Sunday, November 30, 2008

Rae Imamura 1945-2008

YESTERDAY WE ATTENDED a memorial service for Rae Imamura, the Berkeley pianist who died eight days ago of a brain tumor very recently discovered. Rae was a fine musician and a remarkable woman, dedicated to her students and to the music she played. She was particularly dedicated to contemporary music, which she served with fidelity and egoless intelligence.

The service was held at the Buddhist temple on Channing Way, where her father had been an officiant for many years. It was quite moving, beginning with chant, moving through three songs sung by the Rockridge Choir which Rae often accompanied, and reminiscences by two friends, and ending with incense burning and flower tributes.

There were a lot of people there, from the Japanese-American community — Rae was born in a relocation camp in September 1945 — and from the music world. I had a short conversation with her sister Hiro, who pursued a considerable concert career of her own.

I was moved especially by Rae's caretakers, who sang with the choir; and by remarks by two of her close friends, Janet Woodhams and Andrea Yee, who spoke of Rae's loyalty and humility and humor. And moved, too, by hearing recordings, at the end of the service, of Rae's performance of some limpid, clearly written two-part music, maybe Beethoven bagatelles, I'm not sure; very sure, elegant, no mannerisms at all.

Fifteen years ago Rae asked if I had anything for piano that would work in just intonation. One piece, I told her, and a piece I've never heard played at all; Three Pieces for Piano, written in the winter 1963-64. She played them on a wonderful program, with Charles Ives's "Concord" Sonata, at Annie's Hall, Berkeley, on an instrument tuned not in equal temperament but to Kirnberger 3. Alas, no recording equiipment was on the scene. The music was splendid in that tuning.

I told Hiro yesterday that I remembered that when Bob Basart was dying, twelve years ago I think, I produced a radio broadcast of his music. There was one piece he'd never heard, his last one, for solo piano. I gave it to Rae as soon as I got the music, two days before the scheduled broadcast, and she learned it and recorded it at KPFA. I told her the second movement was too fast judging by Bob's indications; he particularly wanted it quite slow.

"I don't have time to learn to play it slow," she said. "I recorded it on the Disklavier; you can slow the tempo to whatever you want." Bob was pleased. He died a week or so later.
First you learn the notes
find the (spirit) behind them
brush the notes aside

I have found the way, she said
good! What is it like? I asked

I can't tell you now…
(this is what her friend recalled)
…cannot find the words

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