Maki Ishii – Artistic Profile
Maki Ishii was born on May 28th, 1936 in Tokyo as the third son of Baku Ishii, the celebrated dancer and choreographer who played a pioneering role in establishing the genre of modern dance in Japan.
After studying composition and conducting from 1952 to 1958 in Tokyo he moved to Berlin where he continued his studies at the Hochschule für Musik Berlin (West), as student of e.g. Josef Rufer and Boris Blacher. In 1962 he returned to Japan. In 1969 he was invited to Berlin by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) to take part in their "Berliner Künstlerprogramm". Since then he has been active there as well as in Japan as a composer and conductor.
His compositions have been performed all over the world. Concerts as "Composer's Portrait of Maki Ishii" have been held in Paris at the Festival d'Automne 1978, at the Berliner Festwochen 1981, in Geneva at the Été Japonais 1983, in Tokyo at the Music Today 1987, at the Suntory Music Foundation Orchestral Concert 1989, at the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra 1990, in the Hague at the Residentie Orchestra 1992, to name but a few.
Ishii was Artistic Director of the Chinese-Japanese Contemporary Music festival in Beijing 1997. His first opera "Tojirareta Fune (the sealed boat)" (1999) premiered in Utrecht and Berlin in October 1999 has been given the Japanese premiere at Nissay Theatre in Tokyo in November 2000.
He has conducted many of the world's leading orchestra, including the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, the New Japan Philharmonic Orchestra and Radio Symphony Orchestra Beijing, the Hong Kong Symphony Orchestra, in performance of his works and other. Particularly successful has been his two-act ballet "Kaguyahime" (choreographed by Jiri Kylian for the Nederlands Dans Theater), which he conducted on more than 80 occasions between 1988 and 1995 in The Hague, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Essen, Paris, and throughout Japan.
Maki Ishii, influenced earlier by the serialism and West European avantgarde techniques of the 1950's and 60's, turned his attention to Japanese traditional music in the late 1960's. Since then his creative endeavor has been rooted in the attempt to stride two musical worlds by employing both European compositional method and elements from the sound world of Japanese traditional music in his works.
Maki Ishii does not strive in his music merely to set the music and instruments of East and West in opposition one to the other nor even to fuse these two sound worlds, but remains constantly aware of the essential difference that underlies these two musical worlds in an attempt to pursue and grasp a third musical vision.
It is this main formative element that gives his music its distinctive features. In such works as "Kyō-Sō" for percussion groups and full orchestra (1968-69), Ishii incorporated elements from Japanese traditional music into a structure dominated by European compositional method. However, since the 1970's, in an extensive body of works including "Sō-Gu I" for shakuhachi and piano (1970), "Sō-Gu II" for gagaku and orchestra (1972), and "Mono-Prism" for Japanese drums and orchestra (1976), he has succeeded in creating his own unique sound world in which Western and Japanese instruments are used in the same temporal and spatial setting. Since the middle of the 1990s, he gropes for new musical world and comes to get interested also in Chinese music, not only Japanese traditional music. He has composed several compositions, for instance, compositions for Erhu (a Chinese string instrument), or another based on poetry by Chinese poets such as Luo Guan Zhong, Cao Cao and others.
Ishii has been the recipient of many awards including the Otaka prize (1977, Tokyo, NHK Symphony orchestra), the 4th Nakajima Music prize: Grand Prix (1986, Tokyo), the German Critics Prize 1987 (Verband der deutschen Kritiker 1988, Category 'Music'), and the 5th Kyoto Music Award: Grand prix (1990). In 1999, Ishii was decorated with the Medal of Honor with Purple Ribbon by the Emperor of Japan.
On April 8th, 2003, Maki Ishii died in Tokyo, after a short but severe illness.