Press Room

Music From Japan: Festival 2013 explores rhythm and timbre (Feb 23-27)

Music From Japan (MFJ) and its Artistic Director, Naoyuki Miura, are thrilled to announce Festival 2013: a weekend of events in New York City’s Baruch Performing Arts Center (Feb 23 & 24), and a concert at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC (Feb 27). Now in its 38th season, the coming festival presents two chamber programs celebrating the unique rhythmic and timbral scope of Japanese music. With performances in New York and Washington, “Rhythms of Japanese Drums and Flutes — Kenny Endo and Kaoru Watanabe: Taiko and Fue” showcases Japanese drums and bamboo flutes in music both new and traditional. In New York, the world premiere of a new MFJ commission from Tomiko Kohjiba anchors a second program, “Japanese Tone Colors on Western Instruments,” which offers a selection of contemporary Japanese works for piano and cello.
On Saturday, February 23 in New York City, Festival 2013 opens with “Rhythms of Japanese Drums and Flutes — Kenny Endo and Kaoru Watanabe: Taiko and Fue.” This program juxtaposes traditional Japanese music with contemporary compositions, including jazz-inflected, improvisatory pieces by the two performers themselves. Both born in the United States, Endo and Watanabe each spent ten years honing their craft in Japan, and are leading exponents of their instruments. Taiko master Kenny Endo was featured on the PBS special Spirit of Taiko (2006) and as artist-in-residence at New York’s Lincoln Center Institute. His soundtrack credits include Apocalypse Now and Avatar, and he has opened for The Who, played duets with Bobby McFerrin, and performed with orchestras such as the Hong Kong Philharmonic and Tokyo Symphony. Kaoru Watanabe, a former member and artistic director of the renowned taiko ensemble Kodo, performs on drums and a variety of bamboo flutes, including the nohkan, ryuteki, and shinobue. A master of experimental improvisation and contemporary jazz, as well as of Japan’s classical and folk traditions, “he enriches any musical situation with his unique perspective” (Jason Moran, Blue Note jazz pianist). The concert will be preceded by a lecture-demonstration.
Festival 2013 continues at New York’s Baruch Performing Arts Center on Sunday, February 24 with “Japanese Tone Colors on Western Instruments,” which explores the piano’s contrasting percussive and timbral capabilities and focusses on the ways Japanese tonal qualities translate to western instrumentation. The program’s centerpiece is the world premiere performance of a new MFJ commission for cello and piano, Wadatsumi, from composer Tomiko Kohjiba (b.1952). Kohjiba is best known for her Requiem Hiroshima, which gained her recognition throughout the world and was given a number of performances by the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Seiji Ozawa; The Transmigration of the Soul, which premiered at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival; and Sept profils non erodés, winner of the Suntory Music Foundation’s 16th Akutagawa Award for Music Composition. Rounding out the program are the American premiere of a piano impromptu by Jummei Suzuki (b.1970) and contemporary works by Toru Takemitsu (1930-96), Akira Miyoshi (b. 1933), and Yoshio Hachimura (1938-85).
Featured pianist Kumi Ogano is especially celebrated for her authoritative interpretations of Takemitsu, whose solo piano music she recorded under the composer’s auspices; when she played similar selections for her New York recital debut at the 92nd Street Y, the New York Times reported: “Miss Ogano’s well-judged performances highlighted [these works’] shifting balances of light and shade, as well as their alternatingly soft and brittle textures. … Miss Ogano’s readings made a compelling case for them.” She is joined in the upcoming concert by cellist Fred Sherry, a pioneer and visionary in the new-music world, for whom Elliott Carter, Steven Mackey, Charles Wuorinen, and John Zorn have written concertos, and who has premiered solo and chamber works dedicated to him by Milton Babbitt, Oliver Knussen, and Toru Takemitsu himself. Tomiko Kohjiba and the artists will take part in a forum after the concert.
A repeat performance of Saturday’s concert will be presented in Washington, DC at the Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution on Wednesday, February 27.
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Music From Japan’s 37th season presented “Resonances of the Kugo” and “Commissioned Chamber Premieres” in New York and Washington, DC in February 2012. In light of the Japanese earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster of 2011, this historic festival was dedicated to helping to raise funds for and awareness of Iitate, one village in Fukushima that was especially impacted, and to which Artistic Director Miura has close personal ties. According to the New York Times’s Anthony Tommasini, “By focusing on this one community, … the performances and the pieces conveyed with powerful directness and immediacy the tragedy that shook the entire country.”

In February 2013, Music From Japan will continue to focus its efforts and attention on Iitate Village when it presents Festival 2013 Fukushima. On February 10, several events will take place at the small and main halls of Fukushima-city Ongakudo. In the morning MFJ presents a gagaku performance and workshop for all the elementary school children of Iitate. In the early afternoon, Mr. Seiichi Kondo, Japan’s Commissioner of Cultural Affairs, will give a lecture titled “The Role of Traditional Culture in Japan’s Recovery”. The festival day culminates in an afternoon concert featuring the world premiere of a new MFJ commission for Iitate, Good Night, by composer Joji Yuasa and poet Hiroshi Osada. (Osada is from Fukushima City, and Yuasa is from Koriyama City in Fukushima.) In addition to this new piece, last year’s MFJ commissions for Iitate will have their Japanese premieres, and 4th– to 6th-grade Iitate children will sing Time. Come Around: Madei Rondo.
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 and other materials related to 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. More information can be found at
Music From Japan Festival 2013, now in its 38th season, is made possible in part by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, the state agency.
Music From Japan, Festival 2013  
38th season
Sat, Feb 23, 2013 at 8pm
Baruch Performing Arts Center (Engelman Recital Hall), New York City
Rhythms of Japanese Drums and Flutes — Kenny Endo and Kaoru Watanabe: Taiko and Fue
Artists: Kenny Endo, taiko (drums) and fue (bamboo flutes);
             Kaoru Watanabe, taiko (drums) and fue (bamboo flutes)
Program: arrangements of traditional pieces and new compositions/improvisations by Kenny Endo and Kaoru Watanabe. Full program details to follow in early 2013.
7:15pm: Pre-concert lecture-demonstration by Kenny Endo and Kaoru Watanabe
Sun, Feb 24, 2013 at 2pm
Baruch Performing Arts Center (Engelman Recital Hall), New York City
Japanese Tone Colors on Western Instruments
Artists:   Kumi Ogano (piano) with Fred Sherry (cello)
Program:  Jummei Suzuki: Impromptu for piano solo (2007)**
                 Yoshio Hachimura: Meditation “Higan-bana” (1969)
   Toru Takemitsu: For Away (1973); Les Yeux clos (1979); Orion for cello and piano (1984)
   Akira Miyoshi: Chaines – Preludes for piano, Nos. 1–3 (1973)
   Tomiko Kohjiba: Wadatsumi for cello and piano (2012)*
** American premiere
* world premiere of new Music From Japan commission
3:45pm: Post-concert forum featuring Tomiko Kohjiba and the artists
Wed, Feb 27, 2013 at 7.30pm
Freer Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC
Rhythms of Japanese Drums and Flutes — Kenny Endo and Kaoru Watanabe: Taiko and Fue  (same program as Feb 23 – see above)
All programs and artists are subject to change.
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© 21C Media Group, October 2012


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