Interview with Violinist Midori Komachi


Interview by Mike Sullivan

Midori Komachi is an up and coming violinist whose debut album was released in April and who regularly holds concerts around the world. She completed her Master of Music degree at the Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and has won many prizes such as the Sir Arthur Bliss Prize and the MBF Emerging Excellence Award. She has developed a cultural exchange project in the UK and Japan which has involved working with composers from both countries and in the last couple of years she has not only led a series of workshops with composers Nicola LeFanu and Yuka Takechi, but also worked with Toshio Hosokawa. She took time out of her busy schedule to answer our questions for our latest Japan Society interview.

Please tell us about your background.

I am a concert violinist based in London. I graduated from the Royal Academy of Music in 2012, and since then have been freelancing with various concert projects in Europe and Japan. Before coming to the UK in 2002, I previously lived in Switzerland, Hong Kong, as well as in Japan for just a few years, where I was born. I enjoy having a combination of different kinds of performance platforms, including recitals, chamber music concerts and educational workshops. In recent years, I have developed several concert projects that express the significance of collaborations between artists, and which also explore the historical context that gives a fascinating insight into our understanding of musical work. I have also founded a cultural exchange project between UK and Japan, as I am interested in developing closer links between composers, performers and the audience in both countries, through cultural exchanges in classical music.

This month your first album, with Simon Callaghan, is being released. How did this collaboration come about?

Back in 2012, I was starting to develop my concert project, Delius and Gauguin, which explores the special exchanges between composers and artists centred around the English composer Frederick Delius, and painter Paul Gauguin. I was introduced to Simon by the Delius Society, as he had previously recorded two discs of Delius’s works. We performed a series of concerts in the UK as part of the Delius and Gauguin project. It was such an exciting process for me to collaborate with Simon – his fantastic sound and sensitive playing really stimulated a ‘conversational’ partnership throughout our performances.

What is the meaning of the album title Colours of the Heart?

The album is based on the colourful inspiration shared by Delius and Gauguin, and their friends: Ravel, Grieg and Debussy. Delius admired Gauguin’s paintings, and was the first owner of Gauguin’s Nevermore. Gauguin also intended to express emotions, like music, through his colours. There is a quote by Gauguin, which I believe is a concept valued by all of the composers in this album: ‘Colour is the language of the listening eye.’ Ironically, Delius was blind and paralyzed when he wrote the 3rd Violin Sonata – so in fact he could no longer see the colours that he loved. Despite this tragic fate, his music became liberated in an infinite world of colours. This was my inspiration for the title – that colours, both in music and art, are an expression from the heart.

On the release date of this album you also had a launch recital, how did you feel about doing a concert to launch your first album?

The launch recital was held to introduce the CD and works by Delius to a wider audience. I have been supported by the Arts Council England and also the Delius Trust to give a series of concerts in the UK this spring, along with the release of the CD. My wish is to invite a wider audience to encounter the fascinating music and life of Delius. Throughout the project I intend to communicate in close distance with my audience, through talks, concerts and liner notes on the CD. I hope that the audience can also experience the sensation I gained through seeing Nevermore and hearing Delius’s music.

You perform a lot every year in both Japan and the UK, as well as other countries, are there any particular concerts which stick out for you?

This is very hard to pick, as there are many special moments and many funny backstage episodes to tell! But one which remains close to my heart is the performance of Toshio Hosokawa’s Elegy for Solo Violin at Tokyo Opera City in December 2013. As I had the opportunity to rehearse this piece with the composer and gain an insightful guidance through his music on several occasions, this was a special opportunity for me to bring immediacy in Hosokawa’s sound world. It is a beautiful piece, resembling a song of a human voice in search for the dead spirit. This was programmed in an ‘English inspired’ recital of works by Elgar, Delius, Holst, Ernst and Britten. Having lived outside of Japan for most of my life, the piece also brought me to the realisation of my Japanese identity as a violinist.

Are there any differences between a British audience and a Japanese audience?

I don’t find many differences when performing, as audiences in both countries are appreciative and ‘well mannered’! However, I do have a strong wish that there will be more interest in English music in Japan, and Japanese contemporary music in the UK. I hope I could continue to introduce these works in both countries in the future.

How did it feel to perform with Taro Hakase at the special charity concert at Cadogan Hall in 2012 to raise money for the 2011 Tohoku earthquake victims?

The whole experience was very touching. Back then I was still a student at Royal Academy of Music, and it was exciting to perform together with Taro and fellow Japanese musicians from RAM. Throughout the performance and the live broadcast on ‘Jounetsu Tairiku’, there was a sense of strong hope that the collective energy from every musician, and the audience, could reach the people in Tohoku.

You also participated in the Music of Britain and Japan – A Cultural Exchange in 2011, can you tell us about the background behind this project and your involvement?

This was a research-based concert project I founded in 2011, after being inspired by the extraordinary cultural exchanges between Britain and Japan since the ‘Japanese Village’ was built in Knightsbridge in 1885. I was intrigued to discover the influence of these exchanges in classical music, in both countries. The influence of ‘Japonism’ has been previously explored in French music, but not so much in British music; it was interesting to find British roots in the development of classical music in Japan in the early 20th Century – in Yamada Kosaku’s compositions, for example. I introduced these historical and cultural exchanges through a recital programme in London. As a result, I received the Friends of RAM Development Award for my research and initiative.

On the 2nd of May you will be performing at St.James Piccadilly in London, do you have other London concerts planned?

The concert on 2nd May is the last concert in the concert series in London this season. I will be performing outside London in June and July, including a very exciting programme at the National Trust’s Leith Hill Place in Surrey. In October I will have a recital in London at the Royal Over-Seas League with the renowned pianist Ian Brown. I am very much looking forward to sharing the stage with him!

You can find details of Midori Komachi’s album and future concerts on her website

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