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Music for Solo Koto

upc# 6 11226 00292 3

Duration: 62:08 min.

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Mitsuki Dazai

Mitsuki image
photo: © chris leck

    Mitsuki is a graduate of Japan's renowned Kunitachi College of Music in Tokyo where she majored in vocal performance in the Western Classical tradition. During the course of her studies, she felt drawn to the non-western traditions of Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Interest in these areas eventually led Mitsuki on a circuitous route to a discovery of traditional Japanese music and the koto. She studied traditional koto music at the Ikuta School. Inspired by the cultural veneration for this instrument, she next pursued advanced studies in contemporary koto music at Sawai Sokyokuin, with instruction by modern koto Master Tadao Sawai and world-renowned Kazue Sawai.

    Mitsuki is currently active as a solo and ensemble concert artist and collaborates with various artists. Her musical background is both diverse and extensive as a performer and innovator, arranging and composing koto music in different styles. Not limiting herself to music traditionally associated with the koto, her performances often incorporate western, pop and improvisational elements and arrangements, challenging the many voices of the koto and allowing her to relate the kotoutf's appeal to a variety of audiences.

About the Composers

Tomas Svoboda (1939-)
Born in Paris of Czech parents in 1939, Tomas Svoboda composed his first opus at age 9 and was admitted to the Prague Conservatory 5 years later as its youngest student. After graduating from the Conservatory, numerous performances and radio broadcasts of his music brought national recognition to Svoboda, clearly establishing him as Czechoslovakia's most important young composer. In 1964 the Svoboda family settled in the United States, where Svoboda enrolled at the University of Southern California in 1966, graduating 2 years later with honors. Of his symphonic pieces, 430 have been performed by major orchestras such as the Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland, San Francisco, Monte-Carlo, Prague and Nagoya Philharmonic orchestras. All in all, over 1200 performances of his music have been counted.

Yatsuhashi Kengyo (1614-1685)
Yatsuhashi Kengyo, a blind koto player, is well known as the inventor of Hira-joshi (basic scale of traditional koto music). The honorific title Kengyo was awarded during the Edo period as a sign that the person is a member of the highest class in the society of the blind. He was recognized as one of the Kengyo because of his rare talent with the koto and became known as a "Father of the koto". For over 300 years his compositions have continually been loved and enjoyed.

Tadao Sawai (1937-1997)
Sawai began studying koto at the age of 10. At the age of 11 he performed on the NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation) radio for the first time, and in 1959 he was awarded the NHK "Hope of the Year" award for promising new artists. After graduating from Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music in l960 he embarked on a tour of recitals through which he hoped to create renewed interest in the koto. His aim was to develop both the technical and artistic range of the instrument. Sawai is known for his dynamic playing style, willingness to experiment and improvise and for his talent in challenging the limits of modern koto playing.

Michio Miyagi (1894-1956)
Miyagi lost his sight when he was 8 years old and dedicated the rest of his life to the koto. In 1907 he moved with his family to Incheon, South Korea, continuously playing the instrument until reaching the rank of a Kengyo. Miyagi moved to Tokyo in 1917 and began giving recitals of his own compositions. He was recognized as an authority in the new Japanese music, achieving recognition in the early Showa period. Inspired by his introduction to western music, Miyagi felt the need to invent a new variation of the koto called jushichigen. This 17-string bass koto allowed him a more dynamic expression of his musical passion. Miyagi also became known for the lovely pieces he created especially for children.

Hikaru Sawai (1964- )
Hikaru Sawai began his musical studies at the Toho Academy of Fine Arts for Children. Although trained in classical koto by his father, the renowned Tadao Sawai, and later having studied the shakuhachi with the distinguished artist, Katsuya Yokoyama, Sawai took a turn away from tradition and formed a rock band. With Sawai composing and playing guitar, the group gained a strong following. Beginning in 1986 the young performer was gradually drawn back into the world of koto through appearances in his father's "All Japan" concert series, but finally ended up having his own concert tours around the world. His progressive compositions appeal to the younger generation.

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      Autumn, Op. 110  (Tomas Svoboda)  
[1]    I  Moderato LISTEN
[2]   II  Allegro moderato LISTEN
[3]  III  Lento rubato LISTEN
[4]  Breeze  (Mitsuki Dazai) LISTEN
[5]  Rokudan  (Traditional) LISTEN
[6]  Tori no Yoni (Flying Like a Bird) LISTEN
      (Tadao Sawai)  
[7]  Sakura Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) LISTEN
      (Tadao Sawai)  
[8]  London no Yoru no Ame LISTEN
    (Rainy night in London)  (Michio Miyagi)  
[9]  Sky High  (Mitsuki Dazai) LISTEN
     Shaei (Diagonal Shadows)  (Hikaru Sawai)  
[10]      I  Quarter note = 44 LISTEN
[11]     II  Tempo rubato LISTEN
[12]    III  Quarter note = 153 LISTEN


1. Autumn Op.110a
Tomas Svoboda (1982)

Autumn is a magical season. To the Japanese it represents acceptance of natural aging and symbolizes the closing of another cycle of life. In 1982 the late virtuoso koto master Yoko Ito Gates commissioned Tomas Svoboda to create a composition for solo koto. Svoboda chose to translate his feelings about the autumnal season into music. Thus he created three movements each reflecting a different aspect: Early, middle and late autumn. The mood of the composition is predominately meditative with some vigorous, rhythmical passages.

2. Breeze
Mitsuki Dazai (1999)

To a traveler from the jungle of gray concrete that is Tokyo, the untouched beauty of Costa Rica is overwhelming. In 1998 Mitsuki Dazai spent several days in Corcovado, where electric lights are non-existent, and at night the darkness is only pierced by the light of fireflies and an occasional candle. Breeze reflects her delight at this gentle illumination and at the soft breezes that caressed her as she walked along Costa Rica's peaceful beaches.

3. Rokudan

Attributed to Yatsuhashi Kengyo, Rokudan is one of the most well known traditional works for koto and appears in every koto player's repertoire. Yatsuhashi was an epic figure in the history of the instrument and his compositions have been widely handed down. The title means "six sections" and each section is itself a 52-beat long representation of the whole piece.

4. Tori no Yoni (Flying Like a Bird)
Tadao Sawai (1985)

To fly like a bird has been a consistent dream of humanity. Even in today's era of the airplane, we occasionally look skyward and imagine ourselves freed of gravity to soar effortlessly through the clouds.

5. Sakura Sakura (Cherry Blossoms)
Tadao Sawai (1971)

The Cherry blossom is the national flower of Japan. The Japanese have always loved these blooming trees and celebrate arriving Spring by honoring their beauty. Based on the simple melody of an old Japanese song Sakura Sakura, Tadao Sawai's variations reflect five different aspects of their breathtaking beauty.

6. London no Yoru no Ame (Rainy night in London)
Michio Miyagi (1953)

Miyagi was invited to perform in Europe in l953 and while in London was inspired by the sound of the rain to improvise this piece. His music transforms the monotony of the rain by highlighting the sound of raindrops falling from the roof and by introducing the occasional intrusion of noises from cars on the wet streets.

7. Sky High
Mitsuki Dazai (1994)

For Dazai the most exciting part of a flight to a new destination is just before landing. Looking down on the landscape she is about to visit, she wonders what kind of joy and happiness will await her there. How many smiles will greet her? She wonders and imagines herself as already in the scenery now only seen from above.

8. Shaei Diagonal Shadows
Hikaru Sawai (1991)

Life can be seen as a progression of changing shadows. Hikaru Sawai here suggests that phases in our lives seem to take on different textures, and so our shadows may reflect the interlacing conflicts within us, thus creating Diagonal Shadows.