Yuji Takahashi - A Biographical Sketch
A BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH AND APPRECIATION OF YUJI TAKAHASHI
Sponsored by the Ford Foundation
lived in Berlin from 1963 to 1965, where he
studied with Iannis Xenakis (his 1997 essay "Xenakis in Kyoto", thoughts on Xenakis'
music, ideas and teaching, can be found on his
In 1966, supported by a grant from the J. D. Rockefeller III.
came to New York to compose music using computers, and was subsequently a highly visible and influential participant in new music activities in the U. S., with appearances at the Berkshire Music Center
, the Ravinia Music Festival, the Stratford (Ontario) Festival and The Center for the Creative and Performing Arts at the State University of New York at Buffalo
During this time, he
was a soloist with such ensembles as the London Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony, the Chicago Symphony, the San Francisco Symphony, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Toronto Symphony and the Buffalo Philharmonic.
gave solo recitals at the Athens Festival, the Stockholm Festival, the Oxford Bach Festival, the Domaine Musical
in Paris, the Signaal series in Amsterdam, the Twice Series in Los Angeles, the Princeton Chamber Concerts and the Evenings for New Music and New Images of Sound in New York.
In 1966 and 1968 he
performed and spoke at the UNESCO International Music Council Congresses in Manila and New York and wrote a work performed at the Japanese Music Pavilion at the 1970 Osaka World's Fair.
Takahashi remained in the U. S. until 1972, teaching piano at Indiana University and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
In 1971, during his residence in San Francisco, he performed 3 of his own electronic works (Time, Yeguen, and Bridges) at one of the first informal concerts (called "Bring Your Own Pillow" at the Hansen Fuller Gallery on Grant Avenue) of what was to become the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players.
For many years, Takahashi
was known, along with only a few other pianists - Tudor, Kontarsky, Helffer, Woodward, Jacobs, Rzewski - as someone able to decipher and play the most difficult new works for piano.
wrote both Herma
in Tokyo in February of 1962 and Eonta
in December, 1964 in Paris, with Boulez conducting.
In the course of that 1961 visit to Japan, I made the aquaintance of Yuji Takahashi, the brilliant pianist, who must have been around twenty then.
recitals consisted mostly of the works of contemporary composers.
A few months later I received a letter from him: he
was very poor, he
wrote, but he
wanted to commission a piano piece from me.
I was moved by that gesture.
only paid half what he
had promised and he
still owes me the rest.
had no money and I liked him, his
playing and his
I became worried and wrote to Yuji
to ask his
Is it really impossible to play?
replied that Herma
was very difficult but not impossible.
A few months later he
could play it by memory.
also gave the premieres of a number of works by Toru Takemitsu - Piano Distance (1961), Corona (1962), Arc (1963), and Asterism (1969) and has written about his relationship with Takemitsu in the 1996 essay "The Life of the Composer" (published on his website).
Among the recordings I find in my library at home that Takahashi
has made as a pianist, are the complete works of Schoenberg, Webern and Berg, music by Messiaen (solo pieces, also Visions de la Amen with Peter Serkin), Xenakis
, Cage, Rzewski, Na, Cardew, Takemitsu, the Indonesian composer Selamat A. Sjukur, Earle Brown, and Roger Reynolds, also Bach's
Art of the Fugue and the E minor Toccata, two volumes of Satie's
solo piano music, a Sonata of W. F. Bach and Marche et Reminiscences pour mon dernier voyage of Rossini.
What I especially admire about Takahashi as a pianist: the breadth of his learning and performing, the cat-like agility and physical animation of his playing, the way his playing is infused with a natural rubato and constant inflection - in a way, the opposite of a pianist like Glenn Gould - his ability to produce unexpected and unimagined sounds and, in particular, his attitude towards "the score", distilled over years of practical labor as a composer/pianist and a welcome antidote to the stifling view, held by many today, of the performer as one who, as accurately as possible, realizes the "intentions" of the composer.
Upon his return to Japan in 1972, Takahashi
was involved in organizing and performing with like-minded groups of musicians - the composers' group tranSonic (along with Takemitsu and Joji Yuasa), in the 1980s, the Suigyu
(Water Buffalo) Band, writing and performing Asian protest songs and, in 1999, Ito.
This is where I heard him give a "solo" recital which commenced with a performance by Mayumi Miyata and Ko Ishikawa of ancient music for the sho (a traditional Japanese mouth-organ), continued with Takahashi
playing the first half of the Goldberg Variations, followed by one of Takahashi's own recent pieces for two shos and the concluding half of the Goldbergs.
has said about the origins of this piece: "I wrote it on the train to Tokyo, and recorded it on arrival because it was urgent to present the slides for the rally.
once reacted to a performance I gave of Piano 3, saying: "…it sounded good, not like European/American contemporary music, and good because different from what I vaguely imagined it would sound like.