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It is well known that Toru Takemitsu always conceived the title of a piece before composing it. In May 1988, between rehearsals for the first performance of Tree Line in London, Takemitsu and I took a long walk in Regent’s Park. One of the things we talked about was Peter Serkin’s recital programme composed entirely of new pieces, planned for the following year, to which we had both been invited to contribute. ‘I already have title,’ he said. ‘Prayer Bell.’ I expressed by appreciation of this wonderfully evocative starting point, and afterwards tried to picture what it might draw from him. But Takemitsu’s piece for Peter Serkin’s recital turned out in the event to be Les Yeux Clos II. Some years later, talking about titles again, I asked him what happened to Prayer Bell. ‘Prayer Bell maybe too difficult,’ was the response this time. Following his death in 1996, I spent much time trying to imagine a Prayer Bell in memory of Toru, and came to the conclusion that he was probably right – so what eventually emerged during three days in Tokyo last September is a Prayer Bell Sketch, recollections and rearrangements of a few simple bell sounds which, to me, resonate with memories of a dear friend and wonderful composer. Prayer Bell Sketch was commissioned by Ms Masako Okamura and Mr Motoyuki Nakagawa in memory of Toru Takemitsu, and was first performed by Peter Serkin, for whom it was written, at the new Takemitsu Memorial Concert Hall in Tokyo Opera City on 22 September 1997.
© Oliver Knussen