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New directions with Mai Fukui

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Mai Fukui performs Fauré in the Kyoto Concert Hall 

Mai Fukui is now professor at the prestigious Tokyo University of the Arts. The appointment at one of Japan’s top music schools is a well-deserved recognition for the young Japanese artist. Mai Fukui studied in Isabelle Moretti’s class at the CNSMDP, and received her Master’s Degree with unanimous highest honours in 2010. A laureate of harp competition in Osaka, Nippon, Paris (Cité des Arts), Bloomington, and Israel, Mai is also the winner of the Sakuya Konohana Prize of the City of Osaka (2014), the New Talent Award from the Kyoto Aoyama Music Foundation (2012), and her debut CD was singled out for special praise by Record Geijutsu, Japan’s best album review. “When I finished my studies in 2010 I still had a valid European visa, so I stayed for a while”, Mai remembers. “I used the time to have more lessons with Germaine Lorenzini, I prepared the Israel competition, and so on. But when the time came to extend my visa, I decided to go back to Japan. I was nearing the end of my twenties and it seemed like the right time. When Germaine passed away, it had a huge impact on me, as it did on everyone who had known her. I had not done much teaching up until then, but I told myself it was also now time to transmit what I had learned from her, and from my other wonderful teachers. I was very honoured to take up the post in Tokyo. A music high school is also attached to the university, which is quite rare in Europe.”

Isabelle Moretti in Tokyo, 2019Mai will soon be welcoming Isabelle Moretti to give masterclasses in Tokyo. Isabelle will work intensively with Mai’s class, and there will also be an open/public masterclass, on Sunday July 7th, between 13:00 – 16:00 in the Tokyo University of the Arts, Hall 1. This will be followed by a student concert at 17:00. Admission is free, but reservations are required: interested Tokyoites, please consult the flyer for more information.

As well as being a highly-accomplished classical artist, Mai has been developing the amplified harp in Japan. The DHC electric harp has been a passion of Mai’s ever since she came across a DVD by Deborah Henson-Conant. “I began to dream of learning this harp”, she explains. “It hadn’t occurred to me that I, a harpist, could play music like this…and audiences are even more surprised. The DHC gives me a new door to open for them, into the world of the harp.

In Japan, the harp is still a distant instrument – it’s viewed as mysterious, far away at the back of the orchestra. But people are curious, they also feel that the harp is beautiful and relaxing. I often begin a concert second half with the DHC; having discovered the concert harp in the first half, audiences can then also experience how the harp can be like an electric guitar, and that brings the entire presence of the instrument closer to their experience.

Recently Mai premiered Reiko Hashimoto’s ‘L’aile éloignée’ (“the distant wing”), for pedal harp and DHC 32. “In Hashimoto’s ‘L’aile éloignée’, I even play both instruments at the same time, and that’s yet another perspective to offer an intrigued public. The work is inspired by the composer’s interest in birds. In the piece, she (the composer) expresses her feelings toward the newborn bird: she tries to reach out to it, but it is still cautious and keeps its distance. The two harps together resemble a pair of wings. The concert harp symbolises the composer, and the DHC is the baby bird.”

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