical Commission, the ASCAP/CBDNA Frederick Fennell Prize, six ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Awards, the Leo Kaplan Award. Upcoming commissions include works for the Albany Symphony and the Hawai‘i Symphony.

Itoh is an Associate Professor of Music at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, where he has taught since 2012. He holds degrees from Cornell University, University of Michigan, and Rice University.


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