Old instruments, new sounds: contemporary compositions for gagaku instruments

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gagaku is the ceremonial music of the imperial court and major Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines in Japan, recognized by UNESCO as the oldest continuously performed orchestral music in the world. Gagaku has long been known for its ancient inter-Asian translocal nature and rich vernacular traditions. It is less well known that since the 1960s, composers around the world, starting with the United States, have been writing new music for gagaku instruments, either based on traditional techniques or as means to explore new possibilities and to develop a new musical language. Lish Lindsey (ryūteki), Thomas Piercy (hichiriki), and Fabio Ramelli (shō) perform works by Alan Hovhaness, John Cage and more recent original pieces, as well as selections from the classical repertoire. Join us for this beautiful and unexpected concert. Organized by Fabio Rambelli, Professor of Shinto Studies at the International Shinto Foundation, UCSB.

Guest Biographies:

Alicia “Lish” Lindsey (she) is director of the Gagaku Ensemble and head of the Japanese instrumental training program for the Institute of Medieval Japanese Studies at Columbia University (NYC). She began studying gagaku (Japanese medieval court music) with Columbia University professors Sasaki Louise (retired), Sasaki Noriyuki (retired) and Fukui Yōichi through NY’s Columbia Gagaku Instrumental Ensemble with further studies at the Tenri Gagaku Music Society in New York. Lish had the opportunity to learn about the history and culture surrounding Gagaku through observation and rehearsals with members of Ono-Gagaku Kai, Imperial Household musicians, and students/faculties of Kunitachi College of Music in 2015, 2019 and 2022 (The Institute for Medieval Japanese Studies Mentor/Protégé Summer Initiative Program). While in Tokyo, she studied ryūteki (dragon flute) with Sasamoto Takeshi, Yagi Chiaki, Ōkubo Yasuo and Echigo Minami and began Bugaku dance with Nakamura Hitomi. In addition to Columbia University, Lish teaches applied flute, conducts/leads flute choirs, and is an adjunct professor of music at CUNY Brooklyn College (NYC), New Jersey City University, Wilkes University (PA), and Summer Music in Tuscany (Italy). lishlindsey.com imjs-jchi.org

Thomas Piercy, already a figurehead of the contemporary classical world as a solo clarinet, decided during a stay in Japan in 2012 to embark on the study of hichiriki. The hichiriki, a traditional double-reed instrument used almost exclusively in gagaku since the 12th century, has only very recently been used in contemporary music. He began his studies in the traditional way as a student of world famous hichiriki player Hitomi Nakamura. Nakamura sensei plays both traditional gagaku music and contemporary classical music (one of the few hichiriki players to do so). Under the guidance of his teacher in Japan, within four months Piercy began to include pieces for hichiriki in his concerts. There is very little contemporary repertoire for hichiriki, so he started asking composers in Japan and around the world to write pieces for him. Piercy thought it was important that this ancient instrument be played in contemporary settings while retaining and respecting its rich history. Since 2012, Piercy has composed many of his own pieces for hichiriki, as well as over 40 pieces composed for him for hichiriki, including pieces for hichiriki and electronics, hichiriki and kugo (Japanese harp), hichiriki and piano, and pieces for hichiriki and other traditional Japanese instruments (ryūteki, shō, shakuhachi, koto). He continues to compose new pieces and to have new pieces composed for him while continuing to enrich the repertoire of this historic and unique instrument. He and composer Masatora Goya received a 2020 New York State Council of the Arts commission grant for the world’s second hichiriki concerto and the first composed for a non-Japanese hichiriki player. Piercy had the opportunity to work with composers writing music for him and the hichiriki. The composers are between 17 and 70 years old. They come from all walks of life and all experiences: from university students to university professors; from self-taught composers to composers with doctorates; from emerging composers to composers who have won such major prizes as the Takemitsu Prize, the Geneva Composition Prize and the Grammy Award. A partial list of composers whose hichiriki works were composed and premiered by Thomas Piercy: 合屋正虎 Masatora Goya (five pieces for hichiriki including the Hichirki Concerto); 平山智 Tomo Hirayama; 松本祐一 Yuichi Matsumoto; 見澤ゆかり; Yukari Misawa 森田泰之進 Yasunoshin Morita; 大羽田大輔 Daisuke Ohata; 清水チャートリー Chatori Shimizu; Alyssa Aska; Kanokpak Changwitchukarn; Yihan Chen; Melissa Grey; Zhihua Hu; Bin Li; David Loeb; Piyawat Louilarpprasert; Sandro Montalto; Luigi Morleo and Edward Schocker. http://www.thomaspiercy.com/ http://www.thomaspiercy.com/hichiriki-3173131717.html http://www.tonadaproductions.com/tokyo-to-new-york-home.html

Fabio Ramelli is Professor of Japanese Religions and Cultural History at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he holds the International Shinto Foundation Chair in Shinto Studies. He is also the director of the UCSB Gagaku project, which aims to promote knowledge of Gagaku. He is the author of several articles on Gagaku, and is currently working on a book project on the cultural history of this musical genre. Rambelli plays the shō, a bamboo mouth organ unique to Gagaku; he studied with Maestro Bunno Hideaki, former director of the Gagaku Orchestra at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, and with Naoyuki Manabe; both have performed in Santa Barbara in recent years. Rambelli explored the possibility of a new kind of fusion music played on Gagaku instruments with a contemporary sensibility with his duo Neo Archē (featuring Rory Lindsay on biwa lute). https://neoarche.bandcamp.com/ https://www.religion.ucsb.edu/people/faculty/fabio-rambelli/

UCSB Shinto Studies, Department of Religious Studies, Music Department, Manitou Foundation and Division of Humanities and Fine Arts, Robert HN Ho Family Foundation Global.

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