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Posts Tagged TaikoArts Midwest

Guest Concert: Japan American Society of Minnesota presents Cerulean Fire

 

In 2012, virtuoso violinist Margaret Humphrey and award-winning composer and harpsichordist Asako Hirabayashi partnered to form Cerulean Fire. Their vision is to raise audience awareness and appreciation of concerts with historical instruments but do so with a contemporary spin. They remove boundaries between classical and nonclassical music by performing both new and old music in creative juxtaposition and often collaborate with jazz, Latin, Japanese and other ethnic musicians and dancers.

On Sunday, June 10, at 4 pm, Cerulean Fire, with Sogetsu Ikebana Group and Japan American Society of Minnesota, bring to Park Square Theatre an extraordinary visual and musical experience, Musical and Floral Metamorphosis: Premiere of Concerto for Four Harpsichords and Strings. Throughout the entire piece, nine instruments are treated as soloists, not just some as accompaniment to others. The guest conductor will be Nobuyoshi Yasuda (affectionately known as “Nobu”), an accomplished violinist, music professor and conductor of the Chippewa Valley Symphony and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Symphony Orchestra.

Asako Hirabayashi and Margaret Humphrey, with harpsichord and violin, wearing elaborate cerulean blue gown & red gownConcerto for Four Harpsichords and Strings will indeed be played on four harpsichords and string instruments,” explained Asako, its composer. “To premiere it at Park Square Theatre is a unique opportunity for the entire community since only three concertos for four harpsichords have ever been written in Western classical music history. And presenting such a show involving four harpsichords is extremely difficult and rare due to the nature of the instrument. Finding four harpsichords is hard but so is their maintenance as they are sensitive to temperature and humidity. During rehearsals and the performance, we will need to keep a thousand strings tuned!”

Since the age of seven, Asako played piano–switching to harpsichord as an adult–and wrote music because “I always wanted to be a pianist who plays my own compositions.” In high school, she realized that her hands were too small and hindered effective competition with male pianists so she chose Composition as her major in college and graduate school in Japan. However, her desire to perform never left, and she took up the harpsichord when it was introduced to her in Japan when her teacher, Eiji Hashimoto, gave a recital and performed Scarlatti.

“I was very impressed,” Asako recalled. “The music of Scarlatti really made sense on harpsichord, not on piano. His music is Spanish and imitates the sounds of flamenco guitar, and he uses crushing percussion-like dissonance in his keyboard sonatas. It is only effective on harpsichord, not on today’s grand piano. So I was very fascinated by the sound effect. Also, the keys of the harpsichord are much smaller for my small hands to reach.

Additionally, in ensemble during the Renaissance and Baroque period, the right hand part was not always written. Only the bass part may be written so the keyboardist had to improvise with the right hand. A harpsichordist must be able to improvise. As a composer, I had the advantage of being able to readily do that.

Besides, I love doing what nobody else does. The harpsichord and harpsichordists were extremely rare in Japan at the time, and I wanted to play something that not many people were playing.”

A stunning visual highlight on performance day will be the ikebana exhibit in the theatre’s foyer that complements the event. Ikebana is the Japanese art of flower arrangement that is, as Asako describes, “more than simply putting flowers in a container.” Dating back to the 7th century, ikebana is a highly disciplined art that brings nature and humanity together.

“Ikebana allows the heart of the arranger to touch the heart of the viewer, bringing peace and tranquility,” Asako elaborated. “Ikebana master and my friend Yoshie Babcock has taught it for over 30 years in the Twin Cities and Chicago. In 1996, the late headmaster of Sogetsu appointed her as chairperson of the Sogetsu Minneapolis-St. Paul Study Group, and she has received special awards for promoting ikebana outside of Japan and Japanese art and culture in Minnesota.”

This collaboration between Park Square Theatre and Cerulean Fire will bring together multiple arts communities to create a broad diverse audience. Nothing like Musical and Floral Metamorphosis: Concerto for Four Harpsichords and Strings has been done in the Twin Cities before, and it’s happening in one performance only. Don’t miss out on this special opportunity!

Tickets and information here.

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ANOTHER GUEST EVENT NOT TO MISS AT PARK SQUARE THEATRE:

TaikoArts Midwest presents Taiko Tuesday with a free concert by Enso Daiko
Tuesday, May 22, 7 pm – Proscenium Stage
Reserve free seats here

 

Taiko Tuesday: A Gift from the Heart

Experience the energy of Ensō Daiko
(Photo by Jeff Sandeen)

On Tuesday, May 22, at 7 pm, Ensō Daiko performs a free concert on Park Square Theatre’s Proscenium stage as part of TaikoArts Midwest’s Taiko Tuesdays series. Come see Minnesota’s premier taiko ensemble in an energetic performance of music, dance, culture and pure athleticism!

While taiko often includes a broad range of Japanese percussion instruments, the term itself simply means drum in Japanese. Outside of Japan, taiko commonly refers to the style of ensemble drumming called kumi-daiko, with its emphasis on the art form as performance. There are so many ways to play a drum and to choreograph a routine–something you see firsthand whenever Ensō Daiko performs.

Jennifer Weir beats the drum!
(Photo by Rich Ryan)

Ensō Daiko is led by Jennifer Weir, who is also Executive Director of TaikoArts Midwest. She instantly fell in love with taiko over two decades ago when first introduced to it by Rick Shiomi, the founder of Mu Daiko, and readily became one of its original members. In 2017, Mu Daiko was renamed Ensō Daiko, with Jennifer newly at its helm.

Ensō is a Japanese word meaning circle, a symbol that is simultaneously simple yet packed with deep meanings: togetherness, strength, elegance, enlightenment, the moment when the mind is free to let the body create, the acceptance of imperfection as perfect (wabi sabi) and the void (mu). Ensō reflects taiko itself–an art form that is at once accessible for its simplicity but conveys those similar rich concepts.

An enso by brush painter and teacher Bob Schmitt of Laughing Waters Studio
({Photo by Bob Schmitt)

Ensō Daiko’s performance at Park Square Theatre will be the ninth concert in the Taiko Tuesdays series. According to Jennifer, Taiko Tuesdays were purposely designed to break down barriers that may prevent broad participation. With that in mind, they decided to perform 12 rather than just one concert and to do so in a variety of locations, all at no cost to attendees.

“We also wanted to show the range and depth of the art,” said Jennifer, “so each concert is different for you to be able to see various styles and aesthetics.”

Enso Daiko in performance
(Photo by Rich Ryan)

This effort is often supported by inviting guest artists to join them, which has brought the additional benefit of infusing the group with “super development” through the opportunity to learn from a much greater number of collaborating artists per year. Certainly, part of Ensō Daiko’s dynamism comes from its openness to different influences and creative exploration, even as it draws from tradition.

For those who would like a double dose of taiko, also consider attending TaikoArts Midwest’s open house on April 29 from 2-5 pm at their new studio space in St. Paul. You’ll be able to watch and meet performers, participate in drumming activities and enjoy refreshments.

Music is considered a universal language. By crossing the ocean, taiko follows in the broader tradition of music to bring people together. Don’t miss the chance to personally experience “the heartbeat of Japan” and engage with the power or life force of this ephemeral art form. It will blow your mind!

 

Ensō Daiko in an ensō workshop with artist Bob Schmitt

 

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Tickets for Ensō Daiko’s performance here

Find out about other “must see” Guest Events at Park Square Theatre here:

Including: Musical and Floral Metamorphosis: Premiere of Concerto for Four Harpsichords and Strings – June 10, 4 pm – Andy Boss Stage (featuring Cerulean Fire, conductor Nobuyoshi Yasuda and Sogetsu Ikebana)

 

 

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