Shinji Urakabe is 11 years old. His Piano Concerto in B-Flat is remarkably like what Beethoven might have written at his age -- that is, it shows that the young composer has listened to the music of Mozart not only longand lovingly but with enormous creative energy and technical skill. It would be a worthy addition to the repertoire of any pianist, although it does sound a bit old-fashioned for the work of a contemporary composer.
Urakabe is one of six young musicians -- five from Japan and one (15-year-old Paul Romero) from California -- who performed twice this week in the Kennedy Center and also Sunday at the United Nations under the auspices of the Yamaha Music Foundation.
All six performed on piano or electric organ (the Yamaha GX-1, naturally) with a poise and maturity, as well as a technical skill, worthy of a professional adult. And each of them performed his or her own composition -- mostly short, programmatic keyboard pieces, but formed with skill, intelligence, considerable wit and in several instances (notably 12-year-old Mika Yamashita's brilliant "Dance of a Comic Doll" and 11-year-old Saori Iwauchi's colorful "The Hunters") a detailed knowledge of the Yamaha organ's orchestra-like resources.
Their works show influences from traditional composers -- as should be expected -- but they are more than interesting student works; each is more interesting than some pieces long established in the standard repertoire. It would be well to remember the names of these young composers, because some of them are likely to be the Beethovens, Debussys or Coplands of the year 2000.
Yesterday's concert was for music students from local schools, and the young performers were on their own -- unlike Monday night, when they had the National Symphony Orchestra to keep them company.
After the formal concert, three of the players further demonstrated their compositional skill with improvisations on themes supplied by members of the audience. Romero played impromptu variations on the opening bars of "American Patrol" and Manae Kurokawa and Mika Yamashita did an amazing duet improvisation on a standard boogie-woogie bass motif which had been played for them in the treble.