Making Thoughts Audible

Opus Osm

The emblem of the Fuke International, from their website.

In a Prague concert Mar 1, Czech composer Vlastislav Matoušek introduced a beautiful ensemble of shakuhachi players. … Shaku-what-i players?

What exactly is a shakuhachi? It’s simply a flute using air in a vertical column. But it’s difficult to create tones on the shakuhachi because it is not suitable for rapid movements.

On the contrary, it is very well fit for music understood as spiritual discipline.

It produces a lot of aliquot (harmonic) tones, has a wide range of colours, and a large dynamic scale — from whispering pianissimo to vigorous forte.

Though the shakuhachi flute is today something like a symbol of traditional Japanese music, up until the second half of the 19th century it was used entirely in religious practice of the Zen Buddhist Fuke order.

Shaku-what-i? English language idiom using ‘what’ with a question, to show surprise at an unknown fact or term

Then the shakuhachi was not understood as a musical instrument, but as a means of meditation, or possibly as a way of monks’ communication with the external world. When the monks went out of the temple to beg for alms, they did not speak, but played the shakuhachi.

At the Mar 1 concert at The Atrium, Mr. Matoušek introduced Ichiro Seki, a prominent Japanese shakuhachi player, composer, and interpreter focused on Japanese traditional and contemporary music, and author of successful syntheses of Eastern and Western music.

These two musicians, supported by Marek Matvija and Seizan Osako (both shakuhachi players), Ondřej Komárek (contrabass) and members of the small choir Piccolo Coro (with chorus-master Marek Valášek), met that evening in a musical dialogue on the possibilities of the fascinating instrument of shakuhachi.

It was the meditative mood of the shakuhachi that was the main feature. Was it a bright chant of spring? or his impressions from Auschwitz by Ichiro Seki? Was it a choral / shakuhachi composition based on medieval inscriptions in the Old Town Bridge Tower? or a shakuhachi trio inspired by the magic of the circle, by Vlastislav Matoušek. No matter.

You could always feel the sensitivity and discretion of the composers / interpreters with which they touched these topics, not just playing music, but really contemplating their subjects. You could feel that it was not only a performance of music. — oo

– Lucie Rohanová, regular contributing writer to Opus Osm

About the Performers

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Vlatislav Matoušek

The Czech composer and musicologist Vlastislav Matoušek is known to the listeners of Czech Radio (especially Vltava) from his programs on ethno music from the whole world.

He also teaches at The Academy of Performing Arts and the Charles University Faculty of Arts. He is an author of numerous compositions for solo instruments and chamber ensemble; and an active multi-genre musician, playing in several underground rock bands in the 1980s. Today his main specialization is traditional Japanese music, including performing on the shakuhachi.

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Opus Osm

Ichiro Seki

The Japanese shakuhachi player Ichiro Seki has performed his solo-shakuhachi signature piece, Minao Shibata’s Oiwakebushi-koh, all over the world. A 1973 graduate of NHK Japanese Traditional Music School, he has won many awards for his compositions, including those combining shakuhachi with Western instruments such as the harpsichord.

His Pentagonia for five soloists and an orchestra of 100 shakuhachi premiered in 1998.

Photo Credits: Top: Fuke Shakuhachi website; performers, Lucie Rohanová

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