We were very sad to learn of the recent passing, on 16 September 2018, of Japanese composer and conductor Isao Matsushita, who also served as president of the Asian Composers League as well as president of the Japan Federation of Composers, and has been a fixture on the international contemporary music scene for over four decades.
Matsushita’s more than 100 musical compositions, which have been performed all over the world and have appeared on numerous recordings, span works for orchestra, chorus, Western classical chamber ensembles, traditional Japanese instruments, combinations of Western and Asian instruments, and solo keyboard, as well as several evening-length stage works including the 3-act opera Shinano-no-kuni, which was part of the official cultural program of the Winter Olympics in Nagano in 1998. Some of the other notable works in his catalog are: the 2000 oratorio Tenjiku Shokei, based on texts from Buddhist sutras, for traditional Japanese shomyo cantor, speaker, mixed chorus, children’s chorus and orchestra; a 2002 symphony which includes a live ad libitum performance by a calligrapher; the 2005 double violin concerto A Time for Prayer; and perhaps most notably Hi-ten-yu, wadaiko, a 1994 concerto for wadaiko (traditional Japanese drums) and orchestra which has had many international performances including a notable performance by Berlin Philharmonic under the direction of Kent Nagano which the orchestra has made available online through its Digital Concert Hall. As a conductor, Matsushita served as the Music Director of Ensemble Kochi (East Wind) in Berlin from 1982-82 and in Tokyo from 1999 to 2018. He was also the conductor of the Camerata Nagano and the Bunkyo Civic Orchestra in Tokyo and served as a guest conductor with other orchestras in Germany and Japan. In addition to leading the ACL and the JFC, Matsushita also taught composition at the Tokyo University of the Arts (Tōkyō Geijutsu Daigaku) from 1987 to 2018, serving later in his tenure as the University’s vice president and as an associate professor of contemporary music from Asia and other subjects at its Performing Arts Centre from 2003–18. He was also the executive chairman and music director for several large music festivals in Japan including Asian Music Week 2000 in Yokohama, the 2000 Nagano Music Festival, and the 2003 Asian Music Festival in Tokyo.
Born on 23 November 1951, Matsushita began receiving attention for his music soon after obtaining his undergraduate and graduate degrees in musical composition from the Tokyo University of the Arts (Tōkyō Geijutsu Daigaku) where his principal teachers were Hiroaki Minami and Toshirō Mayuzumi. In 1977, at the age of 26 and while still a student, he was awarded a prize at the Japan Music Competition in the orchestral composition division. From 1979 to 1986, he lived in Berlin where he studied composition with Isang Yun at the Musik Hochschule and continued to receive significant accolades for his music. His string quartet, Toki-no-Ito I (Threads of Time) was awarded first prize in the Moenchengladbach International Composition Competition in West Germany in 1985 and, in 1986, he received the seventh annual Irino Prize for his Toki-no-Ito II for piano and orchestra. These two important compositions of his were both later performed on the World New Music Days festivals of the International Society for Contemporary Music—Toki-no-Ito I was performed during the ISCM’s 1993 festival in Mexico City and Toki-no-Ito II was performed five years earlier during the ISCM’s 1988 festival in Hong Kong. Matsushita’s first ISCM festival appearance was in 1982 when his monumental Alabaster (1977-79) for three orchestras was presented in Graz and his last was in 2013 when the Slovak State Philharmonic performed A Shining Firmament (2008) in Košice.
–Frank J. Oteri