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Japanese violinist aims to bring British classical music closer to Japan

By Mike Sullivan

It is normal to hear that there are Japanese people who love British music, but it is not often that someone is so passionate about British classical music. Perhaps it is because violinist Midori Komachi had a slightly unusual background, raised in a family that included a mother who performed as a pianist and also a family that lived in several countries.

Whatever the reason, she knows her British music and is determined to bring it to Japanese shores. She studied at the Basel Music University and completed a Master of Music at the Royal Academy of Music in London. In recent years she has been involved in numerous projects and performances which have taken her around the world. In April of this year, she released her first album and on the back of that success a second album is in the works.

Her concert at English House Yokohama on Nov 14 has been organised by the British Council and the Japan British Society. Komachi will be introducing the music of British composers who have been rarely heard in Japan, or even in the UK.

This year saw the release of your debut album. How has it been received so far?

I am very excited that the album has been received well. We received some very positive reviews. But most of all, I was pleased that the message I wanted to tell through this album, in relation to my ‘Delius and Gauguin’ Project, got across well.

How did your family and friends in Japan react when they heard that your album was going to be recorded?

They were hugely excited and surprised. I am very grateful that everybody has been so supportive. It wasn’t an easy process, but they gave me all of the moral support that I needed.

Will you be playing any music from the album at your concert in November in Japan?

In this concert I won’t be playing the pieces from the album, because I will be exploring a completely different topic this time. The concert will be in the form of a lecture recital in which I will be both talking and performing works by British composers that were inspired by “British landscapes and folksongs.” I have been particularly interested in the way British classical music in the 20th century developed an identity through “folksong movement” that was initiated by the English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. At the same time, many composers chose to write music in the countryside of England. These dynamic landscapes played a big part in their inspirations. Starting from there, I will be talking about the significant inspirations shared amongst the 20th century composers, and performing pieces by Vaughan Williams, Holst and Britten.

Where will the concert be held?

The concert will be held at English House Yokohama, a perfect setting for this lecture recital. Before the performance, the audience can enjoy English afternoon tea to help them get into the British spirit.

I have been keen to introduce more British works in Japan, so I am grateful that this event could be organised by the Japan British Society and the British Council. Many of the great works by British composers are still rarely performed in Japan, and my idea is to introduce these lesser known works in relation to a wider context of art and history - so that any audience, whether musical or not, can easily step in and feel closer to British music.

How often do you perform in Japan? In 2013 you worked together with composer Toshio Hosokawa. Can you tell us more about this experience?

I perform in Japan once or twice per year. In December 2013, I had the opportunity to perform Toshio Hosokawa’s "Elegy for Solo Violin" in Tokyo Opera City Hall. In order to prepare for this performance, I had several exchanges with Mr Hosokawa, and also went to Amsterdam to hear his concert and study his piece with him. It is always an insightful experience to hear the composer’s thoughts, and that time I learned a lot about the incorporation of Japanese philosophy in the voice of the violin, which enabled me to have a deeper interpretation of his music.

Also in the UK you have performed with Taro Hakase several times. How was it working with him?

It was great fun. I performed in his concerts in 2011 and 2012. He got together a group of musicians from the Royal Academy of Music and we performed together in London to raise funds for the victims of the Tohoku tsunami. The performance in 2012 was broadcast live on the Japanese program "Jounetsu Tairiku," so there was a real sense of hope that we could come together with the people of Japan. We really showed our Japanese spirit.

Do you think there is any difference in the appreciation of classical music by Japanese people and by British people?

I don’t think there is any particular difference in the appreciation, but I think there could be a difference in perception. Seeing the culture of Western Europe, and having the knowledge of context and history connected to the Western classical music, can widen one’s perception and imagination.

What are your impressions of the challenges facing classical musicians today?

It’s difficult to summarise as there are many types of classical musicians, from orchestral to solo artists, so the challenges vary. But I can say for sure that giving a convincing performance is always a challenge, and never gets easy. On a more general term, in this industry, I feel that the challenge is to gain wider interest and encourage more audiences to listen to classical music. I think it is always important to seek new ways to make classical music more accessible.

What are you looking forward to when you go back to Japan for the concert?

I am really looking forward to introducing this exciting program, and inviting the audience in Japan to be enchanted by the world of British music.

What future projects and concerts do you have planned?

I have some exciting projects lined up, including a recording of my 2nd album which will be a major project in the next year. I also hope to continue bringing projects to Japan, and introduce British music to a wider audience.

© Japan Today

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Michael, it is well said that language reflects culture. The English language is the language of Great Britain, the United States, most of Canada, Australia and other countries. Do you not hear the characteristic inflections in their speaking that distinguish which English-speaking nation a person might come from? The same distinguishing characteristics are certainly true in music. It is charming that this pretty young violinist is so taken with British-English music inspired by folksong. She wishes to share her perceptions with the audience here, and she is highly clear-thinking and articulate. The British Council and the Japan-British Society are impressed with her enough to have put their cachet on the performance. I recommend that you buy a ticket and hear what she has to say, and what she has to play. Then comment.

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Michael, I suspect you did not read the article properly - it refers to British composers, not classical music played in Britain. Well known British composers would be Elgar, Purcell, Handell, Britten, Vaughan Williams.

There are few Australian composers, but plenty of Austrians!

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I never knew anybody called Bach, Beethoven, Brahms' music German Classical Music.

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Isn't saying British Classical Music a bit redundant? Isn't classical music just classical music? Or have I been missing out on American Classical Music and Australian Classical Music all these years?

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