#review: Musical journey to The House of Krug with musical titan Ryuichi Sakamoto

The House of Krug and Japanese musical titan Ryuichi Sakamoto have come together to create a series of Champagne-inspired musical experiences. Stephenie Gee heads to Tokyo for the Asia premiere of Seeing Sound, Hearing Krug and gets swept away by the multisensory performance

Photo: Krug

When we say Champagne has notes, we’re usually referring to the subtle aromas or flavours of the wine we capture with our noses and taste buds. But in the case of Krug, the storied Champagne house with an illustrious 179-year history and whose brand identity is anchored on a lyrical approach to Champagne creation, notes are the cascading chimes of the piano and enlivening strings of violins that crescendo into a flourish of rousing musical movements.

The fruit of an 18-month creative journey, the three-part symphony Suite for Krug 2008, written by multi-award-winning Japanese composer, musician and long-time Krug lover Ryuichi Sakamoto, translates into music the sensations of three Krug Champagne impressions crafted from the harvest of an exceptional year: Krug Clos du Mesnil 2008, Krug 2008 and Krug Grand Cuvée 164ème Édition. Informed by frequent tastings of the cuvées, conversations with cellar master Julie Cavil and field recordings captured by his team of Krug’s vineyards and cellars in Reims, Sakamoto’s final composition encapsulates wholly the complex and extraordinary profile of the three Champagnes.

“Leaving behind my preconceptions, it was fascinating to discover the story of Krug’s creation through the angle of music. I learned how important music is to the House. I was immediately impressed by Krug’s authentic and humble music approach – the creative passion and drive to experiment,” says Sakamoto. “I was surprised to discover that a Champagne house uses music to speak of its craftsmanship. This idea, a bit unconventional yet very simple, appealed to me.

“I studied ethnomusicology and have always believed that music can bring people together, whatever their language, culture or origin. Krug also understands the universal power of music to dialogue and share its stories. I know that three creations from one single year are unique in Champagne and a symphony in three movements to tell the story of these Champagnes seemed obvious to me.”

Photo: Krug

To share this unique symphony with the world as an immersive experience, Krug hosted three unforgettable global events entitled Seeing Sound, Hearing Krug. “Seeing Sound is an idea I shared many years ago in the ’80s. I like the concept of making the impalpable tangible. It is well said that we are ‘touched by music’. I deeply believe in the sensory power of music which provokes emotions in us,” says Sakamoto.

On November 10, Tokyo’s Warehouse Terrada played host to the Asia premiere and final chapter of the multisensory immersion, having debuted in New York’s Brooklyn Museum on September 20 before travelling to London’s Alexandra Palace on October 19. A hundred guests, comprised of Sakamoto’s family (he himself was unable to attend due to ongoing cancer treatments), musicians and other creative personalities, were guided into an antique freight elevator that let out into a space dressed in a warm, effervescent glow surrounded by flat-screen monitors that displayed scenes of Sakamoto composing in his studio intercut with lush close-ups of the golden Champagnes, and where black shirt-clad servers circulated with chilled bubbles and buttery canapés.

Following a welcome address from Krug president Manuel Reman and sixth-generation director of the house Olivier Krug, attendees were brought into an adjacent chamber to be seated in two triangular formations, bordered by a live orchestra of 36 musicians hand-picked by Sakamoto on one side and a pianist, concertmaster and digital backdrop that displayed a heartfelt video greeting from the acclaimed composer on the other. “If this is your first time experiencing the craftsmanship and depth of Krug’s Champagne, I assure you after tonight you will join me as a Krug lover,” he says in the two-minute recording. As the lights dimmed, we were served our first pour and Suite for Krug in 2008 commenced.

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The first movement, a solo, echoed the purity and precision of Krug Clos du Mesnil 2008, which is made from a single plot of Chardonnay. The tinkling of piano keys interspersed with the sound of castanets circled through the room via 3D music technology, while the perimeter of slender light pillars that enclosed us, designed by Collectif Scale, lit up in time with the arrangement.

“I strongly believe less is more,” Sakamoto says. “I was inspired by the Champagne’s minimalist aspect, excellence pushed to its extreme with great precision. A piano solo was an obvious choice, but when I considered the system of natural exchanges that give birth to this Champagne, I wanted to add another voice and accents supporting the solo piano.”

Bridged by an interlude of sparse triangle percussion during which the waiters returned to serve the next Champagne, the remarkably structured Krug 2008, in synchronicity, the second movement received an extra layer of depth with the addition of soaring string melodies and beautiful legato woodwind lines.

“Krug nicknamed this Champagne ‘Classic Beauty’, and I thought about how to convey this in my music. I think it means both timeless and elegant. Not too disruptive to break the rules, not revolutionary, but enough to be in the annals of history. For this balanced and elegant Champagne, I chose an ensemble of violins, cellos and other stringed instruments but also added woodwinds for depth,” he says.

Photo: Krug

The last movement, performed by a full symphonic orchestra, recalled the breadth of Krug Grand Cuvée 164ème Édition with slow-evolving textures and pensive chord progressions that moved along with a strong forward impulse. “I was on a quest for harmony, intensity and generosity from multiple sounds, both instrumental and electronic,” says Sakamoto. “The fullness of Krug Grand Cuvée 164ème Édition means that everyone finds something in it that strikes them in a personal way – each experience is unique. My third movement is the same, each listener will take away something different.”

Concluding with a grand burst of orchestral colour, we were led into an adjacent complex where guests congregated around two long dinner tables adorned with rustic floral installations for an exclusive four-course meal paired with the same trio of Champagnes and accompanied by a live pianist.

First, on the menu was angel shrimp wrapped in flatfish served with caviar, green tomato and Granny Smith apple; followed by the crowd favourite, an anglerfish herbal beignet in a Makomo mushroom and umami sauce; veal in baked pie wrap with grilled beetroot and Comté cheese sauce; and pomelo and yuzu vacherin for dessert.

Part concert, part tasting and part dinner party, the entire experience were one of a kind. And from beginning to end, the evening felt nothing short of a feast for both the senses and the soul.

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