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Harpsichord recital to honor 1591 debut of Western music

by Chiho Iuchi

A harpsichord performance will be held this weekend at a gallery in Kyoto, using a recently completed instrument with fine painting by Kansai-based artist Satoshi Mabuchi.

“It has been more than 30 years since I bought a harpsichord kit in the United States,” recalls the owner, Yasuhei Taniguchi, a jurist who formerly taught at Kyoto University and served, from 2000 to 2007, as a member of the Appellate Body of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva, Switzerland.

In 1976, after being invited to the University of Michigan as a one-year guest professor, Taniguchi visited the renowned American instrument-maker Hubbard Harpsichord, near Boston, where he bought the kit. The assembly of the kit was finished around 10 years later, but the instrument was left unvarnished.

“I had been thinking about the designs and coloring to cover the instrument. But another 10 years passed before I was introduced to the rising painter Mabuchi,” says Taniguchi.

Taniguchi commissioned Mabuchi to paint the scene of the first performance of Western music in Japan.

According to historical records, four young boys — Ito Mancio, Chijiwa Miguel, Nakaura Julia~o and Hara Martina~o — were sent to Rome as the first Japanese emissaries to Europe in 1582, accompanied by Jesuit missionaries. Upon their return to Japan in 1591, they had an audience with the leading warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who came to power after unifying Japan, and performed Renaissance music by Franco-Flemish composer Josquin des Prez, which was the first official performance of Western music in Japan.

Mabuchi spent 2 1/2 years creating his painting, which depicts four boys playing Western instruments, including a harp and a lute, under blooming cherry trees in the garden of Hideyoshi’s Jurakudai residence in Kyoto.

The upcoming recital will showcase the solemn but brilliant sound of the beautiful instrument as wrought by the internationally renowned player Sakurako Mitsuhashi. The playlist mainly comprises Baroque pieces by composers such as J.S. Bach and Telemann. The harpsichord will be on display at the gallery during the etching exhibition by Kiyozumi Yamashita until Oct. 14.

The performance, at Artzone Kaguraoka Kyoto (4 Yoshida-Kaguraoka, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto), is on Oct. 5 at 3:30 p.m. Tickets are ¥2,300 in advance. To apply, send a fax to (075) 754-0155 or e-mail artzone@iris.eonet.ne.jp