LONDON – Made famous by animated film Kubo and the Two Strings, the shamisen is a traditional stringed Japanese instrument that has become increasingly popular around the world. Characterised by its long neck and guitar-like body, the shamisen’s energetic and versatile nature makes it the perfect instrument to use for a range of genres including jazz, folk and rock music.
This July, in the final concert of the Avex Recital Series 2019, Wigmore Hall welcomes back celebrated shamisen player Honjoh Hidejiro after blowing audiences away during his spectacular debut. With Hidejiro’s unique blend of visceral musicality and virtuosic technique, he became the first shamisen performer to receive the prestigious Idemitsu Music Award. This concert will comprise an incredible programme of works that have been specifically written, or newly adapted, for the shamisen. In addition to performing the world premiere of Ryuichi Sakamoto‘s new composition, Hidejiro will perform Dai Fujikura’s newly composed Neo; a passage which follows the classical style, it has also been crafted to induce an adrenaline rush in the listener as the exhilarating melody relentlessly chases and looms upon them.
With a new and captivating approach, the lively repertoire continues with a kabuki-style piece in Hamlet to be or not, combining Hamlet’s Soliloquy with vocals and an exaggerated recitation. The music follows the style of gidayubushi and the traditional puppet theatre music, often used in popular dramas. Initially written to be performed in Japanese, Hidejiro has chosen to chant and sing the original English script. Showcasing the global appeal of the shamisen, Hidejiro will perform Jiva – a rhythmic and ethnic piece reminiscent of Indian music. With its geometric allure, it fuses the acoustic function of “Sawari” with “Javari” which refers to the power of sound encompassing a force of life. With Hekitan No.2, audiences are urged to use their imaginations and to picture a scene that is held dear inside your heart, perhaps a Japanese garden, or a landscape painting.
Says Hidejiro: “The significance of music as an expression of the moment requires that it adapts flexibly to a multitude of different scenes and people, but to make this possible an unparalleled musical talent is crucial. The shamisen had been a unique and global presence for the people since as far back as the Edo era, and has a history of assimilating its surroundings and cultures with a flexible and accepting attitude. In these rapidly changing times when artists are constantly transcending linguistic boundaries with the medium of expression, I felt inspired to test how much of Hamlet’s inner conflict I could convey through a candid musical performance of shamisen and chants. It’s exciting to perform new compositions and work closely composers, such as Dai Fujikura who is unique; I have never met anyone so enigmatic and modest despite his brilliance. Do not miss the cutting-edge music of the Japanese traditional instrument!”
“Until now, I have never written for the shamisen,” he adds. “My attraction to the shamisen was the concept of adding ‘noise’ to the sound, which is unthinkable in western classical music. I loved it. I immediately thought of it as a bit like distortion with an electric guitar, so I treated this piece like a guitar solo in a rock concert. I hope you are cheering and screaming when he finishes this piece, like you would in a rock concert.”
Honjoh Hidejiro plays on 6th July 2019 at Wigmore Hall. Tickets available here