Another highlight of the performers taking the stage on Sakura Sunday, April 12th, will be members of the Sawai Koto Academy, a world-renowned koto (a traditional Japanese string instrument) school founded in 1979 by the late Tadao Sawai. The Sawai Academy trains hopeful members around the world, following the vision of Sawai and his wife Kazue, a koto master, that koto “should not be restricted to Japan and should actively participate in the world-wide music scene.” Preeminent koto and jiuta shamisen (another traditional stringed instrument) artist Masayo Ishigure teaches for the academy in New York City. Ishigure has also taught at Connecticut’s Wesleyan University and New York’s Columbia University, as well as recorded music for the soundtrack of the 2005 film Memoirs of a Geisha.
The Sawai Koto Academy is dedicated not only to spreading koto to the world, but to bringing the world to koto: they incorporate jazz, classical and other far-reaching influences into their music, blending unfamiliar elements with traditional Japanese instrumentation to create unique and exciting performance. Other branches of the academy in Sydney, Australia; Hawaii, San Francisco, and New York, USA; Leiden, the Netherlands; Bangkok, Thailand; and Singapore all contribute to the school’s international reach. The school also has local institutions all across Japan. Currently leading the school is Kazue and Tadao Sawai’s son Hikaru, who is “carrying forward the vision of his father.”
So what can we expect to see onstage at Sakura Sunday? It’s hard to say exactly, but you can bet on a stunning performance with some unexpected musical twists. Watch this video for a quick sample of Masayo Ishigure on solo koto, and get ready for a beautiful show this April 12th!