Go Gaga 

Ancient Japanese music at UCB

Sun 9/12

Gagaku, the "elegant music" played in the Japanese imperial court for more than twelve hundred years, appears to be something of an ancient misnomer. Oh, it's definitely elegant, but one American gagaku expert and ethnomusicologist tells a more nuanced story. When the musical style now termed gagaku was brought to Japan from China in the 7th and 8th centuries (it also has roots in Korea and India), it seems it was known by the Chinese name yen-yueh, or court banquet music -- in Japanese, engaku. Ya-yueh or gagaku was Chinese sacred ceremonial music, never introduced into Japan -- because the Japanese already had their own sacred music. But somehow the name stuck, probably because of a preference for the grand connotations of the spiritual, though it's still too early to rule out sloppy penmanship. So that's what gagaku isn't. What it is is a form of classical music performed by ensembles of strings, wind, and percussion instruments, including ryuteki (bamboo flute), sho (mouth organ), hichiriki (double-reed pipe), koto (zither) and biwa (lute). It also contains elements of dance and voice performance. Both minimalist and mystical, it can be so slow that the listener may have difficulty perceiving a rhythm -- making the music more about density of sound than harmony or tempo, and thus strikingly contemporary-sounding.

Music from Japan, an organization whose mission is to introduce American audiences to both original and traditional (you got it) Japanese music, turns thirty this year, and is bringing Reigakusha, Japan's leading court music ensemble, to UC Berkeley's Hertz Hall for the occasion. The eighteen-member group will play ancient as well as original (reigaku) works written especially for the ancient instruments of the extensive Shoso-in collection at the Todai-ji monastery temple in Nara. Three West Coast premieres will be featured: Irihi no raku by Keiko Fujiie, The Trees: Echoes from the Past by Kazuo Kikkawa, and Sorokodatsu, reconstructed by Sukeyasu Shiba, Reigakusha's music director. The concert is at 3 p.m., but ticketholders should get there early for the free 1 p.m. Sightlines lecture and demonstration with Toshiro Kido and ensemble members, Shoso-in Treasures: Reconstructing Musical Instruments.

Tickets are $28, available at Cal Performances Ticket Office at Zellerbach Hall, at 510-642-9988, CalPerfs.berkeley.edu, or at the door. Contact Cal Performances for discount and other ticket information. Hertz Hall is on the UC Berkeley campus, near the intersection of Bancroft and College avenues. -- Nora Sohnen

9/8 - 1017


Let her tell you a story

What is The Secret in the Wings ? It's certainly not that its creator and director Mary Zimmerman plays by the rules, judging by her thrilling staging last year of The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci. Zimmerman returns to the Berkeley Rep stage this season with the West Coast premiere of a concoction of European fairy tales -- the best-known of which is Beauty and the Beast -- spun together into a dark reverie. The Secret reveals itself Tuesdays through Sundays through Oct. 17 in the Roda Theatre. Info: BerkeleyRep.org -- Stefanie Kalem

9/10 - 10/9

National Revue

My baby, when you hear them bells go ding-a-ling/All join 'round and sweetly you must sing/When the birds sound too and the chorus will all join in/There'll be a hot time in the old town tonight. Celebrate the changing times at the turn of the 20th century with this and other hits of the day in Tintypes , a patriotic musical revue. Actors portraying five characters -- Anna Held (aka Mrs. Florenz Ziegfeld), Emma Goldman, Teddy Roosevelt, an African-American domestic worker, and a Chaplinesque Russian immigrant -- trill out "America the Beautiful," "My Baby," and others at Alameda's Altarena Playhouse starting this Friday night at 8 p.m. Altarena.org, 510-523-1553. -- Stefanie Kalem

Sat 9/11

Orange you happy

All quiet in the homeland. A peaceful Saturday evening. All of a sudden havoc breaks out at 449-B 23rd St. in downtown Oakland: sine-wave squalls, Dan Rather singing lead for AC/DC, programmed drums, disembodied samples of forgotten comics. Better call an Orange Alert . It's Evolution Control Committee, Restiform Bodies, and Blevin Blectum making angry noises at 21 Grand (9 p.m.). Dispatch art squads immediately. Have them bring $7, or whatever they can afford. But don't tell Tom Ridge. -- Kelly Vance


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