Kyo-Shin-An Arts ended its 2012-2013 season at Tenri Cultural Institute on Friday, June 14 with Kammerraku II, a concert featuring shakuhachi Grand Master James Nyoraku Schlefer, Yumi Kurosawa on the 20-string koto, and Voxare String Quartet.
Schlefer, who is the artistic director of Kyo-Shin-An Arts, a non-profit he runs with his wife, Meg, fuses the traditions of ancient Eastern music with classical music of the West. He did this beautifully with Kammerraku II. (Kammerraku is an ongoing series of works commissioned by Kyo-Shin-An Arts written for quartet, koto, shakuhachi, and shamisen, and the locution itself comes from the combination of the German kammer, meaning “chamber,” with the Japanese raku, meaning “music.”)
The quiet brilliance of “Moonwalking,” Schlefer’s own composition, set the tone for the program. A piece written for the shakuhachi, a bamboo flute with a 1200-year history, and the koto, an instrument whose lineage can be traced to 3rd century Japan, “Moonwalking” had a decidedly contemporary feel. The ancient influences were unmistakable, of course. The shakuhachi is an organic instrument whose sounds mimic those found in nature, and the listener makes a spiritual connection from the first tone.
The power and elegance of Kurosawa, whose specialty, like Schlefer’s, is to collaborate with Western disciplines, added rich texture to the scene, which was influenced by Schlefer’s viewing of a full moon rising over the water during a writing retreat in Montauk.
During the world premiere of the Kyo-Shin-An Arts commission “Quintet,” an eerie composition by Chad Cannon, Kurosawa created haunting sounds with her koto by sliding her fingers across the strings rather than plucking them. It’s not a conventional koto technique, but it was a suggestion by Cannon, a 2011 Harvard graduate who made his professional debut in May, to create a “scratchy, heavy sound cloud.” With “Quintet,” Cannon tackled writing for a traditional Japanese instrument with a Western ensemble for the second time in his young career.
Schlefer and Voxare String Quartet performed “Light Rain” by Lachlan Skipworth, who was the featured composer at the 2008 and 2012 World Shakuhachi Festivals in Sydney and Kyoto, respectively. Like “Moonwalking,” “Light Rain” was serene and introspective with powerful bursts of activity. Underlying the modern flourishes, the piece stays true to the honkyoku music, or original pieces from the 13th century, that influenced Skipworth.
Much is said about the ancient histories of the shakuhachi and koto, but the violin has a rich tradition of its own, dating back to the 15th century. The dynamic Voxare String Quartet deftly moved through the wide range of emotions represented in all of the compositions, including the two they performed to close out the program. Quartet members Emily Ondracek-Peterson (first violin), Galina Zhdanova (second violin), Erik Peterson (viola), and Adrian Daurov (cello) played Marc Nowakowski’s “Quartet No. 1 – Songs of Forgiveness” and “Refining Fire” by Theodore Wiprud with intensity and tenderness.
Kammerraku II was part of the Kyo-Shin-An Arts partnership with the Arts at Tenri monthly chamber music concerts, bringing together the classical traditions of Japan and Europe.