Few Americans are aware of Japan's rich classical music culture, which blends western forms with traditional Japanese themes and styles. Washington will have an opportunity to experience this meeting of East and West this afternoon at 3 during a Kennedy Center concert celebrating the 10th anniversary of Music From Japan.
Naoyuki Miura, artistic director of Music From Japan, says he founded the organization to help introduce contemporary Japanese composers to American audiences. "I came to America because I was interested in playing contemporary music. That's when I realized that Japanese composers were totally unrecognized here. I felt I could help them," said the 43-year-old Juilliard-educated Miura.
The core musicians from the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, conducted by Gunther Shuller, will emerge from the pit to perform today's program of four works. These composers have taken traditional Japanese themes and motifs, such as haiku poetry and children's songs, and orchestrated them for the western symphony orchestra. Joining the Opera House Orchestra will be pianist Akira Jinno, the only Japanese performer appearing today, and 140 singers from the Sidwell Friends Middle School, who spent two months studying tapes and receiving language coaching to learn to sing "The Ancient Japanese Children's Song." Three of the four featured composers plan to be in attendance.
Japanese contemporary music is not all that different from western music in style and form, according to Miura; the major difference lies in phrasing, particularly in spaces or breaths, which the Japanese call "ma.
Says Miura, "Ma is a very sensitive thing for Japanese. Usually western music is moving, more dynamic. You like excitement and you end your compositions louder. In Japan, we appreciate and like silence, soft sounds. We end our compositions on a soft note."
Miura and Shin Sato, one of the composers whose work is featured this afternoon, will return to the Kennedy Center tomorrow to participate in a symposium, "The Impact of Japanese Contemporary Music on America." They are to be joined by George Crum, a composer from the University of Pennsylvania, and critics Andrew Porter of The New Yorker and John Rockwell of The New York Times.