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East Meets West
Philharmonic | Masterworks

John Kurokawa, clarinet

Neal Gittleman, conductor

Griffes The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan
Esmail  Clarinet Concerto
Mozart  Abduction from the Seraglio Overture
Strauss Der Rosenkavalier Suite

About the Program

East Meets West opens with Charles Tomlinson Griffes’s tone poem “The Pleasure Dome of Kubla Khan,” inspired by the unfinished poem by English romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The work, which came to Griffes in a dream, evokes images taken from Coleridge’s poetic images of a “sunny dome” and “caves of ice.”

While many composers of Western classical music have looked to exotic lands for inspiration, Reena Esmail’s Indian musical roots let her look West and East for her compositions. Esmail says of her Clarinet Concerto, “Hindustani music is an aural tradition: the nuance of a phrase is picked up through call and response, by hearing and repeating. In both movements of this concerto, the melodies that start in the clarinet eventually find their way into the orchestra. The aural transfer of these melodies to the western musicians is embedded in the piece itself, and the exchange of musical cultures is taking place in real time, before your ears.” Dayton Philharmonic Principal Clarinet John Kurokawa takes the spotlight for this haunting and exhilarating work.

For 150 years in the 16th and 17th centuries, Vienna was the nexus of East-West interactions due to the two Turkish sieges of the city, which, led (once the danger was over) to a Viennese fascination with all things Turkish. After his move from his birthplace of Salzburg to Vienna, Mozart pulled from this Turkish influence, using a Turkish harem as the setting for his first big-hit opera, The Abduction from the Seraglio. The opera's overture features the jingling sounds of Turkish percussion instruments and evokes the noise the Turkish army bands made outside the city gates during the sieges.

Strauss’s beautiful Suite from Der Rosenkavalier crowns this enchanting Masterworks concert, with ravishing melodies and seductive waltzes that transport audiences to Vienna’s opulent golden age.

Artistic Director and Conductor
Neal Gittleman
Neal's Notes

Two Buzzwords        

Before I get to the buzzwords, how about these words that have a nice buzz to them: HAPPY NEW YEAR! As I said on New Year’s Eve, 2021 was definitely an odd year, but I’m sure 2022 will be even better! Let’s hope I’m right…

Buzzword No. 1: Pivoting

If we learned anything during the first two years of COVID craziness, it’s the ability to quickly pivot from one idea to the next as events scramble our best-laid plans. This is the as-yet-untold story of one (or two) of those pivots.

I’ve been looking forward to the DPO’s January 7th and 8th Masterworks program, “East Meets West” for a long time. The idea came to me a couple of years ago when I heard My Sister’s Voice, a staggeringly beautiful piece by Indian-American composer Reena Esmail. It’s for orchestra with two sopranos—one from the Western classical music tradition, one from the Hindustani classical music tradition—exploring the delightful results when these two different musical cultures combine and interact.

I designed “East Meets West” around this wonderful piece, with works by Mozart and Rameau that evoked far-off lands plus the wonderful orchestral suite from Strauss’ Rosenkavalier, an opera that revels in the beauty of intertwined soprano voices just like My Sister’s Voice. All was well…

…until mid-July, when our Hindustani singer—the only Hindustani singer in the world who sings the piece—had to drop out. She’s expecting a baby in early February and our concert date is too close for comfort.


Reena Esmail and I put our heads together and she pitched me several other pieces. I liked them all, and the one I liked the best was her 2017 Clarinet Concerto. Like My Sister’s Voice, it’s a cross-cultural piece, bringing the ragas and rhythms of Indian classical music to the Western concert hall.

The concerto was written for another one-of-a-kind soloist, clarinetist Shankar Tucker, who plays Western classical music, Hindustani classical music, jazz, fusion, and other styles. Shankar’s skill as an improviser was key to the design of the concerto, we needed him. And guess what? He’s recently decided to focus on other things, like composing film music, his 11-million-plus YouTube hits, and a fusion music tour.


I asked Reena if it would be possible to adapt the Concerto to make it playable by other clarinetists—like our own John Kurokawa—who weren’t steeped in Hindustani improvisation. She said it was possible. It would be a lot of work—transcribing, notating, and re-working the improvs that Shankar had done in the Concerto’s first performance. But it was work worth doing, since it would give the piece a new life and a chance for the many more performances it deserves. Reena finished the transcriptions in September, John learned the piece, we worked on it together, had a Zoom coaching with Reena, and we’re ready (and rarin’) to go. Thanks to those pivots you’ll have a chance to hear this wonderful piece get its “second world premiere” on January’s Masterworks program.

And Reena Esmail’s My Sister’s Voice will have its Dayton premiere in on the DPO’s 2022-2023 Masterworks Season.

Buzzword 2: Cultural Appropriation

I just googled “cultural appropriation”. The topic’s on people’s minds these days: 80.5 million results! What is it? Here’s a dictionary definition: “the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.”

You’ve heard the term recently when sports teams replace (or don’t replace) culturally offensive names and mascots, when people wear hairstyles or clothing that’s not “their own”, West Side Story, and so on…

And Western classical music has respectful cultural appropriation built into the fabric of its musical language. Composers from Bach to Mozart to Brahms to Dvorak to Debussy to Stravinsky to Steve Reich have borrowed musical ideas from far-off lands and peoples.

But why this “East Meets West” concert now, with all the controversy around cultural appropriation?

The answer is composer Reena Esmail, whose music joyfully explores the differences and linkages between Western and Indian classical music traditions. Her music is a bridge between cultures, celebrates the best of both musical traditions, and brings us together in the beauty and exhilaration of works like the Clarinet Concerto.

Along with the concerto, you’ll hear the early 20th century American impressionist Charles Griffes evoking the East through Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Kubla Khan, Mozart’s faux-Turkish overture to his faux-Turkish opera The Abduction from the Seraglio. And the concert-closer, Richard Strauss’s Rosenkavalier Suite is a different kind of cultural appropriation, as a Viennese modernist composer (he of Salome and Elektra) suddenly harkens back to the waltzes of an earlier Viennese era.

Classical music has always been a field where diverse cultures combine and influence each other. It’s part of what keeps the music evolving. It gets us to hear new music in old ways and old music in new ways. I hope it’s always part of our shared common culture and I hope that “East Meets West” will be a pleasing, thrilling, and thought-provoking evening at the Schuster Center.