Takashi Yoshimatsu





Music is a “language” different from words, a “numerical formula” different from mathematics. And my works are what I gave birth to, meaning they are my “children.”

Takashi Yoshimatsu was born in Tokyo, Japan, and like Toru Takemitsu, the composer generally considered to be Japan's greatest in the western classical style, did not receive formal musical training while growing up. He dropped out of Keio University in March 1974, and joined an amateur band named NOA as a keyboard player, emulating the music of Pink Floyd. He became interested in the jazz and progressive rock scenes, particularly in the possibilities being explored through electronic music.He was a fan of the Walker Brothers and the Ventures when he was 13, but symphonies of Beethoven and Tchaikovsky fascinated him when he was 14. Since then he composed a number of pieces before making his name with the serialist 'Threnody for Toki' in 1981.[1] Soon afterwards, he became disenchanted with atonal music, and began to compose in a free neo-romantic style with strong influences from jazz, rock and Japanese classical music, underscoring his reputation with his 1985 guitar concerto. As of 2007, Yoshimatsu has presented six symphonies, 12 concertos: one each for bassoon, cello, guitar, trombone, alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, marimba, chamber orchestra, traditional Japanese instruments, and two for piano (one for the left hand only and one for both hands), a number of sonatas, and various shorter pieces for ensembles of various sizes. His 'Atom Hearts Club Suites' for string orchestra explicitly pay homage to the Beatles, Pink Floyd and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.The majority of his work is triadic and contains simple, repeated progressions, or in some cases pandiatonicism. Often extended tertian harmonies are followed by whole tone harmonies (such as in the first movement of Symphony No. 5; or the first movement of his "Cyber Bird" Concerto for alto saxophone, which, in addition, makes use of free atonal jazz; or the final movement of his "Orion Machine" Concerto; or in his Saxophone Concerto "Albireo Mode"). His works for Japanese traditional instruments (such as Subaru, and Within Dreams, Without Dreams) make use of traditional Japanese scales and tunings.He has published some essays and primers about classical music.[1] He likes to draw pictures and has illustrated his own books.As a composer of concert music, Yoshimatsu's preference is for "new lyricism," and an avoidance of the unmusical characteristics (and, especially, the atonalism) of much modern concert music. His work has utilized Japanese instruments such as the koto in a chamber music context, but has also embraced such traditional European forms as the symphony and the piano concerto. Yoshimatsu draws from a vast range of musical influences, including rock and jazz; his cultural influences include his native Japan.



What does music mean to you personally?

It is a “language” different from words, a “numerical formula” different from mathematics. And my works are what I gave birth to, meaning they are my “children.”

Do you agree that music is all about fantasy?

It is a kind of fantasy that sometimes seems more real than reality.

If you were not a professional musician, what would you have been?

Originally I thought I would be a scholar or a doctor (or perhaps a writer or a manga(cartoon) artist). Becoming a musician was something completely unexpected.

The classical music audience is getting old, are you worried about your future?

In the 1960s, when I got into the music field, I didn’t imagine that classical music and orchestras would survive into the 21st century. So even though I’m not really optimistic, I can’t say I’m pessimistic either. I feel like the same is true for both music and people.

Tell us about your creative process. Do you have your favorite piece (written by you)? How did you start working on it?

The fact that music can be described in a “score,” making it possible to manage all formats from solos to huge ensembles performed on instruments from all times and places, and to program (and reproduce) “works”—I was interested in this and made “composition” my life’s work.

As a result, I’ve been able to make music with various musicians, orchestras and ensembles (from Western instruments to Japanese instruments and even jazz and rock). To me, the works born from these experiences are new personalities (children) combining the DNA of myself and the musicians. I think the same is true in the case of film and writing and painting as well.

Can you give some advice for young people who want to discover classical music for themselves?

This is quite paradoxical, but I’d probably tell young people, “Don’t get absorbed in classical music.” The reason is that, like me, they’ll put everything they have into it and spend their whole lives on it. I heard that the first thing my teacher would tell students in his classes in the university composition department was, “Don’t think about becoming a composer.”

Now it is a common practice in the media to talk that the classical music is getting into the consumption business, do you agree? We are speaking about the supply and demand rules and how to sell your “product” in your case your compositions. How do you see it? Do you have expectations what regards your listeners, your audience?

When I first aspired to be a composer, I never imagined a future other than one in which my works would never be performed or earn a single yen or have an audience, and I would die poor. A mother has children without thinking, “How much will this child cost?” or “How much can I earn by having this child?” It was like that. In the end (and very fortunately), I’ve been able to making a fair living without dying poor, but I didn’t go into music with a vision or plan for survival. That is why I have no answer in this regard.