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Yuji Takahashi

The brilliant pianist and composer Yuji Takahashi first emerged on to the world’s stage at a Nippon Broadcasting modern music festival, at the beginning of 1961, when his last minute substituation for the scheduled soloist caused a sensation. Viewed as ‘a leading exponent of new piano music’, Takahashi is – along with David Tudor and Alfons Kontarsky - still regarded as one of the few pianists able to navigate his way through the weight of difficult modern music that emerged over the past forty years. After that sensational debut, Takahashi was asked to premier ‘Piano Distance’ by Toru Takemitsu, and used his new found position to commission a piano piece entitled ‘Herma’ from the composer Iannis Xenakis, who was working in Japan throughout 1961. Friends of Xenakis scolded the Greek composer for writing such a difficult piece, and a couple of them suggested that it would only be achievable played as a duet. Xenakis relayed their fears to Takahashi, who admitted that ‘Herma’ had at first presented him with problems, but that he had persevered and could now play it from memory. Born in Tokyo, in 1938, where he studied composition under Minao Shibata and Roh Ogura, it was with master pianist Hiriohi Ito that Takahashi had learned such monumental dedication to his musicianship. Takahashi, thereafter, organized The New Directions music ensemble with fellow composers Toshi Ichiyanagi and Kenji Kobayashi, and, in 1962, debuted the radical and seethingly amorhhous Xenakis piece that Takahashi himself had commissioned, along with Toru Takemitsu’s ‘Corona’, plus one of his own compositions. The untitled piece for electronics and twelve instruments was rapturously received. These successes of 1961-2 led Takahashi to a Ford Foundation sponsorship, and he thereafter studied in Berlin with Iannis Xenakis until 1965, continuing on to New York in 1966, where he composed computer music, funded by a J. D. Rockerfeller grant. That same year, Takahashi lectured and performed in New York at the UNESCO International Music Council Congress, and was, throughout 1967, a soloist for the New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, San Francisco Symphony and Toronto Symphony orchestras, as well as giving solo recitals in Athens, Stockholm, Paris, Amsterdam and Los Angeles. Still residing in the USA, Takahashi once more gave a lecture and performance for UNESCO, in the Philipino capital of Manila in 1968, also returning to Japan briefly for the EXPO ’70 in Osaka. In 1971, Takahashi was invited to teach at San Francisco’s Conservatory of Music. While lecturing here, he performed three of his electronic works - ‘Time’, ‘Yeguen’ and ‘Bridges’ - at the informal BRING YOUR OWN PILLOW concert series. Takahashi returned to Japan in 1972, where he settled, and began the composer’ group TranSonic with Toru Takemitsu, Toshi Ichiyanagi, Hiraki Hiyashi, Minao Shibata, Yoriaki Matsudaira and
one time Fluxus associate Joji Yuasa. Organisation, performance and an increasing politcal awareness took up most of Takahashi’s time, and he wrote a special protest piece entitled ‘For You I Sing This Song’ for America’s 1976 Bicentennial, which he dedicated in his introduction:

“…to the people’s struggle against oppression inside and outside America. The first movement is based on a Vietnamese song, in which young women address the Liberation Fighters against American aggression; the second movement is from “Rise Up, Boricua”, a song for the independence of Puerto Rico; the third movement is based on a song sung by Navajo women to sustain hope after their capitulation to Kit Carson in 1864”.

Takahashi’s increasingly left-wing leanings brought him into dealings with such composers as Cornelius Cardew, Christian Wolff and Frederic Rzewski, whose song ‘The People United Will Never Be defeated’ Takahashi performed throughout the 1970s at political rallies, during speeches, and to trade unionists and various workers’ organizations. However, Takahishi was disappointed in the autumn of 1980, when his composition ‘Kwangju, May 1980’, a piece composed as a memorial to those hundred of civilians recently slain by the pro-US dictator Chun Doo-whan during the uprising in Kwangju, was deemed ‘not militant enough’. Takahashi took the criticism in his stride, and even altered sections to suit the occasion better. But he was determined, thereafter, to widen his playing and compositional horizons, and during the next decades worked on everything from large modern European-influenced orchestral works to entirely computerized works, via performances of ancient music played by a soloist on the Japanese sho (mouth organ). During the 1980s, Takahashi performed Asian protest songs with The Suigyu band (named for the water buffalo), translated a book by Iannis Xenakis into Japanese, as well as recording music by Messiaen, Earle Brown, Bach and two volumes of Erik Satie’s music. Takahashi continued his quest throughout the ‘90s into the 21st Century, believing that no performance is ever completely correct or completely incorrect, but that: “Every performance is a questioning”. And, when asked by his friend and biographer Thomas Schultz about the wider implications of his life’s work, Yuji Takahashi stated:

“I think there is a time when one has to do certain things, not only in life, but also in music. In the 1960s, I was one of very few pianists in Europe who played Xenakis, Boulez, Messiaen and Cage. I translated and published Xenakis' book, Maceda's book, introduced Gubaidulina to Japan. Now other people take over. I consider myself a pioneer. As Mao the poet said in his "Ode to the Plum Tree": "not competing for spring/ only calling that it is coming/when mountain flowers are in full bloom/be among them smiling". Now many people play them so I don't have to do those works anymore. It should be so - music will be passed to the new generation. If the same people had continued to play the same music, those works would not survive.”

Julian Cope
Discography:
  • FINGER LIGHT (with Kishiko Suzumi, Ayumi Shimonoto and Kazuko Takada) (0000)
  • THREAD COG WHEELS (0000)
  • TORI NO ASOBI (0000)
  • JOHN CAGE: CONCERTO FOR PREPARED PIANO & ORCHESTRA (1968)
  • BACH: THREE KEYBOARD CONCERTOS (Columbia, 1974)
  • JOHN CAGE: SONATAS & INTERLUDES (Denon, 1975)
  • DISTANT VOICES (with Takehisa Kosugi and Steve Lacy) (Columbia, 1976)
  • J.S. BACH: INVERNTIONS & SINFONIAS (1977)
  • ERIK SATIE: PIECES POUR QUATRE MAINS (with Alain Planes) (Denon, 1980)
  • TSUGARUJAMISEN (1981)
  • Yuji Takahashi - JOHN CAGE: SONATAS & INTERLUDESJOHN CAGE: SONATAS & INTERLUDES
  • Yuji Takahashi - DISTANT VOICES (with Takehisa Kosugi and Steve Lacy)DISTANT VOICES (with Takehisa Kosugi and Steve Lacy)
  • Yuji Takahashi - ERIK SATIE: PIECES POUR QUATRE MAINS (with Alain Planes)ERIK SATIE: PIECES POUR QUATRE MAINS (with Alain Planes)

Images
Comments
Distant Voices
The Picture of the sleeve is not the LP but the CD. The LP has an insert but not an obi. Distant Voices (Columbia YX-7085-N). The record has a red columbia label.
Posted by henkzuurveld, Dec 28, 2010
Distant voices
Sorry, I said it had a red label, in fact it's an orange label. Excuses.
Posted by henkzuurveld, Jan 02, 2011
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