Beyond Horizons: World Renowned Japanese Koto Master, Kazue Sawai, to be featured in Oregon Koto-Kai’s Fall Concert

Beyond Horizons: World Renowned Japanese Koto Master, Kazue Sawai, to be featured in Oregon Koto-Kai’s Fall Concert

Koto masters from New York and San Francisco will also join the stage at the Agnes Flanagan Chapel for a once in a lifetime performance

Oregon Koto-Kai, a Portland based Japanese Koto (harp) Ensemble, will feature world renowned koto virtuoso, Kazue Sawai, at Agnes Flanagan Chapel on Sunday, October 6th at 3PM. Professional Sawai school koto players from throughout the US and Japan will join the performance, including koto master Masayo Ishigure, known for her performance in the film “Memoirs of a Geisha”. Advance tickets are on sale now at ($25 advance, $15 student, $35 at the door).

“Tradition has been created by innovations…”, Kazue Sawai.

This quote expresses Kazue Sawai’s experience with the ancient instrument, the koto, and her beliefs about how a traditional instrument can continue to exist and grow in the modern music scene. The sounds she creates from her emotion, spirit, and passion transcend time and space, and connect past and present, east and west.

The koto was brought to Japan from China in the 7th century and was utilized as a primary instrument in classical Japanese, or gagaku, ensemble music. In its long history, the music had been strictly protected by a conservative system. However, in the early 1960’s, Kazue Sawai was one of the very few koto players who began to push the boundaries of what was expected to be performed on koto.

“I f irst began to question what I should pursue in music when I entered Tokyo University of the Arts. I felt that the Hogaku (traditional Japanese music) department was like a separate world from the other music departments. I felt ashamed, because when I went to the other parts of the school where they were playing Western instruments, even though we were also playing music and what we played on were also instruments, I felt that they looked down on us as if Hogaku wasn’t really music.” -Japan Foundation Interview of Kazue Sawai, March 12, 2013

Later she co-founded a unique koto school, the Sawai Koto Institute, with her husband, Tadao Sawai, and also started to perform koto in her own unique style. She was commissioned by composers such as Toshi Ichiyanagi, Maki Ishii and Yuji Takahashi, and worked with John Zorn and John Cage. She performed in the US many times, but one of the highlights was an invited tour through New York, Boston, and Chicago in 1999 as the soloist for “Koto Concerto”, composed by Sophia Gubaidulina, with the NHK Philharmonic Orchestra. In 2008, she visited Portland for a concert “An Evening of Japanese Music” at Buckley Center Auditorium, University of Portland. This is her second visit to PDX and a rare opportunity to introduce her artistry to our diverse community.

Throughout her musical career, one priority of Kazue Sawai was to focus her energies internationally to free the koto from being defined as a “traditional” instrument, and to redefine the koto as a “musical” instrument suited to a variety of musical settings. She also sent her students to the US and Europe as instructors so the koto could continue to progress beyond traditions. This sentiment inspired the name of Oregon Koto-Kai’s concert: Beyond Horizons.

Oregon Koto-Kai (OKK) is a Portland based Japanese music ensemble founded by koto master Mitsuki Dazai in 2012. Originally from Tokyo, Mitsuki has performed with ensembles throughout Japan, Europe, South America, and all over North America. After moving to Oregon in 2002, she immediately began playing her music at coffee shops, bookstores, Japanese restaurants, and at local events. At the time, her humble tip box was the only monetary reward, however the real reward was the response of those who heard her music. She was soon busy performing at diverse events and giving lessons in both the Eugene and Portland areas.

In 2007, she performed accompanied by one of her students at the Asian Celebration in Eugene, which gave her the idea to form a koto ensemble group. Mitsuki began to focus on ensemble lessons and named the group “Oregon Koto-Kai”. The group held its first performance with six members in February 2012, and in November of 2012, OKK produced its first concert at the Epworth United Methodist Church in Portland. Since that time, Mitsuki’s dream has been for OKK to introduce the rare and beautiful music of the koto to new audiences, showcasing both traditional and contemporary styles. In doing so, koto increasingly enriches the cultural diversity of experiences in the Pacific Northwest.

Oregon Koto-Kai’s mission is multi-faceted: 1.Introduce Japanese koto music to the broader community by creating opportunities for people to enjoy koto music or to learn to play the koto, 2. Contribute to the cultural diversity in the Northwest, 3. Collaborate with other musicians / composers in our community, and 4. Improve koto players skills/techniques. The group achieves these goals through performances, workshops, education, and collaboration with talented artists such as koto master Kazue Sawai.

The program on October 6th will include “Homura” Tadao Sawai’s masterpiece written for his beloved wife, Kazue Sawai, “Rokudan”, a traditional piece played with Kazue Sawai’s unique stylings, and “Rock Garden” composed by her son, Hikaru Sawai. Oregon Koto-Kai will also perform an adaptation of “Spring” from Four Seasons by Antonio Vivaldi. Please join us in October for a rare opportunity to experience true koto mastery. There will also be a free Lecture/Demonstration prior to the concert hosted by the PSU Institute for Asian Studies on Friday, October 4th at 6PM in Lincoln Recital Hall, Room 75, Portland State University.

MORE INFORMATION or call (541) 513-6417

High resolution photos can be found: by emailing

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