Press Room

Music From Japan: Festival 2013 opens in NYC on Feb 23

Music From Japan (MFJ) Festival 2013 opens in New York City’s Baruch Performing Arts Center on Saturday, February 23 with the first of two chamber programs celebrating the unique rhythmic and timbral scope of Japanese music. “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. The following day, the world premiere of a new MFJ commission from Tomiko Kohjiba anchors a second program – “Japanese Tone Colors on Western Instruments” – that offers a selection of contemporary Japanese works for piano and cello. Finally, MFJ’s 38th festival season draws to a close with a repeat performance of the first concert at the Smithsonian Institution’s Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, DC on Wednesday, February 27.
“Rhythms of Japanese Drums and Flutes — Kenny Endo and Kaoru Watanabe: Taiko and Fue” juxtaposes arrangements of traditional Japanese music with original compositions and improvisations 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; as Endo explains, their work “is informed by the traditional music of Japan as well as the improvisational characteristics of American jazz.” Their new collaborative album, Convergence, is due for release in February. A taiko master, 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 including the Hong Kong Philharmonic. Watanabe, a former member and artistic director of the renowned taiko ensemble Kodo, is a master of experimental improvisation and contemporary jazz, as well as of Japan’s classical and folk traditions. Their concert will be preceded by a lecture-demonstration.
“Japanese Tone Colors on Western Instruments” explores the piano’s contrasting percussive and timbral capabilities and focuses on the ways Japanese tonal qualities translate to western instrumentation. Its centerpiece is the world premiere performance of a new MFJ commission for cello and piano, Wadatsumi, written in response to the 2011 tsunami by Tomiko Kohjiba (b.1952), best known for Requiem Hiroshima. Rounding out the program are: the American premiere of a piano impromptu by Jummei Suzuki (b.1970), which riffs on the Beatles’ song “Michelle”; Chaines, a set of 24 linked piano preludes by Akira Miyoshi (b. 1933); a childhood reminiscence titled Meditation “Higan-bana” by Yoshio Hachimura (1938-85); and three pieces by Toru Takemitsu (1930-96), including For Away. Featured pianist Kumi Ogano is especially celebrated for her authoritative interpretations of Miyoshi and 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 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. Tomiko Kohjiba and the four performers will take part in a forum after the concert.
In the wake of the Japanese earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disasters of 2011, Music From Japan Festival 2012 was dedicated to helping to raise funds for and awareness of Iitate, one village in Fukushima that was especially impacted. As the New York Times reported on last year’s festival, “Music From Japan’s greater service may lie in reviving awareness, and doing so in a vivid manner, evoking the suffering but hopeful spirit of Iitate in music.” This year, MFJ 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. Two pieces from MFJ 2013 in the U.S. were written in response to the 2011 disasters: Kohjiba’s MFJ commission, Wadatsumi, and Kaoru Watanabe’s Hiraki.
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About the featured artists
One of today’s leading figures in percussion and rhythm, Kenny Endo is at the vanguard of taiko performance, continuing to carve new territory in this Japanese drumming style. A performer, composer, and teacher of taiko, he has received numerous awards and accolades, including very special recognition in Japan, where he was the first foreigner to be honored with a “natori”: a Japanese stage name. Endo was a featured artist on the PBS special Spirit of Taiko in 2005. A consummate artist, he blends Japanese taiko with rhythms influenced by his jazz background and by collaborations with musicians from around the world. He has performed for such musicians as Prince and the late Michael Jackson, opened for The Who, and played a duet with singer Bobby McFerrin; he has also been featured on the soundtracks for Kayo Hatta’s film Picture Bride, Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, and James Cameron’s Avatar. Endo had a day named for him – “Kenny Endo Day” – by the Mayor of Honolulu, and was honored by the National Endowment for the Arts for American Masterpieces.
Based in New York, Kaoru Watanabe plays various Japanese traverse bamboo fue, the taiko drum, and Western flute, blending Japanese folk and classical traditions with contemporary improvisational and experimental music. After graduating from the Manhattan School of Music, Watanabe moved to Sado Island, Japan in order to join the iconic taiko ensemble Kodo, with whom he toured Japan, North America and Europe, in venues including Carnegie Hall and London’s Barbican Hall. He served as one of Kodo’s artistic directors from 2005 to 2007, and his compositions can be heard on the ensemble’s Sony albums Mondo Head, Prism Rhythm, and One Earth Tour Special. Collaborations include performances with jazz pianist Jason Moran and Kabuki actor Bando Tamasaburo, while recent projects have taken him to Mongolia, French Guiana, Argentina, and the Caribbean, receiving support from the Japan Foundation and Asian Cultural Council. Watanabe teaches workshops and master classes internationally, besides giving courses at Princeton and Wesleyan Universities and regular classes at his own studio, the Kaoru Watanabe Taiko Center in Brooklyn. His fue are provided by master flute maker Ranjo.
Pianist Kumi Ogano’s playing has been praised by the New York Times as “gracefully voiced, sensitively shaped, and richly emotional,” while Japan’s Asahi has written, “Her rich musicality and technical virtuosity are simply amazing.”  Ogano is recognized as an authoritative exponent of music by Toru Takemitsu and Akira Miyoshi, and her discography comprises Toru Takemitsu Piano Works (Philips), Akira Miyoshi Piano Works (EMS, Philips), Mendelssohn Piano Works (EMS/Koch), Complete Works for Violin and Piano by Toru Takemitsu (Fontec), and the Disklavier recordings of Piano Works by Liszt and Rachmaninoff (Yamaha). A graduate of Tokyo’s Toho Gakuen School of Music and the Indiana University School of Music, she won first prize in Oslo’s Rikskonsertene Competition in Oslo (1982), bronze medal in Budapest’s Franz Liszt International Piano Competition (1986), and the Chopin Prize from Japan’s Frederic Chopin Society (1988). Major orchestral collaborations include Europe’s Bergen and Budapest Philharmonics and Japan’s Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony, Tokyo Philharmonic, Japan Philharmonic, and New Japan Philharmonic, with such conductors as Iván Fischer, Jirí Belohlávek, András Ligeti, Stefan Marczyk, Karsten Anderson, Tadaaki Otaka, and Michiyoshi Inoue. Ogano has given numerous recital, radio, and television appearances around the world. She lives in New York City and has served on the piano faculty at Connecticut College since 1994.
A pioneer and a visionary in the music world, cellist Fred Sherry has introduced audiences on five continents and all 50 United States to the music of our time through his close association with today’s composers. Carter, Davidovsky, Mackey, Rakowski, Satoh, Wuorinen, and Zorn have written concertos for him, and he has premiered solo and chamber works dedicated to him by Babbitt, Bermel, Foss, Knussen, Lieberson and Takemitsu, among others. Sherry was a founding member of Tashi and Speculum Musicae; has been a member of the Group for Contemporary Music, Berio’s Juilliard Ensemble, and the Galimir String Quartet; and was a close collaborator with jazz pianist and composer Chick Corea. Since the 1970s, he has performed regularly with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, where he served as Artistic Director (1988–92). He has been a soloist and “sideman” on hundreds of commercial and esoteric recordings. The Fred Sherry String Quartet recordings of Schoenberg’s String Quartet Concerto and String Quartets Nos. 3 and 4 were both nominated for Grammy Awards. Sherry is on the cello faculties of the Juilliard School, Mannes College of Music, and Manhattan School of Music. His book, 25 Bach Duets from the Cantatas, was published by Boosey & Hawkes in 2011. It will be followed by his long-awaited treatise on contemporary string techniques.
About the commissioned composer
Tomiko Kohjiba is an increasingly sought-after composer in the U.S. and Europe, as well as in her native Japan. Born in Hiroshima, she earned a graduate degree in composition from the Tokyo University of the Arts and went on to earn her post-graduate degree there. Early works include Introduction and Allegro for Orchestra; a quartet for two alto flutes, cello, and harpsichord; and a choral work, Kotobaasobi-Uta, which took first place at the Kanagawa Festival and was broadcast on Japanese radio in 1977. In 1979 Kohjiba composed Requiem Hiroshima, which she presented to her native city the following year. She later reworked the piece, and it went on to gain her worldwide recognition, being programmed by the European Community Orchestra at Leonard Bernstein’s suggestion, and by the Boston Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Seiji Ozawa in 1985. Kohjiba’s numerous subsequent commissions include The Transmigration of the Soul, which premiered at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival when she was Composer-in-Residence there in 1995. Her Pre-eroded Seven Profiles for piano and orchestra received the Bekku Award and the 16th Akutagawa Award for Music Composition in 2006. She currently serves as Professor of Music at the Tokyo College of Music.
For biographical info about the other featured composers, please visit:
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Founded in 1975 by current Artistic Director Naoyuki Miura, Music From Japan continues to preside as the leading presenter of Japanese contemporary and traditional music in the United States and the world. After three decades of touring throughout North and South America, Central Asia and Japan, Music From Japan has presented about 400 works, including 81 world premieres and 69 commissions (for both Japanese and American composers). Over the course of 37 years, more than 166 Japanese composers have been showcased, as well as many traditional Japanese pieces. Music From Japan was honored for its activities when the organization received the Japanese Foreign Minister’s Commendation in July 2007. Mr. Miura was awarded the Commissioner of the Agency for Cultural Affairs’ Award in December 2007, the Sen Kayoko Award from the Soroptimist Japan Foundation in November 2010, and the Gen-On Special Award (given by the Japan Society of Contemporary Music) in 2012.
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: Exploring Japanese Rhythm and Timbre
38th season
Sat, Feb 23, 2013 at 8pm
Baruch Performing Arts Center (Engelman Recital Hall), 55 Lexington Ave, NYC
Rhythms of Japanese Drums and Flutes — Kenny Endo and Kaoru Watanabe: Taiko and Fue
Artists:       Kenny Endo, taiko (drums); Kaoru Watanabe, taiko and fue (bamboo flutes)
Program:  Kenny Endo: Jugoya
                      Kaoru Watanabe: Together Alone
                      Chakuto (trad.)
                      Kenny Endo: Symmetrical Soundscapes; Sand
                      Kaoru Watanabe: Hiraki
                      Kenny Endo and Kaoru Watanabe: Chigen
                      Kenny Endo: Spirit Sounds; Swing, Soul and Sincerity
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), 55 Lexington Ave, NYC
Japanese Tone Colors on Western Instruments
Artists:       Kumi Ogano, piano; 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 (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 four 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, February 2013




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