Finding Kensho : chamber orchestra
by Daniel Portelli (2012)
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Finding Kensho is based on a story about a Zen student who sets out to reach kensho (seeing one's nature or true self). The student, surrounded by nature, meditates, going through intense emotional processes of rigorous introspection and blissful self‐revelations. Drawn in by these fulfilling experiences, and without realizing, the student's perception of reality becomes distorted, riddled with doubt, manifesting in strong hallucinations and delusions. Guided by a master, the student must over come this great affliction to reach 'true kensho'. The hallucination stage of this practice translates into English as 'ghost cave'. The realisation of 'true kensho' is that there is no kensho to begin with, only an illusion of self.
Based on the practice of Hakuin Ekaku (1686 ‐ 1768) who saw that the psychological pressure and doubt that comes when one struggles with a koan (a practice towards kensho) is meant to create tension that leads to awakening. Hakuin called this the "great doubt", writing, "At the bottom of great doubt lies great awakening. If you doubt fully, you will awaken fully".
I am not a practicing Zen Buddhist but I see this story as having an allegorical universality with ideas s such as intensively searching for something that does not exist and the importance of journey, reflecting my own personal experience, among others.
The composition's fluidity is inspired by Gagaku, the imperial court music of Japan, and from that there are disturbances, mirroring my interest in East‐Asian and Western art music confluence. The piece also draws from various bird calls which can be perceived as slowly developing into distorted impressions of the students mind.
Instrumentation: Flute (doubling piccolo), oboe, 2 clarinets in Bb (doubling bass clarinet), bassoon, 2 horns in F, 2 trumpets in C, trombone, tuba, timpani, percussion (2 players), harp, strings (4 violins, 2 violas, 2 cellos, double bass).
Duration: 9 min.
Dedication note: Dedicated to Nigel Butterley. Dedicated to Nigel Butterley for his mentorship during the creation of this work.
Commission note: Developed during the Cybec 21st Century Australian Composer Program in 2011.
First performance: by Melbourne Symphony Orchestra — 28 Jan 12. Iwaki Auditorium, ABC Southbank Centre, Melbourne
Performances of this work
28 Jan 12: Iwaki Auditorium, ABC Southbank Centre, Melbourne. Featuring Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.
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