Yamada-ryu Koto Ensemble | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Yamada-ryu Koto Ensemble 


Music for the koto, a 13-silk-stringed zither of ancient lineage, throve in Japan from the 17th through 19th centuries, when the aristocracy and the rising merchant class fancied poetry reading accompanied by music. Though different interpretive styles emerged, a consolidation took place in the late 18th century with the dominance of a school founded by Yamada Kengyo, a virtuoso and composer gifted at assimilation. Four selections exemplifying the Yamada-ryu koto are showcased in this recital--offered in conjunction with the Art Institute's superb exhibit of Japanese screens--by an ad hoc group consisting of one vocalist and five of Japan's top traditional instrumentalists. Yuya, considered one of Yamada's greatest achievements, is typical in that its text is taken from a No classic. A poignant story of a young consort named Yuya who yearns to unite with her faraway mother, it opens somberly--with the koto imitating a temple bell tolling life's transience--and then relates a heated dialogue between Yuya and her royal husband, finishing with a tremulous instrumental climax depicting both her tears and falling cherry blossoms. Also noteworthy is Ode to Winter, a masterpiece of two dueling kotos highlighted by an interlude of frenzied swirls; the performers are Manami Ito and Namiyoshi Wakabayashi, both among the finest of the younger generation of Yamada-ryu artists. The ensemble's other members are Namimo Nakata on the samisen (a three-stringed lute), Jumei Tokumaru on the shakuhachi (the end-blown bamboo flute), Namino Torii on the koto, and reciter/singer Ayasano Shimura. A short lecture by Wakabayashi--who was born and raised in the U.S. but now lives in Japan--on the history and aesthetics of koto music precedes the concert. Sunday, 2 PM, Fullerton Auditorium, Art Institute of Chicago, Michigan and Adams; 443-3680.


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