Ryuichi Sakamoto - Playing the Piano | The Auditorium, Rome | 28 October, 2009

After the recent Rome film festival which focussed on the environment with its Cape Farewell: Art & Climate Change exhibition and events, it would be hard to imagine a better way of maintaining the creative continuity at the Auditorium Parco della Musica than with the presence of an artist who is not only a Cape Farewell collaborator himself, but also a composer of some of the most memorable film scores of recent years - Ryuichi Sakamoto. The concert, in a packed Santa Cecilia hall on Wednesday evening, opened with the haunting lament for the melting ice caps – Glacier – taken from his latest CD Out of Noise. Whilst a taped soundscape of dripping water and incidental noises reverberated through the theatre, Sakamoto crouched over one of the two Yamaha pianos on stage, reached inside and picked the piano strings. Last year he travelled to Disko Bay on the West coast of Greenland as part of the Cape Farewell creative team and recorded sound at the mouth of Sermeg Avangnardleq Glacier – I'm not certain if these background sounds were those he gathered there, but certainly echoes of the trip were evident. It was a stunning opening, which moved straight into the hypnotic Hibari with its myriad loops and variations on a single theme. After these first pieces Sakamoto then took the microphone and announced that he'd now be playing whatever the mood dictated...there would be no prearranged set list here!

In a performance of seemingly boundless tenderness and generosity he then went on to play for another two hours, including not only music from his early days with the Yellow Magic Orchestra such as the exhilarating Happy End, but also some of his most famous movie themes - The Sheltering Sky and of course, the Oscar-winning The Last Emperor. Curiously, this tour also sees Sakamoto duet with himself – whilst he plays one of the two pianos live on stage the second instrument “plays” a pre-programmed sequence, with the empty piano stool even spot lit during some songs. The brilliance of his performance soon won over the fidgety and coughing members of the audience – maddeningly at least a third of the people in attendance seemed to need to cough every few seconds during the quiet and intimate opening pieces – and as the evening progressed the audience response grew steadily warmer and warmer until rapturous cheers and applause eventually brought him back out on stage for three encores.

It would be hard to pick any highlights but Energy Flow, Thousand Knives, Bibo no Aozora and Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence were sheer perfection.

Ryuichi Sakamoto's Playing the Piano is a carbon-free tour presented as part of Romaeuropa Festival 2009 and Santa Cecilia's It's Wonderful.

Video link

Photograph of Ryuichi Sakamoto on the Cape Farewell Disko Bay Expedition © Nathan Gallagher