Press Room

Music From Japan Festival 2009

34TH Season

Two Contrasting Programs Showcase Three-Stringed Shamisen
in Traditional and New Repertoire

“Masters of Tradition”
Mojibei Tokiwazu V and His
Shamisen Quartet “Tradition / E-novation”
Four World Premieres for Shamisen, Violin, Voice, and Computer

Five-Stop U.S. Tour Includes NYC on March 7 & 8 and Smithsonian in Washington DC

Music From Japan and its Artistic Director, Naoyuki Miura, are pleased to announce Festival 2009: a weekend of events in New York City’s Merkin Concert Hall, on March 7 and 8, 2009, and a North American tour. Now in its 34th season, this year’s festival presents two contrasting programs to showcase the shamisen, a banjo-like instrument long associated with Kabuki theatre, as well as with other cultural art forms. These programs will feature traditional music alongside world premieres of new Music From Japan commissions.

Festival New York opens with Masters of Tradition: Mojibei Tokiwazu V and his shamisen quartet on Saturday, March 7. Representing the fifth generation in a family of leading Kabuki musicians, Mojibei Tokiwazu V brings the long tradition of Tokiwazu-style shamisen to New York. Before the concert there will be a lecture by Mr. Tokiwazu. On the following day, Sunday, March 8, pioneering violinist/composer Mari Kimura curates Tradition/E-novation: shamisen, violin, voice and computer. With Mojibei Tokiwazu V on shamisen and performer/composer Tomomi Adachi, Ms. Kimura performs world premieres of new Music From Japan commissions that integrate state-of-the-art computer technology with traditional instruments, shamisen and violin. A question-and-answer period with the commissioned composers will follow the concert. In addition to New York City’s Merkin Concert Hall, the Festival will travel to Mahopac, NY (March 5), Annandale, NY (March 10 and 11), Washington, D.C. (March 13), and Murfreesboro, TN (March 15).

About the shamisen
The shamisen is a three-stringed member of the lute family, with a skin-covered sound box and a slim, unfretted neck. Characterized by its buzzing resonance, or sawari, the shamisen is played with a plectrum called a bachi, which is often used to strike the strings and skin for percussive effect. The instrument was introduced to Japan in the 1560s, and its origins can be traced back through China and Iran (then Persia) to ancient Egypt. Different kinds of shamisen are associated with particular musical styles. Tokiwazu, Nagauta, and Kiyomoto shamisen developed to accompany dance in Kabuki theatre, which has featured on-stage shamisen music since the mid-17th century. For Kabuki’s virtuosic demands, the short, thin-necked hosozao shamisen is generally used, whereas Jiuta – accompanied, sung poems, often emotional and featuring long drawn-out syllables – are better suited to the medium-necked chuzao shamisen, with its broad, mellow timbre. For genres requiring a more forceful approach, players favor the futozao shamisen, which is large, thick-necked, and robust.

Masters of Tradition: Mojibei Tokiwazu V and his shamisen quartet
On Saturday, March 7 at 8pm in Merkin Concert Hall, Mojibei Tokiwazu V brings traditional Tokiwazu-style shamisen to New York, along with newly commissioned music for his shamisen quartet. The name “Tokiwazu” refers to a narrative style of music associated with Kabuki theatre since the 18th century, in which the musicians perform onstage to accompany the dance sections. Fifth in a line of leading Kabuki musicians, Mojibei Tokiwazu V comes from this long tradition of Tokiwazu players. With his quartet, he will introduce different styles of shamisen music, using a variety of instruments: he will perform on chuzao shamisen, Taku Taguchi-Touon on hosozao shamisen, Ichiro Takabatake on Jiuta shamisen, and Sansuzu Tsuruzawa on futozao shamisen. In addition to traditional music, the ensemble will perform works by Mojibei Tokiwazu V and his father, Eiju Tokiwazu (Mojibei Tokiwazu IV), and will premiere Kumiko Omura’s Dance of Spirits for shamisen quartet, which was newly commissioned by Music From Japan for this year’s festival. The concert will be preceded by a lecture at 7pm by Mr. Tokiwazu, entitled: “Shamisen – from traditional Kabuki to current experiments.”

Tradition/E-novation: shamisen, violin, voice and computer
On Sunday, March 8 at 2pm in Merkin Concert Hall, Music From Japan is proud to present four world premieres, all of which exploit two of Japan’s greatest resources: tradition and technological innovation. These works integrate state-of-the-art computer technology with traditional writing for shamisen and/or violin, and the four new works, by Tomomi Adachi, Takayuki Rai, Mari Takano, and Mari Kimura respectively, were commissioned by Music From Japan for this year’s festival. The program is curated by Mari Kimura, a violinist and composer internationally recognized for her pioneering work. She performs on violin, alongside shamisen artist Mojibei Tokiwazu V and performer/composer Tomomi Adachi. After the concert on March 8, the audience will have an opportunity to ask Ms. Kimura and the other commissioned composers questions about their work.

About the artists

Mojibei Tokiwazu V (b. 1961) has been instrumental in keeping Tokiwazu-style music alive, as his very name reflects: “Mojibei Tokiwazu” is not his original name, but one bestowed on him as an honor, as it had been bestowed previously on other members of his family, in recognition of his contribution to the art. Mojibei Tokiwazu V is in the fifth generation of one of the style’s first families, and the tradition was directly handed down to him by both his great-uncle and his father, the former Mojibei Tokiwazu IV (b. 1927), who is now a member of the Japan Art Academy and designated a “Living National Treasure”, like his father – Mojibei Tokiwazu III – before him. In 1995, Mojibei Tokiwazu V became a “Master Player” of Tokiwazu-style music for Kabuki and in 2004 he received special recognition for his performance from the National Theatre of Japan. He is also committed to new music, as both performer and composer; he has premiered new works in such international venues as Carnegie Hall, and in 1992 he received the Fifth Seieikai Encouragement Prize for his activities in both traditional performance and contemporary composition. Tokiwazu Mojibei V has taught Tokiwazu-style music at the Tokyo University of Fine Arts and Music since 1994 and at Waseda University Theatre Arts Museum since 2005. In October 2008 he was dispatched to Korea by the Japanese government as a special cultural emissary.

Mojibei Takawazu V’s quartet is comprised of shamisen players from the first rank. Taku Taguchi-Touon, playing hosozao shamisen, combines performing with composing. As a member of such groups as the Touon Kai, he works to promote Nagauta shamisen education. On Jiuta shamisen, Ichiro Takabatake is a distinguished recital and ensemble musician whose prizes include top honors in both the 28th Miyagi School Competition (1993) and the fourth Kenjun Anniversary Competition (1997). Sansuzu Tsuruzawa, performing on futozao shamisen, received the Geidan Kyo New Artist’s Award in 2000. She specializes in gidayu, a style of shamisen-accompanied chanting that is deep, throaty, and physically demanding, and was traditionally performed only by men.

Mari Kimura combines careers as violinist and composer, and in both capacities she consistently breaks new ground. Best known for developing the use of “subharmonics” (playing pitches below the violin’s normal range by means of extended bowing techniques), she is also an expert in interactive computer music, which she has taught at Juilliard since 1998. Her international performing career has taken her to festivals in more than 20 countries, and she has premiered works by such composers as Jean-Claude Risset and performed with leading improvisers like Henry Kaiser. The New York Times described her as “a virtuoso playing at the edge,” and Strings magazine as “a formidable virtuoso with total technical and tonal command of her instrument, in every register, at any speed, and under all circumstances.” As a composer, Ms. Kimura’s commissions include Violin Concerto for violin and interactive computer system with orchestra (Mexico, 1999), Kivika for dance (New York, 2000), Arboleda for viola and electronics (New York, 2001), and Descarga Interactive (ICMC Commission Award, Sweden, 2002). Her widely acclaimed GuitarBotana is an interactive work between violin and GuitarBot, a mechanical guitar, commissioned by Harvestworks. A winner of the 2006 Artist Fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), her works have been supported by grants including Jerome Foundation, Arts International, Meet The Composer, Japan Foundation, and the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA). Her latest CD, Polytopia, is available from Bridge Records.

Tomomi Adachi (b. 1972) is a performer, composer, sound poet, installation artist, and occasional theater director. His compositions include works for his own punk-style choir, the Adachi Tomomi Royal Chorus, some of which have been issued on the Tzadik label. He has presented his music at such international venues as IRCAM-Centre Pompidou and STEIM, in Europe, and Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. He has organized concerts in Germany and Japan, collaborating with musicians including Jaap Blonk, Carl Stone, and Akira Sakata. Mr. Adachi’s performances of works by John Cage, Cornelius Cardew, Dieter Schnebel, Yuji Takahashi, and Fluxus include both world and Japanese premieres, and he directed the Japanese premiere of John Cage’s Europera5 in 2007. He is Japan’s only performer of the nation’s great sound poetry tradition, and gave the Japanese premiere of Kurt Schwitters’s Ursonate. In 2000, Mr. Adachi and dancer Yamada Un formed VACA, an experimental music and dance duo. His recent work focuses on solo performance (for voice, sensors, computer, and self-made instruments), sound poetry, video installation, and workshop-style large ensemble pieces for non-professional voice and instruments. Mr. Adachi’s CD Yo is available on the Tzadik label.

About the commissioned composers

Tomomi Adachi (see above)

Mari Kimura (see above)

Kumiko Omura is a prolific composer for both conventional and electronic media. After her studies at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, from which she holds a Masters in Intermedia Music, she studied composition with Nicolaus A. Huber and electronic music with Ludger Brümmer at the Folkwang-Hochschule in Essen, Germany, and participated in the annual composition course at IRCAM, Paris. She has gone on to win numerous international awards, including the Irino Prize (1994), the Grand Prix at the Gaudeamus Music Week in Holland (1998), Young Artist Prize at the Nordrhein-Westfalen in Germany (2000), the ACL Yoshiro Irino Memorial Prize (2000), and the Takefu Composition Award (2004). Her works have been performed in America, Europe, Korea, and Japan at such festivals as Wittener Tage für neue Kammermusik, Musica Viva, and International Computer Music Conference in Germany, and Festival Agora and Centre Acanthes in France. She is currently a guest artist at the Center for Art and Media (ZKM) in Karlsruhe, Germany, and recordings of her works are available on the WDR and ALM Record labels.

Takayuki Rai (b. 1954) specializes in interactive computer music, and also composes for Western and traditional Japanese instruments. He studied composition with Yoshiro Irino and Helmut Lachenmann, and computer music with Paul Berg at Holland’s Utrecht Institute of Sonology, where he was guest composer from 1982-90. His works have been selected at numerous international festivals, such as the Gaudeamus Competition, ISCM World Music Days, and the International Computer Music Conference, and his competition wins include first prize at the Bourges Competition (both 1985 and 1989), Japan’s Irino Prize (1981), the USA’s NEWCOMP International Computer Music Competition (1989), and the ICMA Commission Award (1991). Takayuki Rai currently teaches computer music at the Lancaster Institute for the Contemporary Arts and the Kunitachi College of Music in Tokyo.

Mari Takano trained with Mutsuo Shishido in Japan, and then with Brian Ferneyhough and György Ligeti in Germany. Since graduating from the Hamburg Hochschule für Musik und Theater in 1988, she has gone on to build an international reputation with her works, which are scored variously for Western, electronic, and traditional Japanese instruments, as well as for voice. Her compositions have won numerous prizes, including Förderpreis der Landeshauptstadt Stuttgart (1985) and Ancona International Composition Competition (1986). Ms. Takano has received many commissions, both from performers and from such institutions as the City of Hamburg (1993 and 1995), the American Embassy in Tokyo (1995), and the Kanagawa Arts Festival (1997). She spent three months as guest composer at the USA’s Northwestern University in 2002. In that same year, BIS released Women’s Paradise, a CD devoted to her works, which has been internationally broadcast and celebrated; Ligeti said simply, “It smells of good music!” while, in the words of Boulez expert Jean Vermeil, the disc is “as spectacular as it is original.”

About Music From Japan
Music From Japan, the leading presenter of Japanese traditional and contemporary music in the US, has enriched the cultural life of New York and other cities by bringing Japanese performers, composers, and educational programs to US audiences. Since 1975, founding Artistic Director Naoyuki Miura has been responsible for presenting close to 400 works by Japanese composers, including 48 commissions by the organization and 59 world premieres. During the last three decades, the organization has presented concerts throughout North and South America, Central Asia, and Japan. More than 130 Japanese composers have been showcased, as well as many traditional Japanese works. In 1994, Music From Japan established the Resource Center for Japanese Music, including the Japanese Composer Database, which is available through MFJ’s web site at, and which provides information to people from all over the world on Japanese composers and their music. Music From Japan has been honored with a Foreign Minister’s Commendation in July 2007, and by two awards to Mr. Miura: the Japan Foundation Special Prize in October 2001, and the Commissioner for Cultural Affairs Award in December 2007.

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Merkin Concert Hall at Kaufman Center
Goodman House, 129 West 67th Street, New York, NY 10023, (212) 501 3330

Tickets: Festival weekend pass: $35; single tickets: $20.
Pre- and post-concert events are free to concert ticket-holders.

Saturday, March 7 at 8pm
Masters of Tradition: Mojibei Tokiwazu V and His Shamisen Quartet

Traditional Tokiwazu shamisen solo with narration
Eiju Tokiwazu (Mojibei Tokiwazu IV) Etude for shamisen duo (1962)
Mojibei Tokiwazu V Shamisen Quartet 3, Fête (2004)**
Traditional Jiuta shamisen solo with voice
Mojibei Tokiwazu V Shamisen Quartet 5 (2008)**
Kumiko Omura Dance of Spirits for shamisen quartet (2008-09)*

* World premiere, commissioned by Music From Japan
** American premiere (on tour in Mahopac, NY)

Mojibei Tokiwazu V, chuzao shamisen and voice
with Ichiro Takabatake, Jiuta shamisen and voice; Taku Taguchi-Touon, hosozao shamisen; Sansuzu Tsuruzawa, futozao shamisen

Pre-concert lecture by Mr. Tokiwazu at 7pm

Sunday, March 8 at 2pm
Tradition/E-novation: Shamisen, Violin, Voice and Computer
Mari Kimura, curator

Traditional Tokiwazu shamisen solo with narration
Mari Kimura Subharmonic Partita (2004), for solo violin
Tomomi Adachi Odorimbisha (2009)*, for shamisen, voice, and live electronics
Mari Kimura Pluck-Land (2009)*, for violin, shamisen, and interactive computer
Takayuki Rai Active Figuration (2009)*, for solo violin and computer
Mari Takano Full Moon (2008)*, for violin and electronics

* World premiere, commissioned by Music From Japan

Mari Kimura, violin
with Mojibei Tokiwazu V, shamisen and voice; Tomomi Adachi, performer/composer

Post-concert question-and-answer session with the commissioned composers

Programs and artists subject to change.


Thursday, March 5 at 7pm
Yasuragi Center, Mahopac, NY
Program: Masters of Tradition: Mojibei Tokiwazu V and His Shamisen Quartet
Venue: Yasuragi Center, 862 Route 6, Mahopac, NY
Tickets: $20
Information: contact the Yasuragi Center at: (845) 628 5425 or

Tuesday, March 10 at 7pm
Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY
Program: Tradition/E-novation: Shamisen, Violin, Voice and Computer
Pre-concert lecture by Mr. Tokiwazu, Ms. Kimura and Mr. Adachi at 6:30pm
Venue: Bertelsmann Campus Center, Bard College
Tickets: FREE
Information: contact: (845) 758 7388 or [email protected]

Wednesday, March 11 at 1.30pm
Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY, as above
Venue: Blum Music Building
Program: Lecture by Tomomi Adachi

Friday, March 13 at 7:30pm
Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
Program: Tradition/E-novation: Shamisen, Violin, Voice and Computer
Venue: Meyer Auditorium, Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Jefferson Drive at 12th St, SW
Tickets: FREE (with service charge, max. four per person) through Ticketmaster: (202) 397 7328 or beginning March 2, or at the Meyer Auditorium (max. two per person) beginning one hour before showtime on a first come first served basis on the day of performance
Information: call (202) 633 1000 or visit

Sunday, March 15 at 1.30pm
Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, TN
Program: Tradition/E-novation: Shamisen, Violin, Voice and Computer
Venue: Hinton Hall, Wright Music Building, McLean School of Music, Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro
Tickets: FREE
Information: contact [email protected]

Music From Japan Festival 2009 is made possible in part by public funds from the Agency for Cultural Affairs of Japan, The Japan Foundation, and the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency. Major funding for the project has been provided by the Rohm Music Foundation, The Tokyo Club, The Mitsubishi UFJ Trust Foundation for the Arts, The Mitsui USA Foundation Inc., Asahi Shimbun Foundation, The Kao Foundation for Arts and Sciences, Fuji Television Network, Inc., and Asahi Beer Foundation for Arts and Culture. Music From Japan appreciates the cooperation of Electronic Music Foundation, The Japan Federation of Composers, Inc., Japan Society for Contemporary Music, and all participating venues.

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January 2009

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