Japanese pianist touts the sounds of Spain


Japanese pianist Shizuka Shimoyama and Slovakian cellist Ludovit Kanta will bring the culture of Spain to Tokyo next week.

Shimoyama says it is something that has been lacking.

“Despite many impressive pieces, Spanish music has not been included in Japan’s music-education curriculum,” says Shimoyama, who studied at Toho Gakuen School of Music in Tokyo.

She got to know the genre in small doses and tried performing it at recitals early in her career. However, Shimoyama specifically recalls that at one such recital she “felt like an inner barrier blocked my expression. I just could not let my emotions flow, which is especially needed in performing Spanish music.”

Feeling insecure about her abilities, she decided to leave Japan in 1999 and study in Spain.

Since returning home in 2003, Shimoyama has worked hard to promote Spanish music, which remains a minor genre in Japan’s classical-music scene.

“I think Spain and Japan share things in common. Spanish flamenco and Japanese traditional dance both stay near to the earth, while Western ballet seems to seek the celestial heavens,” says Shimoyama, adding that the way of singing traditional folk songs in both countries is similar in terms of the techniques and emotions involved.

As part of her chamber-music series exploring music from both Spain and Latin America, the upcoming recital will feature the works of Gaspar Cassado (1897-1966), one of the 20th century’s greatest cellists. Born in Barcelona, Cassado was a soloist and composer — best known for “Requiebros” (“Words of Love”), which was dedicated to his teacher, Pablo Casals (1876-1973).

For each recital in the series, Shimoyama plans to invite a guest along. In 2006, she collaborated with German accordionist Stefan Fussong.

“Cello is essential to introduce Cassado’s music, but it is not so easy to find a good cellist who can join me in performing these rare works,” says Shimoyama.

Lucky for her, Kanta was up for the challenge. Born in Bratislava, the cellist has been based in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, since 1990. Besides performing as the principal cellist at the Orchestra Ensemble Kanazawa for 20 years, Kanta has also been active in solo recitals and chamber-music concerts in Japan and Slovakia.

“Shimoyama’s program seemed quite interesting to me,” says Kanta, who adds that he has always been open to such endeavors. This is his first collaboration with Shimoyama, and half of the pieces in the program are new to him, but he thinks “it’s normal for musicians to go somewhere unknown, to meet somebody unknown and to try something new.”

After one rehearsal, Shimoyama said she felt that Kanta had “a sense of the natural rhythm of folk music, which is not like sheer classical music. Maybe it reflects his background as a Slovakian, from a country rich in traditions of dancing and singing, even though they are different from Spanish ones.”

The World of Gaspar Cassado will include pieces for cello and piano, composed or arranged by Cassado. It will also include some renowned pieces by French composers Gabriel Faure and Maurice Ravel that Cassado, as a cellist, loves to perform.

The highlight will be a large-scale sonata for piano and cello comprised of four movements featuring typical Spanish songs and dances. The piece has seldom been performed, and is so rare that the pair said they could not even find a recording of it.

“Although it may be an unknown, different world,” says Shimoyama. “It’s sure to be a thrilling experience when you encounter Cassado’s music and see how you react to it.”

The World of Gaspar Cassado takes place Nov. 26 at 7 p.m. at Toppan Hall in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo. Tickets cost ¥4,500. For more information, call (03) 3235-3777.