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Duration: 15 minutes

NETSUKE (2011)
6 Miniatures for Violin and Piano
Commissioned by the McKim Fund in the Library of Congress

1. Tengu, the shapeshifter that feeds on the falsely holy
2. Tadamori and the Oil-thief
3. Tanuki playing the samisen
4. Baku, the monster that devours nightmares
5. Demons carrying a rich man to hell
6. Jewel of Wisdom with mountain pavilions

Netsuke are Japanese miniature carvings that were originally made to secure objects suspended from a man's sash. Often very intricate in design, they represent a broad range of subject matters from depictions of animals and people, to scenes from folk-tales and literature as well as everyday life, to fanciful supernatural creatures. This piece was inspired by six exquisite carvings from the Bushell Collection at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

In the first movement, a tengu, a hawk-like goblin takes on the appearance of a monk to lure a religious hypocrite to his doom. The second carving, Tadamori and the Oil-Thief, is a wonderfully kinetic depiction of a midnight scuffle between a samurai and a poor servant whom he has mistaken for a thief.

A tanuki is a raccoon-like creature thought to have the power to change its appearance. In this small sculpture one is seen dressed in a robe quietly playing the samisen. In my piece, I found myself thinking of the samisen duels that one frequently hears in Japanese theatrical music. While quite fearsome looking, with the head of an elephant and a lion's main, the baku is a shy creature that performs the useful service of protecting sleepers from nightmares.

In the carving that inspired the fifth movement, a rich man has apparently set off on a journey, but instead of being carried by his usual bearers, seven demons have hijacked his sedan chair and gleefully cart him down to Hell.

The final netsuke shows a serene mountain landscape intricately rendered in a water-drop-shaped piece of ivory. Gnarled wind-blown trees and the verandas of handsome pavilions can be discerned through the mist.

Commissioned by the McKim Fund in the Library of Congress, Netsuke is dedicated in friendship and gratitude to Matt Albert and Lisa Kaplan of eighth blackbird.