Japan Across the World Program Note

Welcome to “Japan Across the World”! We are thrilled to present works by three fantastic composers of Japanese descent, each with a unique musical voice. Our first taste of Akira Nishimura’s sonic world occurred when we competed at the 9th Osaka International Chamber Music Competition in May 2017, where “Shesha” was the compulsory work for all participating quartets. Though “Shesha” was written in 2014 and premiered by the venerable Arditti Quartet, there are no recordings of this piece, making the learning process arduous but free, and allowing us to create an interpretation that was uniquely ours. This resulted in a personal performance and we fell in love with the piece. In this piece Nishimura draws from Indian mythology, depicting the snake “Shesha” whose several heads hold up the earth. The piece explores the different forms that Shesha takes, and the immortality it achieves once it takes hold of Amrita, the elixir of life. We are honored to present a Japanese composer as iconic as Mr. Nishimura on tonight’s program.

Aizuri cellist Karen Ouzounian first came across Kojiro Umezaki’s sublime playing while performing with him in the Silkroad Ensemble. As the Aizuris began to ruminate about an all-Japan program, it became clear that we had to have Kojiro on board, not only to represent Japanese composers bridging the ocean between Japan and America, but also to showcase his mastery of a traditional Japanese instrument, the shakuhachi. We are elated to perform his piece “(Cycles) What Falls Must Rise” for shakuhachi, string quartet and electronics, which uses a recording of the previous “(Cycles)” performance for its electronic base (CYCLES!). This spiritual work is about the cross pollination of musical ideas from various cultures: the sharing and transformation of music across borders creates in this work a continuous cycle of mellifluous transcendence.

The melding of different musical ideas into one work is also a distinct feature of Paul Wiancko’s string quartet “LIFT.” A gifted half-Japanese cellist born in California, who has toured and performed extensively with Chick Corea, we first experienced Paul’s dynamic cello playing at the Marlboro Music Festival and since then have been dear friends. His love for chamber music and improvisation are manifested in this epic and intricate work that blends an eclectic array of musical styles. Paul refers to “LIFT” as his “ode to joy,” a “journey of the soul and a fervent celebration of detail.” The piece exhibits Paul’s deep understanding of the balance and sonority of the string quartet, as well as its potential for virtuosity. His enormous talent has been recognized by commissions from the Parker Quartet, Met Opera soprano Susanna Phillips, yMusic, and the Boston Cello Quartet, and places him at the forefront of a new generation of global composers.