CLASSICAL MUSIC / KENNETH HERMAN : Traditionalist Music Group to Offer Master Koto Player

La Jolla’s Sherwood Auditorium, which usually plays host to chamber music and an occasional visit from the UC San Diego avant-gardists, will take on a decidedly Oriental cast on the afternoon of June 25. Members of Masazumi Kai, a local organization devoted to teaching and performing Japanese traditional music, will present koto master Shinichi Yuize and Yasuko Nakashima in concert. According to Masazumi Mizuno, founder of the 18-year-old Masazumi Kai, Yuize is one of Japan’s leading virtuoso koto players.

“Last year he was awarded the Purple Ribbon Medal for his contributions to Japanese music,” explained Mizuno. “This is the highest award granted to an artist, and although it is given by the government, it really comes from the emperor.”

Most dictionaries define the koto as a 13-stringed zither with movable bridges. The long, slender instrument is plucked by the performer, who sits on the floor with the koto placed at a right angle in front of him. Mizuno noted that while the koto flourished in the 16th and 17th Centuries, it was known in Japan much earlier.

“The koto came to Japan from China in the 7th Century, where it gradually became a part of music in the Imperial court,” she said.


As Japan continues to assimilate Western culture, the traditional music of this ancient instrument is endangered. It should be noted that the justifiably famous Suzuki method of instruction, devised by Shinichi Suzuki, was designed to teach violin and other Western musical instruments.

“We hope the music of the koto will not die out, but most players include contemporary music such as a song by the Beatles in their concerts. If they play something like Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons,’ they think people will understand the instrument better.”

Mizuno, who lives in La Mesa, has been keeping the tradition alive locally for nearly two decades. The Masazumi Kai has some 20 members who practice together on a regular basis in Mizuno’s home. Seven of these musicians have reached the rank of assistant teacher, a level of proficiency that requires rigorous testing, and several will participate in the Sunday Sherwood Hall performance.

Mizuno’s group is affiliated with Tokyo’s Seiha School, one of Japan’s largest koto schools. Nakashima, who is a virtuosa on the 17-string bass koto and is the other featured performer on the Sherwood Hall concert, is the headmistress of the Seiha School. She is also married to Yuize.


A week of openings. On Wednesday night at Mission Bay’s Hospitality Point, the San Diego Symphony will inaugurate this year’s 12-week season of summer pops. Guest conductor Bruce Hangen will preside over a mostly Tchaikovsky program, including the seemingly requisite (for an al fresco Tchaikovsky bash), “1812 Overture.” The sole non-Tchaikovsky offering on the program will be Eduard Lalo’s “Symphonie Espagnole” with 11-year-old violinist Leila Josefowicz as soloist.

On June 26, concert organist Hector Olivera will open the Spreckels Organ Society’s Monday night summer series on Balboa Park’s unique outdoor pipe organ. Olivera, a native of Argentina who now makes his home in Atlanta, wowed the near-capacity crowd at the society’s inaugural summer organ recital last year. With his amazing technique, Olivera is a virtuoso of the old school. Not since the late Virgil Fox has a performer wielded such unbridled keyboard prowess.

The society’s Monday night programming will continue weekly through Aug. 21. Among the more unusual programs: a guest appearance by the California Youth Chorale on July 3; maestro Zoltan Rozsnyai’s International Orchestra accompanying civic organist Robert Plimpton in a pair of organ concertos on July 17; cinema organist Dennis James accompanying a screening of Douglas Fairbanks’ 1920 film classic, “The Mark of Zorro” on July 24, and harpsichordist Kathleen Scheide’s Aug. 7 duel with the mighty Spreckels Organ--appropriately titled “The King of Instruments with his Little Sister, the Harpsichord.”

New kids on the block. In an unusual display of mutuality, the UC San Diego-based La Jolla Civic-University Symphony and Chorus has hired a San Diego State University graduate student as its new general manager. Kaleigh Patton will assume her new duties with the La Jollans on July 1 . . . Another new face with music director Tom Nee’s musical organization is board president Garrett Bowles, who was elected to that office this month. Bowles, who is UCSD’s music librarian, is not exactly a stranger to the organization, however. He has served on the orchestra board for the last nine years.

Winners and competitors. Violist Jacqueline Cappeci of the USIU International Orchestra recently won her audition with Miami’s New World Orchestra. Her first assignment with music director Michael Tilson Thomas’ much-touted young ensemble is a European tour. Cappeci and her colleagues will be performing in Paris on Bastille Day, July 14, an auspicious date in this bicentennial of the French Revolution . . . Heather Barclay, the USIU International Orchestra’s principal percussion player, will also make a French journey next month. The accomplished marimba player is one of 35 musicians invited to compete in this year’s Concours International de Percussion at Saint Omer, France. Barclay and her favorite rosewood marimba will vie for the competition’s $5,000 first prize.