“I am searching for a new form of Japanese spiritual culture and music, one through which I can remain true to myself as well as to my origins. We need to examine the Western world again, more carefully, in order to see ourselves objectively and to truly get to know ourselves.”
Toshio Hosokawa, Japan’s pre-eminent living composer, creates his distinctive musical language from the fascinating relationship between Western avantgarde art and traditional Japanese culture. His music is strongly connected to the aesthetic and spiritual roots of the Japanese arts (such as calligraphy), as well as to those of Japanese court music (such as Gagaku). He gives musical expression to notions of beauty rooted in transience: “We hear the individual notes and appreciate, at the same time, the process of how the notes are born and then die: a sound landscape of continual ‘becoming’ that is animated in itself.”
Born in Hiroshima in 1955, Toshio Hosokawa came to Germany in 1976, where he studied composition with Isang Yun, Brian Ferneyhough, and later, Klaus Huber. Although his initial compositions drew inspiration from the Western avantgarde, he gradually built a new musical world between East and West. He first gained widespread recognition with the 2001 world premiere of his oratorio Voiceless Voice in Hiroshima.
In the last few years, Toshio Hosokawa has written numerous orchestral works, including Nach dem Sturm for two sopranos and orchestra, commissioned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra, and the Roche-commissioned Woven Dreams (Cleveland Orchestra under Franz Welser-M st, Lucerne Festival). Circulating Ocean, which was premiered by the Vienna Philharmonic in 2005 at the Salzburg Festival, has meanwhile become part of the standard repertoire of many orchestras. In 2013 Toshio Hosokawa returned to Salzburg with Klage for soprano and orchestra, based on a text by Georg Trakl (NHK Symphony Orchestra under Charles Dutoit; soprano: Anna Prohaska). A performance of the organ concerto Umarmung, which had its premiere in 2017 with Christian Schmitt and the Bamberg Symphony under Jakub Hrůša, was reprised the year following at the Vienna Konzerthaus with the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Cornelius Meister. His latest orchestral work Uzu, premiered by the Tokyo Metropolitan Orchestra in November 2019, recently received the Otaka Prize for the best Japanese composition of the year.
Last season he composed a piano variation for Rudolf Buchbinder, a work for the Philharmonic Octet Berlin, and string quartets for the Arditti Quartet and for the Premio Paolo Borciani in Reggio Emilia. The 2020/21 season began with the world premiere of The Flood for ensemble at the Philharmonie de Paris, a work commissioned by Ensemble intercontemporain and the Ojai Music Festival. The suite Erdbeben, Träume, in which he works with the musical material of his 2017 opera of the same name, will be launched in November 2020 by the Accademia Filarmonica di Bologna.
With Veronika Ebele as soloist, his new violin concerto will be premiered in April 2021 at the Elbphilharmonie with the Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra, with additional performances in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Prague, and Grafenegg to follow.
Many of Toshio Hosokawa’s earlier music theatre works have become part of the repertoire of major opera houses. His first opera Vision of Lear garnered critical acclaim at the Munich Biennale in 1998, and his 2004 work Hanjo, staged by the choreographer Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker and cocommissioned by Brussels’ La Monnaie and the Festival Aix-en-Provence, has been seen on numerous stages since its premiere. As with Hanjo, Matsukaze also draws on material from the Japanese Noh theatre tradition. The opera was first performed in 2011 in a production by the choreographer Sasha Waltz at La Monnaie and subsequently in Berlin, Warsaw, and Luxembourg. Staged performances of the monodrama The Raven for mezzo-soprano and ensemble, which had its world premiere in Brussels in 2012, have also taken place. In recent years, Toshio Hosokawa has presented three additional operas in quick succession: Stilles Meer debuted in 2016 at the Hamburg Staatsoper, the one-act melodrama Futari Shizuka (The maiden from the sea) premiered in 2017 in Paris, with Erdbeben, Träume following in 2018 at the Oper Stuttgart, based on a libretto by the Büchner prizewinner Marcel Bayer.
Toshio Hosokawa continues to compose works that focus on nature themes, such as the horn concerto Moment of Blossoming for Stefan Dohr and the Berlin Philharmonic. Since 2003 he has been composing a loose sequence entitled Voyages for solo instrument and ensemble. In some of these works he combines Japanese and European instruments, as in Voyages X Nozarashi for shakuhachi and ensemble. Traditional Japanese instruments such as the shō or koto also feature elsewhere in his oeuvre, which comprises some 130 compositions.
Toshio Hosokawa has received numerous awards and prizes. He has been a member of the Academy of Fine Arts Berlin since 2001 and was a fellow of Berlin’s Institute for Advanced Study in 2006/7 and 2008/9. In 2013/14 he was composer in residence at the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra and in 2018 he received the Japan Foundation award. He is artistic director of both the Takefu International Music Festival and Suntory Hall International Program for Music Composition and, since July 2019, composer in residence for two years with the Hiroshima Symphony Orchestra.