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Resonances from Japan

Trad. Tsugaru Jonkara Bushi
Shunsuke Kimura Ninja-Fast like the wind
Trad. Taketa no Komoriuta - Sunayama
Trad. Asadoya Yunta - Tsuki nu Kaisha
Shunsuke Kimura The East Wind
Trad. Tosa no Sunayama - Tsugaru Aiya Bushi
Etsuro Ono Dance to the North Wind
Shunsuke Kimura Cross Road
Etsuro Ono Tsugaru-Shamisenis

Etsuro Ono and Shunsuke Kimura - Tsugaru-Shamisen

Kings Place, London, 4 March 2011

(Image from YouTube video)

This concert, part of a three-day Hibiki: Resonances from Japan residency at Kings Place, was preceded with an illustrated talk by Dr David Hughes of SOAS, who deplored the complete take-over in Japanese schooling by Western classical music. Only recently is this beginning to be reversed by just a few enthusiasts, with a revival of instruments like the 3-stringed tsugaru-shamisen; but that is mainly driven by the young in a pop/fusion context.

These two virtuosi demonstrated the complex techniques possible with this very sophisticated instrument, which was disconcertingly loud in the St Pancras Room, but can also be surprisingly subtle and delicate. The plectrum can strike the strings from above and from below, and can also be used for percussive effects on the body of the instrument.

One of the players, Kimura I think, is also an exponent of the very simple Japanese bamboo flute. In good English he explained how it is played with just two fingers of each hand, but capable of immense variety of tone and articulation by half-covering the holes, and an amazing range of dynamics from low to extremely high; shrill, but originally meant for outdoor playing, as too was the shamisen for celebratory occasions.

It was also explained that though the music is primarily pentatonic, the actual scales drawn on are infinitely various, a study in itself which mostly passes by western listeners.

These artists can be heard playing Kimura's Cross Road in a good audio recording, and seen on YouTube video clips which are easily accessed by searching for "Tsugaru-Shamisen". (A CD by the Ono/Kimura Duo was on sale, but with a quite prohibitive £20 price tag !)

Peter Grahame Wool

Tonight - 5 March - the koto; http://kingsplace.co.uk/hibiki-resonances-from-japan.