Daron Hagen, James Nyoraku Schlefer

YUMI KUROSAWA, 20-string koto
KENNETH WOODS, conductor
DAVID CURTIS, conductor

World Premiere Recordings




NEW MUSIC USA Musician Stories Profile

“This seductive album presents three recent works that fuse Asian and Western musical traditions…  James Nyoraku Schlefer’s Haru No Umi Redux is a skillful reworking of a seminal piece from 1929… It is an enchanting piece of exceptional delicacy, as is Schlefer’s 2009 Shakuhachi Concerto, which blends the otherworldly sound of the shakuhachi with harp and strings… The composer is a Grand Master of the shakuhachi, one of only a few Westerners to achieve this rank. His skill is illustrated especially in the cadenza that opens the impressionist II… More overtly sensuous is David Hagen’s 2011 Koto Concerto... ‘Falling Flowers’ has a poignant violin solo; ‘Maiden on the Bridge’ demonstrates the subtlety of koto soloist Yumi Kurosawa, who makes her ancient instrument sound like a small orchestra. The bent sounds, rich chords, and strumming on various parts of the instrument produce marvelous colors… The Orchestra of the Swan…plays with expressive understatement. The warm recording, at a concert, has all the qualities of a studio production. East-West fusions seem immune to the struggles of the classical music scene. This engaging album shows why.”
Sullivan, American Record Guide [May/June 2103]
“An accessible introduction to the timbral and expressive capabilities of the traditional shakuhachi and the 20-string koto, as interpreted by contemporary, but decidedly audience-friendly, American composers also employing normal occidental forces. Recordings as arresting and entertaining as either composer could wish for. Sound quality throughout very good indeed, warm and well balanced.”
Recording of the Year - Byzantion, MuscWeb International [December 2012]
“Schlefer's three-movement Shakuhachi Concerto is subtly scored for strings, harp and percussion, with a 'semi-solo' role played by the shakuhachi … this attractive, highly approachable work - mainly contemplative, sometimes almost static but with bursts of strong rhythmic energy - exhibits considerable craftsmanship and no little artistry. As a performer, Schlefer's mastery of what is a very difficult instrument to play well is awe-inspiring... For anyone interested in hearing the zither-like koto played both virtuosically and expressively, this is a work to experience. Hagen's colourful, lively writing for orchestra [in his Koto Concerto] pushes things along, skilfully and tunefully blending Japanese and American styles. Yumi Kurosawa, young but immensely experienced, is a koto player par excellence… [Schlefer’s Haru No Umi Redux] is a lovely, thoughtful piece made up of several equally atmospheric solo, duo and tutti sections… For [Kenneth] Woods and the [Orchestra of the Swan] the present disc will surely add to their growing reputation for measured, quality interpretations, as well as a laudable, healthy interest in music that without their intervention would probably languish unjustifiably in dusty library basements. Whilst Woods is Principal Guest Conductor of the Orchestra, David Curtis, who steps in for Hagen's Genji, is actual Artistic Director and has established the ensemble as a champion for living composers, many of whom they have commissioned. In many ways he cuts a similar figure to Woods - confident, relaxed and thankfully lacking any taste for melodrama. All of that comes across in these recordings, which are as arresting and entertaining as either composer could wish for... Sound quality throughout the CD is very good indeed, warm and well balanced…”
Byzantion, Art Music Reviews, UK [October 2012]
“Schlefer’s Haru no Umi Redux…is a delightful piece, and it certainly sounds as though the Swan Orchestra enjoyed playing it. The recording is topflight… Schlefer’s Shakuhachi Concerto begins in decidedly Debussian fashion. Scored for solo shakuhachi, strings, harp, and percussion, it boasts a long, slow first movement. The mix of West and East is impressively managed in terms of musical language: Schlefer will begin a melody in decidedly occidental manner before adding an orientalist twist as the theme progresses. The second movement, “Crystal Solitude,” does not quite convey the yearning, lonely quality this instrument is normally associated with, despite begging with a solo cadenza for the solo instrument, but it is atmospheric nonetheless, and the idea of a loss of solid pulse continues throughout most of the rest of the movement. The finale, a rondo, moves the goalposts substantially, juxtaposing varied, rhythmic sections against the delicacy of the preceding two movements. The Swan Orchestra comes into its own here; Schlefer is a fine player throughout, and his own best advocate. This is memorable music in fine performances.”
Colin Clarke, Fanfare [November/December 2012]

Haru no Umi Redux

James Nyoraku Schlefer’s Haru no Umi Redux is a distinctive version of the famous duo Haru no Umi by koto master Michiyo Miyagi – a seminal work from 1929 that brought Western musical influences to Japanese instruments. In 1932, French violinist Renée Chemet visited Japan on a concert tour and, after hearing Miyagi perform Haru no Umi, arranged the shakuhachi part for violin. She and Miyagi recorded the work and it became an immediate hit in both Japan and Europe. Haru no Umi is perhaps the finest example of the New Japanese Music movement of the 1920’s, and was a rare and early success in the fusion of Western and Japanese musical elements. The opening phrases have become Japan’s musical theme for the New Year’s holiday. Haru no Umi Redux
presents the work in its entirety and adds new material prior to both the opening section and its return. Mr. Schlefer’s original content suggests musical images of the sea and things aquatic.

Shakuhachi Concerto
Schlefer’s Shakuhachi Concerto is a three movement work for solo shakuhachi, strings, harp and percussion, following a classic concerto form. The shakuhachi is both soloist and team player, alternately in concert or in conflict with the orchestra. The first movement, Hazy Awareness, opens with a brooding, somewhat unsettled section punctuated by fast, irrepressible rhythmic utterances. The second movement, Crystal Solitude, begins with a shakuhachi cadenza followed by a cluster derived from the chords found in gagaku music. It then slowly unfolds in a brocade of sound in the
upper strings. With the exception of a brief intrusion of fast sunlight, the movement forswears a sense of pulse, allowing room for contemplation. The final movement, Outside, is a Rondo in which restlessness competes with anxiety, a humorous harp melody interrupts, solo sections alternate between the violins and shakuhachi. The piece comes to a crashing halt at its conclusion.

Koto Concerto: Genji

Daron Hagen is well known as an opera composer, and not surprisingly his quite operatic Koto Concerto: Genji is based on the 11th century Tale of Genji. The eponymous character Genji is the son of a Japanese emperor, relegated to commoner status for political reasons. The long and complex story of his life unfolds during the course of the novel – partly in the recounting of his relationships with women. The Concerto follows the seminal story of Genji falling in love with a woman without ever having seen her, but rather only after hearing her play the koto from afar for many years. The result is a concerto in five “scenes”, based on five psychological situations from the
novel, with the conceit being that their love is consummated in the final moments. Kyo-Shin-An Arts’ commission to Mr. Hagen was his first venture writing for an instrument from a different musical tradition. He immersed himself in the repertoire and traditions of the koto, and combined what he refers to as “the koto’s magisterial past” with his own musical experience, using the life of this instrument to convey new ideas and emotions in the 21st century. The piece is scored for koto with single winds, two French horns, strings and marimba. In Mr. Hagen’s words, “Music’s subtlety and abstraction are for me ideally suited to an exploration of Genji. Although certain extra-musical associations are inevitable when one has chosen chapter titles from a book as movement titles as I have. I’d like to stress that this concerto is not a programmatic work. Rather than constructing a through-story or narrative for the piece, I have chosen five psychological situations from the novel and explored them as one might explore them in an opera without words.”

Kyo-Shin-An Arts is dedicated to integrating Japanese instruments – specifically koto, shakuhachi and shamisen – into Western classical music. Founded in 2008 with an initial purpose of commissioning established composers, KSA both presents concerts and partners with an  international array of chamber ensembles and orchestras to perform the music. The intent is to bring forth the outstanding beauty of these instruments within the context of Western classical music, and build and promote a body of repertoire that does justice to the greatness and exactitude of these two
classical traditions. [ www.kyoshinan.org ]


Hazy Awareness
Crystal Solitude

DARON HAGEN (b. 1961)
A Kyo-Shin-An Arts Commission
Cicada Shell
Falling Flowers
Maiden on the Bridge
Floating Bridge of Dreams
Vanished into the Clouds

MSR Classics