TOKYO (AP) — Pioneering pianist and composer Toshi Ichiyanagi, who studied with John Cage and went on to lead Japan’s advances in experimental contemporary music, has died. It was 89.
Ichiyanagi, who was married to Yoko Ono before marrying John Lennon, died Friday, according to the Kanagawa Arts Foundation, where Ichiyanagi had served as general artistic director. The cause of death was not given.
“We would like to express our sincere gratitude to all those who loved him while he was alive,” foundation president Kazumi Tamamura said in a statement on Saturday.
Ichiyanagi studied at The Juilliard School in New York and emerged as a pioneer, using free compositional techniques that left much to chance, incorporating not only traditional Japanese elements and instruments but also electronic music.
He was known for genre-defying collaborations, working with Jasper Johns and Merce Cunningham, as well as innovative Japanese artists such as architect Kisho Kurokawa and poet-playwright Shuji Terayama, as well as Ono, with whom he he was married for many years. years starting in the mid-1950s.
“In my creation, I have tried to let various elements, which have often been seen separately as contrasts and opposites in music, coexist and permeate each other,” Ichiyanagi once said in an artist statement.
Japanese traditional music inspired and encouraged him, he said, because it did not concern itself with the usual definitions of music as “temporary art” or what he called “divisions,” such as relative and absolute, or new and old.
Contemporary music was more about “the essential space, in order to restore the spiritual richness that music provides,” he said.
Among his well-known works for orchestra is the riotously provocative ‘Berlin Renshi’. Renshi is a type of Japanese collective poetry that is more open free verse than older forms such as “renku”.
In 1989, Ichiyanagi formed the Tokyo International Music Ensemble — The New Tradition (TIME), an orchestral group that focused on traditional instruments and “shomyo,” a style of Buddhist chanting.
His music traveled freely across influences and cultures, transitioning seamlessly from minimalist avant-garde to Western opera.
Ichiyanagi has toured the world, premiering his compositions at Carnegie Hall in New York and the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris. The National Theater of Japan also commissioned several plays from him.
He has remained prolific over the years, producing Concerto for Marimba and Orchestra in 2013, and Piano Concerto No. 6 in 2016, which Ichiyanagi performed solo at a Tokyo festival.
Ichiyanagi has received numerous awards, including the Alexander Gretchaninov Award from Juilliard, the L’ordre des Arts et des Lettres of the French Republic and the Order of the Rising Sun, the Gold Rays with Rosette and the Medal of Purple Ribbon from the Japanese government.
Born in Kobe to a musical family, Ichiyanagi showed promise as a composer at an early age. He won a major competition in Japan before moving to the US as a teenager, when such moves were still relatively rare in post-war Japan.
A private funeral is being held with the family. A public ceremony in his honor is in the works, arranged by his son, Japanese media reported.
Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter https://twitter.com/yurikageyama