Press Room

Music From Japan: Festival 2012 benefits Iitate Village, Fukushima

Music From Japan and its Artistic Director, Naoyuki Miura, are thrilled to announce Festival 2012: a weekend of events in New York City’s Merkin Concert Hall (Feb 18 & 19, 2012), and a concert at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC (Feb 22). Now in its 37th season, this year’s festival showcases the kugo, or angular harp, and one of its leading exponents, Fuyuhiko Sasaki, in a traditional chamber program entitled “Resonances of the Kugo.” With its debut in New York and a repeat performance in Washington, this program includes world premieres of three new Music From Japan commissions. In New York, a second program – “Commissioned Chamber Premieres” – presents world premieres of five further new MFJ commissions, scored primarily for Western chamber ensemble. In light of the trio of catastrophes recently suffered in Japan – the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster of 2011 – this historic festival season is dedicated to helping raise funds for and awareness of Iitate, one village that has been especially impacted by the nuclear calamity, and to which Artistic Director Miura has close personal ties. Three of the new commissions were written expressly for the village, whose Mayor, Norio Kanno, will deliver an illuminating pre-concert lecture before the festival-opening concert in New York.
About Iitate Village, Fukushima
Former Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan described this year’s earthquake and tsunami and the subsequent nuclear meltdowns at Fukushima as “the toughest and most difficult crisis for Japan since the end of World War II.” As the nation struggles to recover from this triple tragedy, Music From Japan shows its support by focusing attention on one village at the heart of the catastrophe that has demonstrated, nonetheless, rare resilience. Iitate, located 24 miles from the Fukushima nuclear power plant, was found to have potentially dangerous radiation levels, and all but approximately 120 residents, most of them elderly, were forced to evacuate. Once a thriving and idyllic farming community, now Iitate is practically deserted, its formerly valuable cattle stock and rice fields rendered worthless by the threat of contamination. Families, once close-knit, have been displaced and compelled to disperse in search of work, abandoning the homes, livelihoods, and way of life they had enjoyed for generations.
No one knows the profound loss this represents better than Music From Japan’s own Artistic Director Naoyuki Miura, whose mother hails from Iitate and who spent all his childhood summers there. Indeed, two of Miura’s cousins were living in the village until the April evacuation order, and one is Iitate’s own mayor, Norio Kanno. Mayor Kanno has since taken on a leadership role in trying to ensure the village’s survival, playing an instrumental part in advocating for its inhabitants and soliciting substantial government funding for their relief effort. He credits the spirit of “madei” – originally meaning “whole-heartedness; acting with respect and care,” and more recently interpreted in Iitate’s own dialect as also denoting “eco-consciousness; acting in harmony with nature” – with the positive energy he and other villagers have been able to summon. Mayor Kanno argues that it is only by adopting Iitate’s unique philosophy of madei that Japan can hope to work towards recovery, and that, seen in this light, the tragedy actually represents something of an opportunity to help the nation return to this vital credo.
To honor the village and to raise awareness of its plight, this year’s festival presents three new commissions written especially for Iitate, two of which – featuring the kugo – will premiere in the first program, and one, scored for voice and piano, that will premiere in the second. Furthermore, Mayor Kanno himself will be in attendance at the opening concert in New York, where he will present an exclusive pre-concert lecture entitled “Japan’s Recovery Lies in Iitate’s Spirit of ‘Madei’”. Selected tickets for this opening concert – “Resonances of the Kugo” (Feb 18) – will be sold to raise funds for Iitate and help in the slow process of recovery.
About Festival 2012
“Resonances of the Kugo” opens Music From Japan’s 37th season at Merkin Concert Hall in New York City on Saturday, February 18, 2012, with a program of music featuring the kugo, or angular harp. Originating in Mesopotamia around 1900 BC, the kugo first flourished in Japan between the eighth and tenth centuries; today’s instruments are authentic replicas of the eighth-century examples preserved in Japan’s Shosoin Collection. Renowned kugo player Fuyuhiko Sasaki, winner of the Second International Fukui Harp Music Awards Competition for Composition, last graced Music From Japan during its 30th-anniversary season. He returns now, not only as a performer but also as composer of a new work for kugo, voice, and haisho (panpipes); his new piece, To Be Human, is the setting of a poem by Jotaro Wakamatsu, and one of the new Music From Japan commissions written expressly for Iitate. The second, composed by Takehito Shimazu, whose many international honors include First Prize at the International Wieniawski Composition Competition, is the setting of four haiku by “madei ambassador” Madoka Mayuzumi for voice, hichiriki (double-reeded oboe-like instrument), and percussion. A third new MFJ commission, a duet for kugo and sho (mouth organ) by Akiko Yamane, will also debut at this festival-opening concert in New York. Rounding out the program are chamber works by such prominent contemporary composers as Toshi Ichiyanagi, Maki Ishii, and Sukeyasu Shiba, plus music reconstructed by the latter from the ancient biwa manuscripts of Dunhuang.
Artists joining Sasaki on the program are Mayumi Miyata (sho), Hitomi Nakamura (voice and hichiriki), Wonjung Kim (voice), Takeshi Sasamoto on haisho and Shosoin shakuhachi (vertical bamboo flute), and Kyoko Kato on hokyo and percussion. The instrumentalists are distinguished exponents of Japanese contemporary music for traditional instruments.
A repeat performance of the concert will be presented at the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington’s Smithsonian Institution on Wednesday, February 22.
The second concert in Music From Japan’s 37th-season presentation, again at New York’s Merkin Concert Hall, is on Sunday, February 19, 2012. “Commissioned Chamber Premieres” features the Music From Japan Chamber Ensemble with singer Wonjung Kim in world premieres of five new Music From Japan commissions. Set to a poem by Toma Ibu, Akiko Yamane’s new work for voice and piano, Toki yo Megure: Madei no rondo (“Time, Come Around: Madei Rondo”), was written especially for the children of Iitate. Programmed alongside it are new works from four of Japan’s foremost young composers: Chikage Imai, Noriko Koide, Toshiya Watanabe, and Junmei Suzuki, whose new composition combines sho and hichiriki with flute and cello; Mayumi Miyata and Hitomi Nakamura join musicians from the ensemble to perform it.
On Tuesday, February 21, 2012, Music From Japan will present a special gagaku program for public school students in Washington, DC. The children will be introduced to gagaku music – Japanese court music, which dates back more than 1,200 years – with a brief history and a performance of Ponta and the Thunder God, set to music by Sukeyasu Shiba. The students will even have the chance to sing a “shoga”, an oral notation system that is sung to aid in the memorization of melodies. They will be shown and told about the instruments played in gagaku, and some lucky students will have the opportunity to experiment on them.
Fuyuhiko Sasaki (featured artist: kugo) is an active harpist and composer in Japan and winner of the 2nd International Fukui Harp Music Awards Competition for Composition in 1995. He studied harp with Ayako Shinozaki and composition with Toshiro Mayuzumi and Teizo Matsumura at the Tokyo National University of the Arts. Sasaki is also a renowned player of the kugo, a large ancient harp of Asian origin, and he has appeared in numerous concerts and music festivals as well as on recordings both in Japan and abroad. His festival appearances include the Aspen Music Festival, the Hong Kong Asian Music Festival, the Silk Road circular tour around China, the 8th World Harp Congress, the Geneva Summer Music Festival, and East Meets West at the Japan Cultural Institute in Paris. In 2005 he performed at “Echoes of Eurasia” at the World Expo in Aichi. Sasaki was a featured performer in Music From Japan’s 30th-anniversary concerts at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center in 2004.  An ardent Christian, he has performed in more than 600 chapels throughout Japan. He served as Music Director of the Harp Festival in Shirane Togenkyo (1990-93) and taught at Bunka Gakuin (1992-99). He has released four solo CD albums: Jesus Bleibet Meine Freude (Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring), Dona Nobis Pacem, Resurrection with You, and Kugo, Ancient Resonance Reborn, which received an “Outstanding CD” award from Recorded Art.
Norio Kanno (Mayor of Iitate Village) was born in 1946 in Iitate Village.  He graduated with a major in Grassland Science from Obihiro University of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine in 1970. While maintaining a farm with 60 head of dairy cattle, Kanno was commissioned by Iitate Village to serve as its Community Center Director in 1989.  Elected Mayor of Iitate in October 1996, he has served four consecutive terms as mayor since then. In his capacity as mayor, Kanno has consistently opposed Iitate’s assimilation with other villages, instead instituting a unique policy that maximizes the advantages of a small-scale independent polity.  “Let us build a village that is autonomous and self-sustaining,” he proposed. Thus, Iitate Village has seen the successful implementation of support for families with children, initiatives to conserve the environment, and increased housing development, all of which have earned the village substantial attention and admiration throughout Japan. From the local dialect, Iitate has adopted the word “madei” as a motto for its lifestyle.  “Madei” connotes a combination of qualities that include “with care,” “conscientiously,” “putting one’s heart into it,” and “treasuring and protecting.”
Recent publications:


When Radiation Rained on a Beautiful Village: The Mayor of Iitate:  120 Days of Decision and Resolve by Norio Kanno; August 25, 2011, Wanibooks
Power of Madei by Madei Special Committee; first published April 11, 2011; fourth edition June 11, 2011: Saga design Seeds
Music From Japan: Festival 2012
Sat, Feb 18, 2012; New York City
Merkin Concert Hall at Kaufman Center
7pm: Pre-concert lecture
“MADEI no KOKORO ga NIHON o Sukuu” (Japan’s recovery lies in Iitate’s spirit of “Madei”)
Speaker: Norio Kanno, Mayor of Iitate Village, Fukushima
8pm: Concert – Resonances of the Kugo
Fuyuhiko Sasaki, kugo (angular harp)
Mayumi Miyata: sho (mouth organ)
Hitomi Nakamura: hichiriki (double-reed instrument) and voice
Takeshi Sasamoto: haisho (panpipes) and Shosoin shakuhachi (vertical bamboo flute)
Kyoko Kato: hokyo and percussion
Wonjung Kim: voice
Sukeyasu Shiba: reconstruction from Dunhuang fragments: Kyu Kosomon and Kyukyokushi for kugo, sho, Shosoin shakuhachi, hichiriki, and hokyo (1983)
Sukeyasu Shiba: Winds from Ikaruga for kugo and sho (1991)
Fuyuhiko Sasaki: To Be Human (set to poem by Jotaro Wakamatsu) for kugo, voice, and haisho (2012) *
Toshi Ichiyanagi: Still Time II for kugo solo (1986)
Akiko Yamane: Dots Collection No.13 for kugo and sho (2012) **
Takehito Shimazu: Four Haiku Four Seasons of Iitate (set to haiku by “madei ambassador” Madoka Mayuzumi) for voice, hichiriki, and percussion (2012) *
Maki Ishii: Chronology 1200 for kugo, haisho, and hokyo (1994)
* world premiere of new Music From Japan commission for Iitate
** world premiere of new Music From Japan commission
Sun, Feb 19, 2012; New York City
Merkin Concert Hall at Kaufman Center
2pm: Concert followed by post-concert discussion – Commissioned Chamber Premieres
Music From Japan Chamber Ensemble
with Mayumi Miyata, sho; Hitomi Nakamura, hichiriki; Wonjung Kim, voice
Chikage Imai: new work for flute, clarinet, horn, viola, and cello (2012) **
Noriko Koide: Embroidery for female voice, clarinet, violin, and cello (2012) **
Junmei Suzuki: new work for sho, hichiriki, flute, and cello (2012) **
Toshiya Watanabe: new work for piano, violin, and cello (2012) **
Akiko Yamane: Toki yo Megure: Madei no rondo (“Time, Come Around: Madei Rondo”)
 (set to poem by Toma Ibu) for voice and piano (2011) *
  * world premiere of new Music From Japan commission for Iitate
** world premiere of new Music From Japan commission
Tues, Feb 21, 2012; Washington, DC
DC public school (to be announced)
Gagaku program for young students
Introduction to Gagaku (Japanese court music)
Shoga, students participate in singing the gagaku melody
Excerpts from Ponta and the Thunder God
Workshop offering some students the chance to experiment on gagaku instruments
Wed, Feb 22, 2012; Washington, DC
Freer Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
7:30pm: Concert – Music From Japan: Echoes of the Silk Road
(same program as Feb 18 – see above)
All programs and artists are subject to change.
Music From Japan’s 36th season presented “Flutes from the East and the West” and “Song from the Spirit of Japan” in New York and Washington, DC in February 2011.
Since opening in 1994, the Resource Center for Japanese Music has offered composers, performers, scholars, and the general public the opportunity to access its custom-designed Music From Japan Composer Database and a library of scores, books, magazines, compact discs, etc. of Japanese music. The organization is a rich resource of information to people around the world, providing information on its web site and helping with further access to, or details about, specific works and composers.
A book about Music From Japan, Music, Journey into the Unknown: Music From Japan Festival – A Chronicle by Kotoko Fukunaka, was published by Kozui Kikaku on September 25, 2011. Details (in Japanese) are at this link:
Music From Japan Festival 2012, now in its 37th season, is made possible in part by public funds from the Agency for Cultural Affairs, Government of Japan, for the fiscal year 2011; the New York State Council on the Arts, the state agency; the Asian Cultural Council; and the Japan Foundation.
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© 21C Media Group, October 2011








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