Isao Tomita

Royal Festival Hall, London - 22 June, 1999

[Isao Tomita gig poster]"The first half showcased Tomita 'playing' a space fantasy loosely based on Holst's Planet Suite"

Tomita was almost my first introduction to the world of electronic music: back in the 70's, my mother had a tape of 'Snowflakes are Dancing', a tape of synthesized classics, and I loved it to death. Twenty years and more later, my tastes may be slightly harder, but when I heard he was performing, my second thought was that I had to go - the first being "Is he still alive?", though he's actually only in his 60's. The main thing about the Royal Festival Hall as opposed to the usual concert venues I go to is the *fabulous* acoustics. You don't need power, it's the clarity which makes an impression, the difference is like being stabbed rather than bludgeoned. The first half showcased this well, with Tomita 'playing' (in the same sense a DJ could be said to 'play') a space fantasy loosely based on Holst's Planet Suite. This was accompanied by video footage of Earth and stars and was...well, let's be honest, I dozed off: he seemed a better arranger than a composer.

However, the second half went some way to disprove this, taking not only electronics, but the London Philharmonic Orchestra and traditional Japanese instruments and combining them in 'The Tale of Genji', inspired by what's regarded as the first ever novel, written in the 11th century by Murasaki Shikibu. Here, the enormous video screen was showing high-definition TV pictures of historical palaces and scenes, and although there were still more slack moments than I'd like, when everything worked together, the effect was stunningly evocative. In the final moments, 'cherry blossom' fluttered down from the ceiling of the auditorium onto the musicians below - and that beautiful image, combining with the music and the visuals, is the one that I'll take away and treasure.

Jim McLennan