Summer 2018 – WSF London (1)

Back home after an intensive summer of shakuhachi performing, learning and teaching, I’m now catching up on this blog. It is for me a way to reflect and go through all the music and inspiration I received during the different events. I will relate them in different posts, starting today with the World Shakuhachi Festival in London, August 1-4 (which started actually on July 31 with the Opening concert).

Hijiri School at the WSF

As I mentioned in my previous post about WSF 2018, I was very curious to see how our small Hijiri School would be perceived. Most of the people I talked to at the WSF knew about Fukuda Teruhisa, he is famous worldwide. But hardly nobody I met knew about his school and made the connection with us (Daniel Seisoku Lifermann and myself) as his /its representatives. If so, we might have got more people attending our workshops! But we were not disappointed by the small amount of participants (one student got even a private lesson with 2 teachers!!), in the contrary, we appreciated to have quality time with our students-for-one-hour-and-ten-minutes. Time for detailed explanations and personal attention in the middle of the hectic festival business. More the way we are used to work.
As for the concerts, we got a lot of positive feedbacks about our performances, as well from students and friends as from Japanese and non-Japanese shakuhachi masters. That was very encouraging for me, for it was my very first participation to such a festival.
The first piece we performed was Hamori, by Atsuki Sumi, European Premiere (or maybe World Premiere even!). Where most of the performers chose composers and pieces showing virtuosity and difficulty, we opted for whispers of the leaves and silence. It was quite daring. To me, the best compliments we got were from people saying they felt they were transported in a fresh forest in the mountains during the piece (instead of busy scorching London) and enjoyed this peaceful moment. Although Atsuki Sumi wrote many pieces for or with shakuhachi, I am not sure he has ever been played at a WSF.
The second piece was Renbo-Sugomori, a new version of the duet based on Tsuru-no-Sugomori / Sokaku Reibo, composed by Teruhisa Fukuda. Daniel and I both performed it in Tokyo with Fukuda sensei (in different concerts), but not together. For both pieces, we rehearsed very seriously. But this one was particularly challenging to make it sound like a solo played by two people, to blend our sounds and personalities in a way you won’t know anymore who is playing what. It was 35ºC+ when we performed it, the hottest day of the festival at the hottest moment of the day, it was… SO HOT!  and very far away from cold Hokkaido where I saw the Japanese cranes in real, but still I had the feeling while playing of the gracious dance in the snow of these beautiful birds, and that was refreshing.
Both pieces were videotaped but I haven’t received the copies yet, so here is a recording I made with my own device positioned at the back of the hall (which explains the background noises), to give you an idea of the result.

And a few pictures of our participation I just received.


Enough about us, the WSF London was a great opportunity to meet a lot of people and listen to various styles. I was really looking forward to it. When browsing through the program back home, I have the feeling I missed most of it. One could have been multiple times to the festival and have gotten a totally different experience each time. That is how full it was planned (a bit too much for me, I found a pity that there were 2 concerts at lunch time, along with several lectures and workshops at the same time). Only during the evening concert, there was nothing else to do. But the evening concerts were performed by the Very Important Guests, sometimes several times, so there was not much room left for most of the other guests. So I didn’t get the chance to listen to some other players I really wanted to listen to, who were scheduled at the same time as our workshops or own concerts. We also had to make crucial choices, to save energy to perform ourselves and find time and a quiet place to rehearse (meaning, going back to the apartment we rented). I also got a couple attacks of overdoses of listening to shakuhachi, which made me suddenly leave the concert hall in order to find some vital silence in order to reboot. So I couldn’t have listened to everyone anyway.
I actually liked the lunch and afternoon concerts most. They were organised by themes, which allowed to make connection between the different styles and get perspectives. The variety of styles of the evening concerts was a nice idea, but the difference between the pieces were sometimes too big to make sense.
What you really couldn’t miss at the WSF was the Min’yō music and team, conducted by the enthusiastic David Hughes. If you don’t know what Min’yō is, here you go:

In the last “Grand Finale” concert, we had the opportunity to play all together, participants and teachers/performers/lecturers, in a special piece commissioned for the festival. It was a very good idea (although there wasn’t much audience left to listen to it actually), but I can’t help saying that it was one of the most stupid music I ever played in the last 35 years of my career (OMG, I surely missed the concept there). At least, it didn’t ask any practice and only a few rehearsals were necessary to know where to stand and next to whom. It also showed that the event was quite a closed one, meaning that apparently very few people from the outside world came to listen to the concerts. It is something I feel very concerned about, how to get shakuhachi involved in real life and not only keeping it for ourselves. Anyway, the most beautiful part of this playing-all-together-at-the-last-concert was playing Tamuke (for those who have this honkyoku in their repertoire), standing all around the concert hall. It started softly with the people who knew about it, then joined by the people who missed the information but could spontaneously jumped in. Like little lights spread out in the hall, lighting up successively, the music of Tamuke spread a tiny but strong thread between all the shakuhachi lovers present at the WSF.

European performers

I was expecting that a WSF taking place in Europe would put some accent on the dynamism of the shakuhachi practice/teaching/performing here and would be the opportunity to invite properly as many European professional teachers & performers as possible. But it was not the choice made by the organising team of the European Shakuhachi Society, for financial reasons I can fully understand if not fully agreeing to. What would not have cost any extra money would have been to program at least one European shakuhachi player at each evening concert. Outside the ESS organising team, there were only 4 European shakuhachi teachers/performers who were included in the official program (and who accepted to come and stay at their own costs), and we were part of them.
However, the ESS organising team did a great job with organising this WSF, it represents years of work, so I deeply thank them all for this great week that enabled us to gather and be inspired by each other.


This is actually the most important reason for me to write about what happened at WSF London, but I got carried away by the describing the event! So you will have to wait a little longer, until I write another post about it, as soon as possible I promise…




6 thoughts on “Summer 2018 – WSF London (1)”

  1. Thank you Hélène for the report. I couldn’t come to WSF but your report confirms the impression I got from studying its program. Overdose is not so good…. I’m looking forward to part 2 of your story, Kees. (Curly is just my google log-in alias)

    Liked by 1 person

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