Toshio Hosokawa Biography (BBC)
Born in Hiroshima, educated (1976-82) in Berlin by a Korean composer who had himself studied in Japan, and currently dividing his time between Hiroshima, Mainz, and Karuizawa - the details of Toshio Hosokawa's CV seem to embody as much as anybody's the problematic tension between East and West that has haunted so many Japanese composers for the past century or so. Hosokawa was awakened to this tension particularly by his teacher in Berlin, Isang Yun, and it is already apparent in the Japanese formal structures of works from this time - such as the Preludio with which he won first prize in the composition competition celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in 1982. But by the end of his time with Yun he felt he had come so much under his teacher's influence that a certain distancing was necessary, and so decided to move to Freiburg to begin studies first with Brian Ferneyhough and, subsequently, Klaus Huber (1983-8). And it was while studying with these European masters, according to Luciana Galliano - the leading specialist in the field of Western-style composition in Japan - that his musical language changed, as he applied 'the structural rigour learnt from his Western teachers to the conception of sound received from Japanese thinking'.
The fruits of such bicultural symbiosis are apparent in the very titles of the 130 or so works that have appeared from this highly prolific and successful composer over the years. Catalogue entries such as Urbilder (1980), Cloudscapes (1984), Jenseits der Zeit… (1987), and the (rather Ferneyhoughesque) Vertical Time Study I-III (1992-4) rub shoulders with Jo-ha-kyu (1980), Sen I-VI (1984-93), Renka I-III (1986-90) and Utsorohi (1986) - rather as Japanese sho¯ rubs shoulders with Western harp in the last-named work. London audiences in particular may recall that his first opera, Visions of Lear - a commission for the 1998 Munich Biennale, which was also produced at Covent Garden's Linbury Studio Theatre in 2002 - even incorporates such biculturalism into its dramaturgy, transferring Shakespeare's narrative to the context of modern corporate Japan.
Yet it would be quite mistaken to expect of Hosokawa's music any picturesque 'exoticism'. Rejecting all kinds of superficial 'fusion' which stem from a shallow understanding of both Eastern and Western music, Hosokawa's work is distinguished rather by a deep and thoughtful engagement with the aesthetics of his own tradition: whether it is the spiritual significance underlying the calligrapher's brushstroke, or the common preoccupation of both aural and visual arts in Japan with the pregnancy of space and silence (known as ma). Of his teacher Yun's music Hosokawa once said that it 'conveyed not just an Asian atmosphere but Asiatic thinking, Asiatic substance' - and pretty much the same could be said of his own work as well.
Profile © Peter Burt
Toshio Hosokawa Tracks