Kuniko is one of the most gifted and significant percussionists of her generation. Her astonishing virtuosity, exquisite musical insight and expressive yet elegant performance style continues to attract not only audiences, but established conductors and composers too. She is renowned for her flawless technique when playing both keyboard and percussion instruments, which blends seamlessly with her profound musical intelligence.

Kuniko studied under the legendary marimba player Keiko Abe at Toho Gakuen School of Music in Tokyo, Japan and advanced her studies under Robert Van Sice at Rotterdam Conservatorium in the Netherlands. She graduated with the highest honour (summa cum laude) as the first percussionist in the institution’s history. Whilst studying, Kuniko continued to develop her professional career, playing various concertos and solo recitals including the Concerto for Marimba and String Orchestra by Akira Miyoshi.

After graduation she was based in Europe for over ten years, winning major awards including the Kranichsteiner Musikpreis from the Internationales Musikinstitut Darmstadt in 1996 and second prize at the International Leigh Howard Stevens Marimba competition in 1996. In 1997, Kuniko recorded James Wood’s Marimba Concerto in London where her performance was highly complimented by the BBC. In addition, Kuniko was a guest soloist at the James Wood Portrait concert at the 2001 Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival which was broadcast on BBC Radio 3. In 1999, Kuniko released her first solo album To The Earth.

Career highlights for Kuniko include the Japanese premiere of the music theatre production of The Pure Land (Jodo) in 2005 by James Wood; a story based on Yukio Mishima’s novel The Priest of Shiga Temple and His Love. In May 2006, Kuniko revived the legendary percussion concerto Cassiopeia by Toru Takemitsu as a part of the Takemitsu Memorial Concert at Tokyo Opera City in Japan. The performance was recorded live and is available on a limited edition CD. During 2008-9 Kuniko showcased a solo recital at Sao Paulo University as part of the first International Percussion Festival, appeared at the historic Monday Evening Concert series in Los Angeles, performed a solo recital at Vancouver New Music Society and gave the Japanese premiere of Unsuk Chin’s Double Concerto at the Suntory Summer Festival.

Although Kuniko calibrates balances, dynamics, nuances and sonorities with her expected precision, she also creates a genuine sense of repartee between the parts, as if the six original percussionists were interacting.

In March 2009 Kuniko created a new live performance Sound Space Experiment – Steel Drum Works in Tokyo, Japan. At this performance she gave the world-premiere of Electric Counterpoint, transcribed for steel pans, marimba and vibraphone by Steve Reich. In 2010 she was invited to perform concerts and masterclasses in Canada, Australia, Portugal, Congo and South Africa. Kuniko also performed Steel Drum Works in Vancouver, Canada, Saitama and Itami, Japan, and at the international music festival Les Flâneries Musicales de Reims in France in 2011. Kuniko’s critically acclaimed recording kuniko plays reich was released on Linn in 2011 and was its bestselling album of the year. kuniko plays reich features unique multi-tracked arrangements of classic minimalist works from the 1980s by Steve Reich, personally endorsed by the composer. Kuniko performed her Reich arrangements live in Tokyo, New York, Modena, Reims and at the Cheltenham Festival in England in 2011. She conducted a world tour in 2012 including multiple performances in Japan, Paris, Madrid, Barcelona and Köln, a major residency in Armenia and a tour of Australia. ‘Kuniko plays Reich in Kyoto’ concert which was presented at Kyoto Arts Centre in 2012, received the prestigious 12th Keizo Saji Award by Suntory Arts Foundations.

In 2013 her eagerly awaited second album from Linn was globally released, featuring the premiere percussion arrangements of four of the great Estonian composer Arvo Pärt’s signature works. The album is entitled cantus and was in the UK’s Top 10 Specialist Classical Chart. This album also received the ‘Best Recording’ Award at Japan’s Music Pen Club’s 26th Music Awards.

Kuniko continues to perform and collaborate with internationally renowned composers, conductors and orchestras including Franco Donatoni, James Wood, Toru Takemitsu, Seiji Ozawa, Steve Reich and Unsuk Chin. In addition to her solo performances in Asia, Europe and the USA, she has been a member of various orchestras and chamber groups such as the Saito Kinen Orchestra (Japan), Ensemble ICTUS (Belgium) and Ensemble NOMAD (Japan). An extremely versatile musician, Kuniko has been actively involved in various creative art scenes and has collaborated with prominent artists including Netherlands Dance Theatre dancer Megumi Nakamura, theatre director Satoshi Miyagi, and Za Ondecoza, a Japanese taiko drumming group. Kuniko also produces commercial music, including theme music for the television programme NHK Art Theatre.

Artist Picture

Kuniko is strongly committed to music education through percussion workshops, masterclasses and open rehearsals whenever possible in conjunction with her solo recitals. She has been working with learning- disabled children in Japan since 2004, including a series of log drum (slit drum) workshops.

Kuniko is endorsed globally by Adams and Pearl. She currently resides in USA.

'Although Kuniko calibrates balances, dynamics, nuances and sonorities with her expected precision, she also creates a genuine sense of repartee between the parts, as if the six original percussionists were interacting.' - Gramophone Review, 2015

Evelyn Glennie

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