CD Review – Kanahi Yamashita plays the Music of Carlo Domeniconi

Carlo Domeniconi – Selected Works VIII Featuring Kanahi Yamashita was released in April of 2021 as the eighth volume of composer Carlo Domeniconi’s music. The CD features the young guitar prodigy Kanahi Yamashita playing four works by Domeniconi – Toccata in Blue, Pealrs of the Orient, Haiku, and Sonata V. Both of the later titles were written for Kanahi.

Carlo Domeniconi’s music through the hands of Kanahi Yamashita is a revelation. Like a magician casting a spell, Kanahi’s interpretations flow effortlessly as if simply conjured through her guitar. The selection of repertoire offers the listener a bit of a snapshot of Carlo Domeniconi’s development as a composer as the compositions span more than 20 years. The sophistication of Domeniconi’s harmonic language and his cultural influences seem to get woven into his musical ideas in a more seamless way as one moves into the later works. As with more familiar compositions from Domeniconi like Koyumbaba and his Anatolian Variations, much of the beauty and magic of his music exists djinnlike between times and cultures.

Kanahi Yamashita, photo: Hiromi Hoshiko

The Toccata in Blue was a familar and groovy tune that I’ve enjoyed listening to in concerts over the years. For its light heartedness, it displays Carlo Domeniconi’s ease with music genres as he blends in his unique voice on the guitar with the blues. The other three compositions were new to me. Pearls of the Orient is comprised of twelve movements or perhaps sound pictures with fanciful titles like The sultan, White Pearls, The Genie, and the Astrologer. Kanahi, with her endless palette of colors, conjures these pictures with both flair and virtuosity. Haiku, dedicated to Kanahi, evokes Japan through the use of pentatonic forms, allusions to folk music, and perhaps even sounds reminiscent in their resonance of Japanese traditional instruments like the koto.

Of all the pieces the one that I enjoyed the most was the Sonata V, also written for Kanahi. In four movements, the piece goes from Mosso to Adagio to Scherzo and finally into an Andante animato – Ritmico. Perhaps the most sophisticated display of Kanahi’s superior musical sensibility and Domeniconi’s composition skill manifest itself in this performance. Though abstract, modal musical motifs recur in Domeniconi’s Sonata as a rich blend of styles and genres. The Sonata evokes multi-cultural layers that are both complex, harmonious, and rhythmic. The techniques demanded of the performer, which are numerous and creative, are an easy match for Kanahi’s wonderful fluency on the guitar. And, as with the rest of the compositions in this recording, Kanahi navigates the Sonata with the elegance and fluidity of a master.

This CD is wonderful. You can order by contacting Kanahi Yamashita directly through her website.

Kanahi Yamashita – Artist Profile and Interview

Japanese guitarist Kanahi Yamashita is an exceptionally gifted young musician. Her playing has captivated listeners across the world and she is emerging as a powerful voice on the guitar among her generation. On the tail of releasing her first solo CD of works by Carlo Domeniconi (review to follow shortly), Kanahi sat down with Six String Journal to share some of her experience with our readers. Enjoy.

Personal

When did you start playing and why? Or, what drew you to the guitar initially?

I started playing the guitar when I was four years old and it was very natural to begin with, because I was surrounded by guitars and their sound since I was born. Thanks to my parents, I also started learning the violin, the piano, and some traditional Japanese instruments over the years, and even Noh-Theater chanting and dance. It was fun to learn various instruments and their music and that experience has been very important in my musical formation. Since I was five years old, I’ve had many opportunities to be on stage with the guitar, so the sound of the guitar has been the most stimulating and inspiring. I naturally spent most of my time playing the guitar and became more and more focused on this instrument. The other instrument I study with as much passion as I do for the guitar is singing, which I currently study at the University of Arts Berlin as part of a double degree with guitar.

What is it or was it like to come from a guitar “family”, how did it impact your desire to play?

The most precious thing I received as a member of a musical family was that I was always surrounded by music since I was born. Music was always a part of our daily life and was connected to everything we did at home. So I could learn music not as a special subject, but as a very natural part of my growing up. The process of musical training by my parents was also very multifaceted, by learning several instruments at the same time. In addition, I’ve enjoyed composing, improvising, and writing poems since I was a child. I didn’t learn everything in the strict sense, but rather enjoyed it in my own way, inspired by the special environment at home. One of the important lessons I’ve learned over the years is to not only focus on my major instrument to try to learn about music and repertoire, but trying various approaches to music and recognizing music from multiple angles.

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?

Since childhood I played on a Ramirez III built in 1985 and since 2017 I’ve been playing an Italian guitar built by Rinaldo Vacca. I also met a great American guitar maker, Michael Batell in Berlin and from him I learned a lot about guitar and its construction process. I’ve played several of his guitars in concert and I also recorded the new CD “Selected Works VIII – Guitar solo Kanahi Yamashita”. The strings I really like to play on and use regularly are EJ45 Normal Tension by D’Addario.

Which recording/s are you most proud of?

Beside two CDs I took part in as a member of “Kazuhito Yamashita Family Quintet”, I just released my very first solo CD in April 2021. This is part of a series of CDs featuring the music of the famous Italian composer, Carlo Domeniconi, with whom I’ve been studying with since I moved to Berlin in 2015. On this CD I performed four solo pieces by him, two of which are dedicated to me. I especially appreciate and am honored to have experienced the collaboration process during the recording of this CD. I learned these pieces directly from the composer and it was a unique opportunity and gift to spend such an intensive time with him, and then to have recorded the project under his advice and musical production.

What are some up and coming projects (recordings, concerts) you are excited about?

Right now it is, of course, very difficult to announce exact dates of coming concerts due to the pandemic, but in coming years I am expecting to perform as a winner of the Deutscher Gitarrenpreis 2019, which I won in Darmstadt and I will be performing in several cities of Germany. Beside that I was also invited to perform in several projects in Berlin with a Tenor, an Eurythmist, and an actress. In addition, I am planning to perform solo recitals in Berlin and Darmstadt this year including CD Release Recitals, which were postponed from spring this year. This month I will be performing in Kyoto as a Scholarship student of the Rohm Music Foundation Japan.

In the past months I suffered very much from not being able to perform regularly. I spent most of my time investigating and increasing my repertoire, so I am really looking forward to being able to perform more and more on stage again.

Technique and Performance

How much do you practice? And, do you structure your practice in any particular way?

It is hard to say how much I practice each day, since it really depends on the condition I am in each day or schedules. But I do practice more without guitar the in my hands and this mental practicing time is much more than the time I really physically train on my guitar. I spend much more time reading and playing from the score than before. I started being more careful about notation, precise reading of the music, and only less than 3 weeks before the concert, I start learning by heart.

Are there aspects of guitar that you struggle with or that you find you are still working on?

The most difficult thing is to accurately read and understand the music that the score is trying to express. I think this is the biggest aspect of being an interpreter, learning and struggling. We consider vibrating the notes written in the score, and thus the musical expression, as sounds in the room, and pursue technical topics for that purpose. For example, in order to gain a deeper understanding of early music, it is necessary to have knowledge of historical performance forms, musical instruments of the time and their playing techniques, articulations, and how to place ornamental notes. The areas to be investigated are enormous. That is also the reason I will be studying these topics with the German theorbo and lute player Björn Colell at the Nuremberg University of Music from October 2021.

Have you published any editions or do you plan to publish your own editions in the future?

In 2015 one of my compositions for solo guitar, Variation & Fantasia on ‘Star of the County Down’, was published and is available from my website. Right now I do not have any plan to publish more of my works, but I am definitely interested in composing more, especially for voice and guitar, which I perform as a singer/guitarist.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

Not especially, but I just try to be relaxed on that day and usually I rather not play or practice too much. I do look at the scores and study them mentally without the guitar in my hands.

Advice to Younger Players

What single most important piece of advice about practicing would you offer to younger players?

I highly recommended that you develop your sight-reading skills from childhood. That way, you can learn more repertoire in less time. And beyond the stage of understanding the enumeration of notes, you can spend enough time on the more important stage of considering the style and background of the work. I think it’s far more important than the ability to memorize and play without mistakes from start to finish.

What repertoire do you consider essential for young/conservatory students to assimilate? Why?

Naturally as a daughter of Kazuhito Yamashita he taught me how to play some of his transcriptions, such as the 9th Symphony “From the New World” by Dvorák and “Pictures at an exhibition” by Mussorgsky and I can really recommend at least to take a look at those scores because they taught me thousands of different sounds on the guitar. They expanded my technique, helped me communicate with the sounds of my own instrument, and gave me insight into his way of thinking. To know the instrument and its many various types of sounds is an endless pursuit and it will accompany you as a guitarist forever.

Recordings that every young guitarist should be familiar with and why?

I was always listening to not only guitar CDs, but a lot more of other instruments, where I was exposed to so many great musicians and their different approaches to playing pieces, their musical languages beyond instrumental and technical tasks. I cannot name only one particular recording, but I encourage young players to become familiar with the recordings of different types of instruments and their music from different parts of the world.

Tangent

What is the last book that you read? Favorite author/s?

Right now I am reading the book written by Jose Ramirez III “Things about the Guitar” (SONETO Ediciones Musicales).

Do you meditate in any way?

Not particularly, but sometimes I very much like to sit in the darkness in my room with my guitar and improvise for a while forgetting about time and any other practical issues from daily life. This is one of the moments I meditate.


Follow Kanahi on her Facebook page

Artist Profile and Interview: Celil Refik Kaya

celil_refik_kaya_june_2013_photo_orhancemcetin_5534Young Turkish guitarist, Celil Refik Kaya, is taking the guitar world by storm. He has won numerous victories in some of the most important international guitar and concerto competitions with displays of stunning musicianship and brilliant technique.

In addition to playing some of the most demanding repertoire with what seems like a magical touch, Celil is a prolific and gifted composer as well, and equally at ease playing with top notch orchestras as he is playing solo.

In the interview below he shares some insight and tips with Six String Journal readers about his musical journey so far…

 

When did you start playing and why? What drew you to the guitar initially?

I started playing guitar when I was six years old because my father used to play classical guitar and many other instruments. He has been professionally playing Rebab which is a traditional Turkish bow instrument. My father was my first teacher and when I heard him play, the sound of the guitar was magical to me and not comparable to any other instrument. The year that I started playing guitar I wanted to be like Andres Segovia and John Williams who were my childhood idols. Besides playing classical guitar, I play many other traditional Turkish instruments such as Rebab and Oud which I learned from my father.

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most?

I enjoy playing 20th and 21st century South American composers as well as 20th century Spanish composers. Besides those, I enjoy playing my own compositions.

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?

I have guitars made by Garreth Lee and Glenn Canin. Both are phenomenal guitar makers. I play both of my guitars depending on the setting of the concert. In fact I recorded my first album Jorge Morel Guitar Music from Naxos, with Gary’s double top guitar which has incredibly beautiful warm sound. I recorded my second album with Glenn’s guitar and it features the music of Carlo Domeniconi which will be released by Naxos. For both of my guitars I use D’Addario EJ46.

Which guitarists/musicians have had the most influence on you?

As a performer I was influenced by Andres Segovia, John Williams, Alicia de la Rocha, Maria Callas, Itzhak Perlman.  As a composer I admire Puccini, Rachmaninoff, Ponce and Tedesco.

What recording/s are you most proud of?

To me every recording has its own unique quality.

Which recordings do you consider have the finest recorded sound for guitar?

Recordings that I have done with producer and guitarist Norbert Kraft were the finest I would say. When we listen to all of the Naxos guitar recordings that Norbert recorded, they all sound phenomenal.

What are some up and coming projects you are excited about?

I will be recording the last two volumes of Agustin Barrios Mangoré which I am very much looking forward to. Starting from September 2017, I will be a fellow of Harvard’s Dumbarton Oaks in Washington D.C. I was recently invited for this prestigious fellowship program and I am looking forward to my performances in D.C. as part of my fellowship program.

Technique and Performance

How much do you practice? And, do you structure your practice in any particular way?

How much I practice really depends on my schedule and what is coming up. I practice as much as I need to which can really change according to the importance of the concert or difficulty of the new piece that I include in the program. When I competed in competitions, I practiced about 8 hours a day which I divided as 2 hours arpeggios and scales and 6 hours repertoire. For concerts I practice 2 to 3 hours a day.

Are there aspects of guitar that you struggle with or that you find you are still working on?

Not in terms of technique. In terms of musicality every dedicated musician grows musically until the end of their lives.

Do you deliberately memorize music or have a technique that helps assimilate music into memory?

I memorize the pieces naturally very quickly. Therefore I don’t have a specific method that I use for myself. For my students I recommend them to read the music from the end to the beginning or sometimes making them play specific passages of the piece only. Because most of the time, guitar players play with the muscle memory rather than really knowing what notes or fingering they play and this can cause many problems such as memory slip and lack of control.

Have you published any editions or do you plan to publish your own editions in the future?

My transcription of Valses Poéticos by Enrique Granados was published by FDP publications in Austin and my original works such as Sonatina, Longing, Suite of the Witches and Dream were published by d’Oz publications in Canada. I am working on the next projects for publishing including some of my solo guitar pieces and chamber works.

Do you have a favorite drill/routine you use to warm up?

I generally warm up with playing passages slowly from the pieces that I am going to play in my concerts.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals? 

I usually eat a banana and chocolate before performing. It significantly helps the energy and concentration.

Advice to Younger Players

What single most important piece of advice about practicing would you offer to younger players?

Practicing consciously and slowly. Whatever they are practicing, awareness of every single note and its quality should be the goal. Sometimes when a young player practices, they continue playing even if the passage is not perfect. It is very beneficial to have a self critical mind in that sense.

What repertoire do you consider essential for young/conservatory students to assimilate? Why?

I am always a fan of traditional classical guitar repertoire rather than only new works. There are many composers that young players don’t play anymore and I consider them the core of the guitar repertoire. Turina, Tedesco, Ponce, Torroba and many others are fantastic composers who wrote the skeleton of the guitar repertoire. Their works are not only challenging both musically and technically but they are also audience favorites. If a person hears classical guitar for the first time, it is very likely that they will like 20th century Spanish composers. What these composers achieved with the emotional expressivity of their works is not replicable.

Recordings that every young guitarist should be familiar with and why?

Every young guitarist should be familiar with the recordings of Andrés Segovia, John Williams, and Julian Bream. Today, the level of guitar playing is so much higher than before, but the foundation of the guitar technique and soul is hidden in those recordings. To understand rhythmic stability and inner pulse they should listen Williams. Although the aesthetic of musical interpretation has changed significantly, Segovia’s playing conveys great musical expressivity. Listening to these artists provides a great foundation. Besides listening to other great guitar players, learning harmony, counterpoint, music analysis, listening to orchestral recordings, chamber works, and great instrumentalists (non- guitarists) will transport young players to another level. After a certain point it is important to listen to more non-guitar recordings.

Tangent

What is the last book that you read? 

The last book I have read was “A Composer’s World” by Paul Hindemith.

Do you try to stay healthy? Exercise? Follow a particular diet? Have a favorite pre-concert food? 

I don’t follow a particular diet but I am trying to eat everything in balance. Since I am Turkish, the majority of the time I eat Turkish food and my wife loves it, too. Before concerts, I don’t have a particular pre-concert food as long as it is not too heavy.

What is your favorite way to spend time when not practicing?

I like to spend my time in coffee shops with my wife reading books and sometimes composing. Besides that, I also practice Wing Chun which is a branch of Kung Fu.