Episodes:

Left: Photo credit Ken Howard. Right: Detail, F1903.284

Music From Japan:
Ancient Winds/Modern Percussion

Immerse yourself in the ethereal sounds of this traditional court music ensemble as they perform the haunting music of the Japanese gagaku alongside new music written for these unusual instruments, including Toru Takemitsu’s “Seasons.” Mysterious tone-clusters from the ancient mouth organ hover above fleeting sounds from flute, double-reed, and panpipe, accompanied by a phalanx of modern percussion creating an otherworldly atmosphere. The ensemble features an all-star quartet with Mayumi Miyata on sho (mouth organ), Hitomi Nakamura on hichiriki (double-reed), Takeshi Sasamoto on ryuteki (flute) and haisho (panpipe), and Yasunori Yamaguchi on contemporary percussion. This concert was presented as part of the Music From Japan Festival 2008.

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Detail, Benzaiten (Benten), Kawanabe Kyōsai 河鍋暁斎 (1831-1889); Japan; Meiji era, ca. 1880s; ink and color on paper; Freer Gallery of Art, F1975.29.4
Photos by Ken Howard courtesy of Music From Japan

Voice of the Biwa:
Junko Tahara Ensemble

Hear the ancient Japanese biwa, a lute related to the Chinese pipa, in a rare performance outside Japan by one of the masters of the instrument. Junko Tahara breathes new life into a style of medieval music made popular by itinerant monks (biwa hoshi) who wandered the countryside singing The Tale of the Heike, one of Japan’s greatest epics. Alongside this classic, she performs transcendent and evocative new music written for biwa with traditional Japanese flutes and dynamic tsuzumi drumming. This concert was presented at the Freer Gallery in 2007 as part of the Music From Japan Festival.

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Japanese Singer of Tales:
Tsuruga Wakasanojo XI

Enjoy the first-ever English version of Japan’s beloved Yaji and Kita stories told in classical shinnai style through the vocal artistry of Tsuruga Wakasanojo XI, named a National Living Treasure by the Japanese government in 2001. He provides all the narration, dialogue, and songs, accompanied by two shamisen players, for tales of this famous bumbling duo as they travel along the road to Kyoto. He begins the program with another classic of the shinnai (narrative song) repertoire in Japanese: Kurokami (Black Hair), a meditation on mortality originally written for the kabuki theater. This performance was recorded in 2008 in conjunction with the exhibition Patterned Feathers, Piercing Eyes: Edo Masters from the Price Collection.

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Detail from https://asia.si.edu/object/F1969.18/ Iwasa Matabei (1578–1650), Japan, Edo period, early Edo (1615–1868), ink and color on paper, Purchase—Charles Lang Freer Endowment, Freer Gallery of Art, F1969.18

Music From Japan: Teruhisa Fukuda, shakuhachi, and Shihou Kineya, shamisen

Tradition and innovation meet in this concert for two of Japan’s iconic musical instruments: the shakuhachi, a bamboo flute with roots in Zen Buddhism, and the shamisen, a lute with deep links to secular entertainments, from geisha houses to kabuki theater. Teruhisa Fukuda, shakuhachi, has performed widely with traditional ensembles and the likes of the NHK Symphony, the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony, and the Hong Kong New Symphony Orchestra. He is joined by the shamisen virtuoso, Shihou Kineya. This concert was recorded at the Freer Gallery as part of the Music From Japan Festival 1999.

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A photo of the Jasper Quartet.

Hear the award-winning Jasper String Quartet play two works by the Japanese composer Akira Nishimura: Spring, part of a larger project inspired by Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and Pulse of Lights. The program also features Haydn’s Quartet op. 64, no. 6 and Mendelssohn’s lyrically beautiful String Quartet in D.

Jasper String Quartet:
Akira Nishimura’s Spring

Hear the award-winning Jasper String Quartet play two works by the Japanese composer Akira Nishimura: Pulse of Lights, which was premiered in Tokyo in 1992, and Spring, which received its world premiere at this concert and is inspired by Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

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Songs of Okinawa: The Ryukyuans

Enjoy music unique to Japan’s southernmost region, from the lyrical songs and dance rhythms of folk music to contemporary styles inspired by jazz and pop. The Ryukyuans trio features Yukito Ara, Isamu Shimoji, and Shinobu Matsuda on vocals and the sanshin (Okinawan lute). They are joined by Satoshi “Sunday” Nakasone on Okinawan drum. Recorded in concert at the Freer Gallery as part of the Music From Japan Festival 2014.

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Detail, At Ease in the Countryside: Scholars and Fishermen. Yamamoto Baiitsu (1783–1856).

Much of the Japanese and Chinese music heard on this podcast evokes some aspect of nature: waves, birds, trees, sunrise, and the seasons. Japanese artists have sometimes depicted the koto (or a related instrument) being played by scholars contemplating the natural world, as in the screen above—an approach incorporated from Chinese tradition. Detail, At Ease in the Countryside: Scholars and Fishermen. Yamamoto Baiitsu (1783–1856). Japan, Edo period, 19th century. Six-panel screen; ink and light color on paper. Purchase, F1961.1

Music for the Soul:
From East Asia to the Middle East

Relax with gentle yet invigorating music performed by virtuoso artists from Japan, China, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, and the United States. These diverse concerts were recorded live at the Freer and Sackler Galleries between 2008 and 2019.

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Members of the Miyabi Koto Shamisen Ensemble posing for a photo.

Hear new and traditional music for Japanese instruments performed by this ensemble of fourteen kotos with shamisen and shakuhachi. Based in New York, the Miyabi Ensemble extends the range of music for Japanese instruments through an array of innovative styles. Guest artists John Kaizan Neptune on shakuhachi, guitarist Michael Gilsinan, and percussionist Manny Arciniega join ensemble director Masayo Ishigure for this concert. Masayo Ishigure can be heard on the Golden Globe-winning soundtrack to the feature film Memoirs of a Geisha.

Miyabi Koto Shamisen Ensemble

Hear new and traditional music for Japanese instruments performed by this ensemble of fourteen kotos with shamisen and shakuhachi. Based in New York, the Miyabi Ensemble extends the range of music for Japanese instruments through an array of innovative styles. Guest artists John Kaizan Neptune on shakuhachi, guitarist Michael Gilsinan, and percussionist Manny Arciniega join ensemble director Masayo Ishigure for this concert. Masayo Ishigure can be heard on the Golden Globe-winning soundtrack to the feature film Memoirs of a Geisha.

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Members of the Silkroad Ensemble performing a new composition at the Freer|Sackler.

The Grammy Award-winning Silkroad Ensemble gives the world premiere of a major new composition that Silkroad musicians, inspired by works of art on view in the galleries, wrote for the Freer|Sackler. Performing in this debut are Sandeep Das on tabla (Indian drums), Kojiro Umezaki on shakuhachi (Japanese flute), Shaw Pong Liu on violin and erhu (Chinese fiddle), Wu Tong on vocals and sheng (Chinese mouth organ), Jeffrey Beecher on bass, and Shane Shanahan on percussion.

Silkroad Ensemble: Musical Postcards from the Freer|Sackler

The Grammy Award-winning Silkroad Ensemble gives the world premiere of a major new composition that Silkroad musicians, inspired by works of art on view in the galleries, wrote for the Freer|Sackler. Performing in this debut are Sandeep Das on tabla (Indian drums), Kojiro Umezaki on shakuhachi (Japanese flute), Shaw Pong Liu on violin and erhu (Chinese fiddle), Wu Tong on vocals and sheng (Chinese mouth organ), Jeffrey Beecher on bass, and Shane Shanahan on percussion.

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Detail, Waves at Matsushima 松島図屏風

Detail, Waves at Matsushima 松島図屏風; F1906.231-232

Making Musical Waves: The Legacy of Yatsuhashi

This concert was presented in 2015 in conjunction with the exhibition Sōtatsu: Making Waves, which was on view at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery from October 24, 2015, through January 31, 2016.

Seijo Tominari, koto, shamisen, and voice
Seiritsu Tomio, koto and voice
Yodo Kurahashi, shakuhachi
Ayako Kurahashi, koto and voice
Miyuki Yoshikami, koto and voice

Cantate Chamber Singers, Gisele Becker, director

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