Japanese Impressions in Prague

Opus Osm

Like a delicate Japanese wash painting, works by composer Takashi Yoshimatsu were introduced at a Prague Spring concert.

What brings two young pianists – one Czech, one Japanese – together in a Prague Spring concert?

In a mid-May Prague Spring concert, the Prague Academy of Music hosted a piano recital by two students of Prague music schools, Yuka Yoshimura and Pavel Zemen.

What brought these two young pianists from opposite sides of the world together? They share the first prize of The 2012 Bohuslav Martinů Foundation’s Contest in the piano category. The 20-year-old Prague Conservatory student Pavel Zemen is also winner of several piano competitions.

Yuka Yoshimura is a graduate of Yamagata University (pedagogical faculty, piano) and fresh graduate from the Prague Academy of Music (which can make us in Prague proud that Bohemia, sometimes called “Europe’s conservatoire,” is still attractive for young talented people from such a distance).

Both the pianists included a Chopin piece in their programs. This ingenious “pianist’s must” offers a wide range of moods, so both Mr Zemen and Mrs Yoshimura, maybe according to their human natures, chose very different compositions.

The spontaneous, disarmingly smiling Yuka Yoshimura played the rather sparkling pieces Grande Valse Brillante in A Flat Major, Op. 34/1, Nocturne in D Flat Major, Op. 27/2 and Barcarolle in F Sharp Major, Op. 60.

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Pavel Zemen

The rather meditative Mr Zemen opened his performance with the solemn Ballade in F Major, Op. 38. They both also paid a tribute to their compatriot composers: the Czech with Oldřich František Korte’s Piano Sonata and the Japanese with three waltzes from the voluminous piano work by Takashi Yoshimatsu.

I had never heard of Yoshimatsu before, and hearing music of this contemporary (b. 1953) Japanese composer was an electrifying experience. This former engineering student who took no music lessons in his early years, admirer of Pink Floyd but soon also of Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, started teaching himself composition and later studied with Japanese composer/poet Teizo Matsumara.

From Atonalism to Romanticism

Today’s concert composer Yoshimatsu was influenced by the pop, rock and jazz music that he performed as a young musical amateur, as well as by traditional Japanese music and European classicism and romanticism (especially Sibelius). He absorbed and then got over modernistic trends like atonalism and turned to transparent rhythms and melodies close to romanticism.

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Yuka Yoshimura

Yoshimatsu embraced such traditional European forms as the symphony and the piano concerto, also utilizing, however, Japanese instruments (such as the koto) or “less romantic” instruments like the guitar and saxophone. In addition to classical musical forms there are, for example, compositions of looser shape thematically devoted to birds – And Birds Are Still…, Op. 72; Digital Bird Suite, Op. 15; and Threnody to Toki, inspired by Yoshimatsu’s feelings of loss on the death of the last toki – a rare species of bird – on Japan’s main island.

These lyric compositions (and in a way, all Yoshimatsu’s works) hold a magic similar to Japanese ink wash painting in terms of the clarity, placidness, and grace which they emanate – not to be mistaken for any “relaxation music” – not at all. This is an earnest and inspiring work very much worth hearing, especially in such a brilliant interpretation as Yuka Yoshimura’s.

This is the charm of the international character of music, including and supported by international events such as Prague Spring. If two Japanese artists, a composer and a pianist, can enchant somebody so much here in Prague, it is quite imaginable that a Czech composer or interpreter can enchant people on the other side of Earth just as well. — oo

– Lucie Rohanová

Photo Credits: Top: Wikipedia; center, Lucie Rohanová; bottom, Prague Spring website

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