The following are some of my highlights of the festival. I missed the opening concert so my first encounter was on stage for the S-1 Grand Prix (the ‘S’ for shakuhachi replaces the ‘F’ for Formula 1). It was a fantastic experience playing in front of some of the best shakuhachi players and meeting the other participants. The winner was the 17-year old Chozan Imoto from Japan.

The mornings contained presentations and performances by the special guest performers, Reibo Aoki II, Junsuke Kawase III and Kodo Araki V. Reibo Aoki II taught “Ajikan” along with entertaining anecdotes. Junsuke Kawase III gave a fascinating presentation on “Qigong and the shakuhachi”. Araki Kodo V gave a detailed lecture about “Timbral Travels with meri-kari”. Kohachiro Miyata also gave a performance/lecture on the 7-hole shakuhachi.

The afternoons consisted of a wide variety of workshop presentations. On the first day, I attended an interesting lecture on historical shakuhachi by Zenpo Simura. This was an opportunity to reflect on the zen verses instrument debate. Is the shakuhachi a tool of zen or a musical instrument? What did the komuso sound like based on what we know about the bamboo they blew? Simura argued that the jinashi shakuhachi is more conducive to meditation and suizen than the modern instrument. However, I was left feeling that it was not so much the instrument but the blower and the mind frame at the time of blowing that mattered. Jim Franklin’s workshop on “Composing/performing with live electronics” was fascinating. Tom Hare from Princeton University gave an entertaining lecture on the “Historical Perspectives on Zen and the Shakuhachi” with his own provocative translations of Ikkyu’s poetry related to shakuhachi.

There was always lively debate and great sounds from the makers corner. Here gathered John Neptune, Justin Williams, Peter Hill and other leading Japanese makers. I was very happy with the interest in my Celtic honkyoku scores and CD. I also got the opportunity to perform some Irish tunes in the open-mic session. This session contained many gems including a unique arrangement of “Shika no tone” and finished with Riley’s performance of “Waltzing Matilda”.

The afternoon concerts contained many gems. Foremost of these for me was Brian Richie’s performance of a John Coltrane number “Living Space” with Jim Moginie (guitar, from Midnight Oil) and his brother Sam (percussion). On the first day, we were treated to a concert which featured versions of “Tsuru no Sugomori” of which the performances by Komei Takemura and Shodo Sakai were breath taking. Jim Nyoraku Schlefer gave a blistering rendition of Sawai’s “Jogen no Kyoku” on the final day. There was also a brilliant execution of Yamamoto Hozan’s duet “Take” by the Tanabe brothers. Martha Fabrique and Veronique Piron performed with panache the dynamic duet “Synchrony” by Yoshihisa Taira for shakuhachi and flute. There was a special concert of compositions by the shakuhachi player and composer, Marty Regan. Vlastislav Matousek’s performance of the Fuke version of “Shika no tone” was for me a performance that captured the essence of suizen.

The evening concerts were superbly programmed. There was an excellent balance of the familiar and the bizarre, the old and the new. I was happy to join in the participants ensemble in a performance of ‘Hamasaki Yama’, composed and directed by Miyata Kohachiro. The surprise in the Saturday evening concert was Yoshio Kurahashi’s performance of “Shakedown for shakuhachi and tape” by Matthew Hindson. The highlight for me was the final concert. Kifu Mitsuhashi’s performance of “Piece for Shakuhachi solo” by Harue Kondou was outstanding, more than making up for his slight memory lapse in an earlier concert. I had never seen Nakamura performing live until the final concert. He played a contemporary piece with string quartet and tape. It did highlight his amazing breath control but I felt his sound was drowned out by the strings. The final concert also contained a tour de force performance of a Fukuda Rando trio with Matama, Furuya and Kakizakai. The festival finished in style with a cruise around Sydney Harbour complete with sake closing ceremony.

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