Genji (Small Orchestra)


Genji (Small Orchestra)


concerto for koto and orchestra (2011)

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In either version - there is also one for large orchestra & string quartet - this work merits a regular spot on concert programmes, offering a nearly ideal introduction to Japanese instruments for Western audiences.
— Byzantion, Music Web International, December, 2012
  • Premiere (string quartet version): 19 February 2011 / Tenri Cultural Institute, New York City / Yumi Kurosawa, koto / Lark String Quarte+
  • Premiere (small orchestra version): 28 May 2011 / Stratford-on-Avon, UK / Yumi Kurosawa, koto / Orchestra of the Swan / David Curtis
  • Premiere (large orchestra version): 17 May 2014 / Honolulu, HI / Yumi Kurosawa, amplified koto / Hawaii Symphony / Naoto Otomo
  • Instrumentation (small orchestra version):
  • Instrumentation (large orchestra version): 3(III=picc).3(III=CA).3(II=Eb).3-
  • Duration: 25'
  • All downloads are digital. For paper music visit our distributor partner Theodore Front.

I. Cicada Shell -- II. Falling Flowers -- III. Maiden on the Bridge -- IV. Floating Bridge of Dreams -- V. Vanished into the Clouds

Program Note

The substance of Genji, my composition for koto and string quartet, or small, or large orchestra, is a result of the quintessentially Japanese koto interacting with western orchestra.

The style of the work blossoms from whatever preconceived notions of what the koto and the orchestra "ought" to sound like that the listener brings to the piece. The interplay of traditions therefore generates the genre of the piece: I call it a concerto only because of the clash of musical traditions involved, not because the soloist is in any way at odds with the ensemble.

Music creates its own narrative, and has its own inner logic; however, in order to assist the listener on this particular journey, I have overlaid one appropriated from the greatest of all Japanese epics, Genji. The result is a sequence of psychological situations, one per movement, each with a colorful, descriptive title drawn from the novel.

Originally commissioned by Kyo-Shin-An for koto and string quartet, I simultaneously created versions for koto and chamber orchestra, and koto and large orchestra. The soloist for the premiere of all three versions, which differ only in instrumentation, was Yumi Kurosawa.


Encounters between traditional Asian music and Western music have come to occupy their own niche on the concert stage: Too frequent to be a gimmick, they retain an undeniable curiosity factor, particularly when they involve a composer who, like Hagen, had never written for the koto before.

The instrument is a kind of dulcimer, a board laced with plucked strings tuned with pyramidal blocks, set at intervals under each string, that give the curving surface the look of a mountainscape diorama.

The sound is slightly twangy, robustly banjo-like, with a range and even volume beyond a banjo's. Hagen presented the piece as a dramatic dialogue in five sections between the Western and Eastern voices: Now the koto sang a solo over suspended string lines; now the two groups exchanged folk-like melodies, the Westerners' contribution sounding like a sea shanty; now the solo strings  traded romantic solos over the koto's plucking.

The result is a vivid and appealing piece that even sounded idiomatic. Just how idiomatic only became clear, at least to Western ears, when Kurosawa followed the concerto with two solo pieces. 

— Anne Midgette, The Washington Post, 10/14/2011

More overtly sensuous is Daron Hagen's 2011 Koto Concerto: Genji, an "opera without words" based on an 11th Century narrative. It consists of five psychological portraits. The second, ‘Falling Flowers', has a poignant violin solo; III, ‘Maiden on the Bridge', demonstrates the subtlety of koto soloist Yumi Kurosawa, who makes her ancient instrument sound like a small orchestra. The bent sounds, rich chords, and strumming on various parts of the instrument produce marvelous colors.  

— Sullivan, American Record Guide, May/June 2013

Yumi Kurosawa performs the entire concerto with the Orchestra of the Swan, conducted by music director David Curtis. Currently over 14,000 You-Tube views.

Yumi Kurosawa and the Orchestra of the Swan.

Yumi Kurosawa and the Orchestra of the Swan.

Yumi Kurosawa and the Lark Quarte+.

Yumi Kurosawa and the Lark Quarte+.

Yumi Kurosawa and the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra.

Yumi Kurosawa and the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra.