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Resonances of Kugo

Since its founding in 1975, Music From Japan has enriched the cultural life of New York with annual presentations of traditional and contemporary Japanese music, and Festival 2012 was no exception. However, in light of the trio of catastrophes suffered in Japan – the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster of 2011 – Music From Japan dedicated its 37th season to helping raise funds for and awareness of Iitate, one village that has been especially impacted by the nuclear calamity, and to which MFJ Artistic Director Naoyuki Miura has close personal ties.

Festival 2012 opened on February 18 in New York City’s Merkin Concert Hall with a well-attended weekend of events that presented world premieres of three new MFJ commissions for Iitate, one of them scored for children’s choir and dedicated to the children of the village. A part of proceeds from the festival-opening concert was sent directly to Iitate’s children’s fund, and the village’s Mayor, Norio Kanno, delivered what the New York Times’s Anthony Tommasini pronounced a “thoughtful, life-affirming preconcert lecture.” As the veteran critic reported in his glowing review of the opening night, “By focusing on this one community, …the performances and the pieces conveyed with powerful directness and immediacy the tragedy that shook the entire country.”

A focal point of Mayor Kanno’s heartfelt lecture was the concept of “madei” which Iitate village has adopted as a motto for its lifestyle. His glossing of the term was quoted by James Oestreich in a poignantly illustrated New York Times feature article previewing the festival:

“The word comes from the local dialect. … The meaning is ‘both hands in unison,’ as in the gesture of offering a cup of tea cradled in the hands. The meaning of ‘both hands’…evolved into a word that can mean, variously: carefully, thorough, caringly, conscientiously, scrupulously, heartfully, wasting nothing and making the most of every resource. Adopting the idea of ‘madei life’ as its guiding spirit years ago,…Iitate went from relying on others to a level of self-support.”

Mayor Kanno’s lecture was succeeded by “Resonances of the Kugo” a concert showcasing the kugo, or angular harp, and one of its leading exponents, Fuyuhiko Sasaki. Applauding him as “a masterly player,” Tommasini went on to admire the “five other impressive artists” with whom Sasaki performed. This program featured world premieres of three new Music From Japan commissions, including two that were written especially for Iitate; one of these new works written for the stricken village (To Be Human, scored for kugo, voice, and haisho, or Japanese panpipes) was from the pen of the quietly charismatic kugo soloist himself. “Commissioned Chamber Premieres”, the following day, presented world premieres of five further new MFJ commissions, scored primarily for Western chamber ensemble, while “Resonances of the Kugo” was repeated on February 22 as a prelude to the National Cherry Blossom Festival’s centennial celebrations of Tokyo’s gift of trees in Washington, DC.

A day before the concert in Washington DC, a gagaku program delighted the students at S. J. Thomson Elementary School in the morning and Mayor Kanno gave an expanded version of his lecture at the Japan Information and Culture Center in the evening. During the introduction, Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki thanked the American people for all the generous help and support extended to Japan.

Both musically and emotionally, Festival 2012 made a profound impact on its audience. As Oestreich observed in the Times:

“Music From Japan is doing its bit to help [Iitate] financially, adding whatever money it raises in the festival to the efforts of larger organizations. … But in the long run 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.”

Music From Japan Festival 2012

Sat, Feb 18, 2012; New York City
Merkin Concert Hall at Kaufman Center

7pm: Pre-concert lecture
“Japan’s recovery lies in Iitate’s spirit of “Madei”
Speaker: Norio Kanno, Mayor of Iitate Village, Fukushima
Interpreter: Sharon Nakazato

8pm: Concert – Resonances of the Kugo

Featured Artists:

Fuyuhiko Sasaki: kugo

Mayumi Miyata: sho
Hitomi Nakamura: hichiriki and voice
Takeshi Sasamoto: haisho and Shosoin shakuhachi
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 a poem by Jotaro Wakamatsu)
for kugo, voice, and haisho (2012) *

Still Time II for kugo solo (1986)

Dots Collection No.13 for kugo and sho (2012) **

Takehito SHIMAZU
Four Haiku: Four Seasons in Iitate
(set to haiku by “madei ambassador” Madoka Mayuzumi)
for voice, hichiriki, and percussion (2012) *

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


Commissioned Chamber Premieres
Post-concert open forum with Mayor Kanno and composers

Sunday, February 19, 2012, 2 pm

Merkin Concert Hall
New York City
2pm: Concert followed by post-concert discussion – Commissioned Chamber Premieres

Music From Japan Chamber Ensemble with children from the New York Ikuei Academy Chorus; Mayumi Miyata, sho; Hitomi Nakamura, hichiriki; and Wonjung Kim, soprano


Chikage IMAI
towards G for flute, clarinet, horn, viola, and cello (2012) **

Dots Collection No. 13 for kugo and sho (2012) **

Noriko KOIDE
Embroidery for soprano, clarinet, violin, and cello (2012) **

Time and Lily: from East to West for sho, hichiriki, flute, and cello (2012) **

Twill of Sound III for piano, violin, and cello (2012) **

“Time, Come Around: Madei Rondo”
(set to a poem by Toma Ibu) for children’s voice and piano (2011) *

Takehito SHIMAZU
Four Haiku: Four Seasons in Iitate
(set to haiku by “madei ambassador” Madoka Mayuzumi)
for voice, hichiriki, and percussion (2012) *

* world premiere of new Music From Japan commission for Iitate
** world premiere of new Music From Japan commission

Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Gagaku Program for Young Students

Washington, DC – Strong John Thomson Elementary School


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

Tuesday, February 21, 2012, 6:30pm
Lecture: Japan’s Recovery lies in Iitate’s Spirit of Madei
Speaker: Norio Kanno, Mayor of Iitate Village, Fukushima

Wednesday, February 22, 2012, 7:30 pm
Music From Japan: Echoes of the Silk Road
Washington, DC – Freer Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
(Same Program as February 18, 2012)







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