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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Chinese Music for the Lunar New Year

Also called the Spring Festival, the Lunar New Year in China marks the traditional start of the agricultural season. It’s also a time to admire the hearty plum blossom, which flowers so early that snow is sometimes still on the ground. Enjoy these performances of music celebrating plum blossoms, lingering snow, and the arrival of springtime. This compilation draws from concerts at the museum featuring Bing Xia on zheng, Yi Zhou on pipa and qin, Miao Yi Min on xiao and dizi, and the Gang-a-Tsui Theater, all recorded live at the National Museum of Asian Art.

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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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Hearing the Qur’an in Jakarta

Hear how the recited Qur’an is experienced in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, from the simple chants of daily life and ritual to elaborate renditions in formal worship and national competition festivals. Listen as the esteemed Indonesian reciter Hajjah Maria Ulfah performs the five styles of recitation, with introductions and commentary by music scholar Anne Rasmussen, author of Women, the Recited Qur’an, and Islamic Music in Indonesia. Maria Ulfah is a longtime recitation teacher in Java and a veteran of international competitions as both contestant and judge. This event was recorded in 2016 as part of the Freer and Sackler series Performing Indonesia: Islamic Intersections.

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Photo by Neil Greentree, FSG staff photographer.

Singing Rumi:
The Pejvak Ensemble

Enjoy energetic and contemplative music from this ensemble of Persian music specialists from the East and West Coasts performing traditional and original music with settings of poetry by Rumi and Faraz Minooei. Two members of the ensemble have appeared with Yo-Yo Ma’s Silkroad Ensemble: Faraz Minooei on santur (hammered dulcimer) and Pezhham Akhavass on tombak (hand drum). Ensemble leader Behfar Bahadoran on tār and setār (lutes) was the top prizewinner in an international competition for musicians in the Iranian diaspora. They are joined by Steve Bloom on percussion and the late vocalist Shohreh Majd. This performance took place in 2010 as part of the museum’s annual celebration of Nowruz, the Persian New Year.

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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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Seven musicians, wearing white and standing with their instruments in front of a verdant bamboo forest.

Photo courtesy of Ba Bang Chinese Music Society (NY)

Traditional Chinese Music:
The Han Tang Ensemble

Travel to long-ago China in this performance of lively and entrancing music invoking moonlit rivers, plum blossoms, peacocks, an early spring snow, and the stories of famous legends from Ancient China. This outstanding ensemble of musicians — all trained in China— perform on traditional lute (pipa), fiddle (erhu), hammered dulcimer (yangqin), zither (qin), and mouth organ (sheng). This performance was recorded live in concert at the Meyer Auditorium of the Freer Gallery of Art on April 29, 2002.

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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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Photos by Witjak Widhi Cahya

Komungo Muse and Permutations:
Jin Hi Kim

Experience a uniquely Korean approach to music through original works for the classical Korean komungo (zither) that utilize interactive computer audio to create entirely new worlds of sound based on Korean aesthetics. Kim has appeared as a soloist at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, and her works have been performed by the Kronos Quartet and the American Composers Orchestra. In the words of the Washington Post, her “unique vision blends . . . state-of-the-art technology, ancient mythology, and timeless music and dance traditions” and her works “cut across barriers of language, culture, and tradition, touch us at deep, irrational levels [and] result in a work that speaks to our common humanity.” This performance was recorded live in concert at the Freer Gallery of Art on January 21, 2000.

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From Buddhist Caves to the Pulitzer Prize:
Music From China Ensemble

Hear original music for Chinese instruments written by four leading composers from China, including Pulitzer Prize winner Zhou Long, performed by North America’s top virtuosos on Chinese wind and string instruments. All the works on this podcast received their Washington premiere at this 1998 concert by the New York–based Music From China ensemble and the New Music Consort. Two of the works were inspired by the eighth-century Buddhist caves in Dunhuang, where music scores were found along with a trove of ancient religious manuscripts.

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