Can't Say 'Marimba' Without Adding Name of Japanese Percussionist

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Can't Say 'Marimba' Without Adding Name of Japanese Percussionist

There is always an accomplished musician responsible for increasing the popularity of an instrument. Guitar, for instance, would not have been considered a popular solo instrument had it not been for the genius of Andres Segovia. We have come to associate other names like Jean-Pierre Rampal with the flute, Pablo Casals with the cello, Heinz Holliger with the oboe and Gary Kaar with the double bass. Such instruments had previously been under the shade of the more popular piano and violin until those musicians made their names known to the world as soloists.

The Japanese marimbist Keiko Abe brought to the world's attention a not-so-popular percussion instrument. By giving marimba recitals and composing music for the instrument she has contributed greatly in making it known as an instrument that can be played solo, rather than just as a part of the percussion section in an orchestra. Ms. Abe, often called "the queen of marimba," will perform in Seoul on June 22 at the Concert Hall of the Seoul Arts Center. It will be her second visit to Korea since 1999 when she came to participate in the Percussion Festival held in Seoul. This time she will play one of her own compositions, "Prism Rhapsody for the Marimba and Orchestra." The piece was written originally as a marimba solo but later adapted as a concerto piece. The Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Mark Ermler, will accompany her performance. The concert will also feature Sergei Prokofiev's "Symphony No. 5 in B major."

Marimba was first introduced to Japan in 1947. At that time Ms. Abe was twelve years old and studying the piano, musical composition and xylophone. She was fascinated by the warm and rich sound of the marimba when she heard some American missionaries playing hymns. For her, it was like listening to a sound from heaven. After graduating from music school, she formed a marimba trio that played light classics and popular songs. She found herself drawn more to contemporary music and in 1962 played in the premiere of the marimba duo piece, "Conversation," written by the Japanese composer Akira Miyoshi. Fully immersed in contemporary music, she went on to hold a marimba recital in 1968 featuring contemporary pieces only. Thirty of those pieces were composed by Ms. Abe including "Variations on the Theme of Japanese Children's Songs." She also commissioned composers such as Minoru Miki and Toru Takemitsu to write over 70 pieces of marimba music. The works written by Ms. Abe have become favorite repertories for internationally known marimbists such as Evelyn Glennie. The concert will begin at 8 p.m. and tickets are priced between 10,000 won ($8) and 30,000 won.

For more information about the concert, call the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra at 02-399-1630 (English service available).

by Lee Jang-jik

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