Composers Festival spotlight: Yu Kuwabara

The music of composer Yu Kuwabara explores connections between the personal and the traditional, the past and the present, and Japan and the rest of the world.

One of the nine resident composers for the 2021 Mizzou International Composers Festival, Kuwabara (pictured) is from Tokyo, and completed her master’s degree at Tokyo University of the Arts (TUA). She now is a lecturer at Senzoku Gakuen College of Music, and also teaches composition courses to children for the Yamaha Music Foundation.

For several years, she has been researching and learning traditional Japanese music and arts. Toward that end, Kuwabara is a composer for Awai-Za, a chamber ensemble that mixes new music and Japanese Edo culture, and she has collaborated with numerous artists who use traditional Japanese art forms, including Noh performers, Rakugo performer Kokontei Shinsuke, the Buddhist chant group Shomyo no Kai, Voices of a Thousand Years, and many others.

For the MICF, Kuwubara has written a new work titled “Nested Time,” which will be performed by Alarm Will Sound as part of the online “World Premieres II” concert on Saturday, July 31.

Her music has been performed by a wide variety of ensembles and musicians, including Enno Poppe and Ensemble Modern, Trio Accanto, soloists from Ensemble Intercontemporain, Talea Ensemble, Klangforum Wien, and dozens more.

Kuwabara’s works have been programmed at prestigious festivals such as Darmstädter Ferienkurse, the CRESC Biennale für Aktuelle Musik Frankfurt Rhein-Main, Ultraschall Berlin, Mostra Sonora Sueca, Tongyeong International Music Festival, Takefu International Music Festival, and more.

She has received commissions from organizations and ensembles including Festival 20/21 Transit, International Ensemble Modern Academy, National Theatre of Japan, Yokohama Minato-Mirai Hall, Riot Ensemble, and numerous others.

Her awards include winning the international composition contest ‘Breaking Music’; the fifth edition of Divertimento Ensemble’s ‘Franco Donatoni’ International Meeting for Young Composers; and neuverBand’s Construct-Radiate International Composition Competition. She also has been recognized with awards in competitions such as Protonwerk, the Asian Composers Showcase, the Japan Music Competition, and Tokyo Arts and Space.

You can hear samples of Kuwabara’s music on her SoundCloud page and in the embedded videos below.

“incense efflorescence,” performed by neuverBand, featuring Anja Clift (flute), Valentina Štrucelj (clarinet), Hannah Walter (violin), Anne-Laure Dottrens (viola), Ellen Fallowfield (cello), Lukas Rickli (piano), Victor Barceló (percussion), Alice Belugou ( harp), and Olivia Steimel (accordion), conducted by Mike Svoboda.

“Mizu no Koe (Water Voice),” recorded by violinist Marco Fusi on June 14, 2020 at Vondel Studio in Schaerbeek, Belgium.

“7 Studies about ‘Image’,” recorded December 12, 2019 by Alwyn Tomas Westbrooke (violin), Kyubin Hwang (violoncello), and Michiko Saiki (piano).