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The Woman by the Sea

The Woman by the Sea

The Woman by the Sea (2001)

The Wigmore Hall, London, on Wednesday 12th September saw the world première of McCabe's new work for piano and string quartet, entitled The Woman by the Sea. An official event of JAPAN 2001, it was commissioned by ArtSPACE, and was performed by Yoshiko Endo (piano) with the Rubio String Quartet, from Belgium.

The Woman by the Sea is dedicated to the cause of cancer research, and was written in memory of Alison and Geoffrey Mallet, parents of Peter Mallet, of ArtSPACE, both of whom died of cancer. Proceeds from the concert were donated to the Imperial Cancer Research Fund.

The work was inspired by the classic Japanese film of 1954, Sansho Dayu, directed by Kenji Mizoguchi. It was one scene, and one image in particular, that impelled the composition of this quintet. The film's narrative concerns the separation, by kidnappers, of a mother from her son and daughter, who are sold into slavery. The son, when grown up, finally manages to escape and, after many vicissitudes, traces his now aged mother, blind, crippled and living in a hovel on a remote sea-shore. The film achieves, through their reunion, a remarkable sense of redemption, and throughout their long separation there is a powerful feeling of anger at the cruelty they suffer, as well as an awareness that somehow their relationship is intact despite their ignorance of each others' fates.

It is the final scene, and the image of the old, lonely woman outside her shack, that occasioned the mood and form of this work - there is otherwise no attempt to portray the events or characters of the film. There is, however, a relationship with the sound of the woman's vain calling out of her children's names over the ocean, Anju and Sushio, the sound of her calls transformed into two similar rising phrases heard soon after the opening in the violins (while the viola and cello repeat a semitonal figure derived from the violin fragments) - in one especially moving moment in the film, the daughter, imprisoned in slavery on a distant island, fancies she hears her mother calling their names at the very moment she is doing so.

Other works in the programme were the Shostakovich 4th String Quartet, Schumann's Piano Quintet, and the Sakura Variations for String Quartet (1990) by Hikaru Hayashi, Shin'ichiro Ikebe, Kazuo Kikkawa, Kyoko Hagi and Rikuya Terashima.