Tomorrow at 2 p.m. in the Ishibashi Memorial Hall, Ueno, Tokyo International Singers with the L’Esperance Singers will present a concert of French music. The two groups will perform Faure’s “Requiem” and Gounod’s “St. Cecilia Mass.” They will spotlight three soloists, an organist and an electone player.
The electone player is Hiromi Akatsuka, who will conjure from her instrument all the sounds of a full orchestra for the two pieces. She said: “The electone looks like an organ, has three manual keyboards and more than 200 sounds. I think it is great. People usually love it after they have heard it.” When she has performed in Europe and America, audiences have given her standing ovations.
Born in Sendai, Akatsuka began at the piano keyboard when she was 5. “My parents loved music,” she said. “They belonged to a chorus group, and my father is still an amateur conductor.” At 20 she graduated with honors from the Yamaha Music School. “I met my husband in college,” she said. “He played the drums. I was already playing many different instruments, and often we performed together.” Eventually he made his career in computer engineering, whilst she stayed with music.
Akatsuka belongs to the age that has been able successfully to apply new technologies to traditional piano playing. In two successive years 30 years ago, she won the Grand Prix Award in the All Tohoku Electone Competition. She won further awards in the International Electone Competition Grand Prix. By then she had developed her ability to read open-score manuscripts, “that is, being like a conductor and reading the score for every instrument,” she said. She was also composing, and having two of her original pieces acclaimed as outstanding achievements.
Akatsuka explains that the synthesizer, played as a piano with one electric keyboard and using digital sound, is often used for popular music. Excelling on the piano keyboard, she expanded possibilities open to her, and applied the synthesizer to classical music. She plays the synthesizer in accompaniments to soloists and group singers. She is also an accomplished solo performer who has given concerts in Japan, Europe and the United States. “I lived in the U.S. for about five years, in both Los Angeles and New York,” she said. “I performed many times.” She still travels overseas in the cause of up-to-date music that builds on traditional renditions. Recently she gave a clinic for pianists in South Korea, where she is helping to develop an opera company. “Korean musicians want to use the electone,” she said. “Many are already using it for popular music, and some are trying to use it for classical music too.”
In Japan, Akatsuka has premiered several modern compositions. She would like to have the time to give to more composing of her own. On three days each week she is teaching at Senzoku Gakuen University, where she says she has good, talented students to whom she transmits her own enthusiasm and enterprise. “We have an ensemble class that tries to read orchestral scores,” she said. “Sometimes we have a professional conductor come in to assist.” A part-time teaching schedule frees her to give thought and effort to her own rehearsing. Her repertoire includes operas from Bizet, Donizetti, Puccini and Verdi as well as more modern works. In her versatility, she has made her name in performing and teaching on the electone, sequencing her accompaniments to reproduce the sounds of full orchestras.
Akatsuka describes her rehearsals with Tokyo International Singers as exciting. This group has earned a high reputation for performing good music. TIS has grown from an original chorus of about 15 singers to 10 times that size. Founded and nurtured by Marcel L’Esperance and Carol Melby, it comprises many nationalities, with about half its membership being Japanese. L’Esperance Singers, named for the founder and leader, is an ensemble of near-professional singers. Akatsuka says that TIS and L’Esperance Singers together give outstanding performances. Particularly for tomorrow’s concert, she says: “I love Gounod. The concert will be conducted by Marcel L’Esperance, and he loves Gounod too. I feel the sympathy. The music becomes very emotional, an element often lacking in performances in Japan. I feel comfortable with that.”