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Karen Tanaka

Publisher: Chester Music

Urban Prayer (2004)
Commissioned by Mrs Jane Dutcher
Chester Music Ltd
Soloist(s) and Orchestra
Year Composed
20 Minutes
Solo Instrument(s)

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Programme Note
Karen Tanaka Urban Prayer (2004)
The title, Urban Prayer, suggests prayer of people in current times reflecting the tension and anxiety of our life today. In previous works, The Song of Songs and Guardian Angel, I also used Biblical references. I grew up in Protestant schools in Tokyo, where I enjoyed singing hymns and playing the organ every day. Currently I serve as an organist at St. Michael and All Angels Church in Santa Barbara every Sunday morning. St. Michael and All Angels Church is truly a powerful and special place for me, and Urban Prayer was inspired by the spirit of Christianity and the prayers and hymns that I have experienced there. Urban Prayer was written for Joan Jeanrenaud and it is dedicated to Joan and her mother, Jane Dutcher. When I was composing this piece, the sound of Joan’s cello and her interpretation were always in my mind.


  • 18 JAN 2011
    Suntory Hall, Tokyo
    Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra
    Nobuo Furukawa (cello); Jonathan Stockhammer, conductor
  • 16 MAR 2004
    Urban Prayer World Premiere
    Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley, USA
    Berkeley Symphony Orchestra
    Joan Jeanrenaud, cello; Kent Nagano, conductor

Even with three acclaimed soloists on the bill, the cello was the undisputed star of Tuesday's Berkeley Symphony concert at Zellerbach Hall. Designed to demonstrate the sonic possibilities of the instrument over the past two centuries, the excellent program assembled by music director Kent Nagano included works for cello and orchestra by Tschaikovsky, Elliott Carter and Karen Tanaka, as well as Beethoven's Symphony No. 2. Titled "21st Century Cello," the program was a tribute to cellist Laszlo Varga, one of Nagano's first teachers at San Francisco State University and a lifelong mentor to the conductor. Varga, who has been a major influence on Nagano and many other Bay Area musicians, recently retired after an illustrious career that included an 11-year post as principal cellist of the New York Philharmonic. Varga was in the audience for Tuesday's concert, which featured guest appearances by cellists Joan Jeanrenaud, Judiyaba and Matt Haimovitz. Each cellist proved a fine representative of the instrument, but Jeanrenaud's performance of Tanaka's new cello concerto, "Urban Prayer," was the evening's highlight. Making its world premiere on this program, the concerto was written for Jeanrenaud, and it was hard to tell which was more beautiful, the composition itself or the cellist's interpretation of it. By the end of the 20-minute performance, the two seemed inseparable. Tanaka's writing -- brisk and minimalist in the first movement, slow and lyrical in the second, mysterious and dreamlike in the finale -- elicited a fully engaged, brilliantly lyrical response from Jeanrenaud. All of the musical gifts that marked her 20-year tenure as cellist with the Kronos Quartet -- rich, tawny tone, fluent phrasing and fiercely focused energy -- were on display in this performance. Nagano and the orchestra gave her dynamic support.
Georgia Rowe, Contra Cosra Times,18/03/2004
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