Benefit Concert to Examine Composers’ Musical Responses to the Pandemic

What do you do when you’re a professional musician whose live concerts are postponed or cancelled due to a pandemic? If you’re Thomas Piercy, an American clarinet and hichiriki player based in Tokyo and New York City, you produce a two-hour benefit concert video with 41 premieres by 41 composers performed by seven artists.

Piercy is the force behind the “Tokyo to New York” concert series that celebrates the deep musical connections between these two great cities. The concerts feature new compositions for traditional Japanese instruments as well as Western classical instruments and cover the broad spectrum of musical genres. The pandemic hit while Piercy was in Japan to perform in concerts scheduled for February, March, and April, including the “Tokyo to New York Festival 2020.” Those concerts and the festival were cancelled or postponed, and due to travel restrictions between Japan and the U.S., he was unable to return to New York until mid-August.

The Birth of “Moments in This Time”

Of course, Piercy is not the only musician affected by the pandemic, and he decided to use his time to find a way to help fellow musicians in similar situations. In June, he asked composers with whom he had previously collaborated if they would be interested in creating a new work, “a short musical moment in this time,” as Piercy describes.

To his surprise, more than 40 composers wrote pieces, ranging in length from one minute to twelve minutes. Some artists are award-winning composers who have had their music performed by international soloists, ensembles, and orchestras including the Chicago Symphony, the New York Philharmonic, Dresden Sinfonietta, BBC Proms, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Others are mere children, such as 17-year-old composer Yuri Umemoto, whose piece “Silent Excitement,” which Piercy describes as “invigorating and challenging,” belies his youth; 13-year-old Nagomi Wada, who drew inspiration from her pet bird; and ten-year-old (ten!) Dorian Tabb, who composed his piece, “Exploration,” while his mother had Coronavirus.

“The concert lasted longer than I expected due to more composers writing me pieces than I expected,” Piercy says via email. “This was and is a good ‘problem’ to have.”

Thomas Piercy and Shoichiro Tanaka perform during “Moments in This Time” (still from Benefit Concert)

Recording the Concert

Once Piercy assembled the compositions, he and six of his Tokyo colleagues performed and recorded “Moments in This Time” in July. Tokyo Concerts Lab granted Piercy permission to hold the concert in its hall without an audience. The set is starkly white and sparse—only the microphones and no more than three musicians at a time are in the room—and it gives the feel that you’re not so much watching a concert as eavesdropping on the creative process. Piercy does not address the “crowd,” and there are only about three songs that actually have lyrics.

Still, “Moments in This Time” is highly polished and entertaining, and I found myself recounting the last seven months of relative isolation in New York City, my mood ebbing and flowing with the music’s changes in tone.

Thomas Piercy

Highlights for me are the pieces in which Go Mochizuki accompanies Piercy on mandolin, particularly “Mirror Rim” by Yu Kuwabara. The twang of the mandolin battles Piercy’s smooth clarinet, almost in the same way as uncomfortable moments of 2020 have clashed with the truly happy ones. Reiko Fueting’s “Sonne.Ohne.Leben.” and “La cage sombre des lucioles” by Jean-Patrick Besingrand—with shakuhachi accompaniment from Hideyuki Tsuchiya—have the feel of a horror movie soundtrack. By stark contrast, “The play of the fairy” by the aforementioned young Nagomi Wada is a whimsical delight. Perhaps the most poignant, yet hopeful, piece is “Furtive Aurora Peeks Out the Window” by Dalit Warshaw, who suffered from the Coronavirus in April and could only see her husband and son through the window of the place from where she was self-isolating.

Whom the Benefit Concert Will Benefit

It is Piercy’s goal to help fellow musicians during this crisis, but he is broadcasting “Moments in This Time” free of charge, so anyone who wants to see and hear this new music can. However, for those who choose to contribute, there is a Donate button on the “Tokyo to New York” website. The funds raised from the tax-deductible donations will go to organizations with whom Piercy has been working that can identify composers and performers in need. Piercy names NewMusicUSA, Gabriela Lena Frank Creative Academy of Music, and the Japan Foundation as recipients.

Watch, Listen, Donate

Forty-one premieres, 41 composers, 7 performers. Spend some time with each one. You’ll find that “Moments in This Time” reflects all of our feelings throughout the course of this worldwide crisis. It’s a microcosm of our collective pandemic experience: periods of isolation and despair, interludes of joy as we catch glimpses of loved ones, and, ultimately, the hope to come out the other side of this as better people.

Tokyo to New York “Moments in This Time” Benefit Concert for Covid-19 Musicians Relief

Saturday, November 21 at 8:00 p.m. EST

Concert Broadcast Premiere on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter
The video will be available for viewing on YouTube and the “Tokyo to New York” site after the initial broadcast, and donations will continue to be accepted.

Admission: Free (Donations welcome)

The composers, performers, audio/video recording staff, and many donated their time and music to bring this benefit concert to life. For a list of all composers, compositions, and performers, please visit the “Tokyo to New York” website.

To view the benefit concert on YouTube, please click this link: https://youtu.be/DQAJMElmlb0