With a bow to conductor Leopold Stokowski, a bow to the Philadelphia Orchestra, a bow to the audience in Manhattan's Philharmonic Hall, stocky Kimio Eto adjusted his formal robes and settled before a 6-ft.-long stringed instrument that looked like the fuselage of an unfinished model airplane [see photo above]. He bowed again, and a kettledrum thundered to begin the premiere of modernist composer Henry Cowell's Concerto for Koto and Orchestra, the first concerto ever composed by a Westerner for the 1,100-year-old Japanese instrument.That report is from Time magazine in January 1965. Japanese born Kimio Eto (1924-2102), who was blind from the age of five, was recognised as a master of the thirteen-stringed koto. Although, to my knowledge, there have been no recordings of Henry Cowell's two Koto Concertos, enterprising independent Cherry Red records has just released an excellent CD transfer of the 1962 Kimio Eto - Art of the Koto: The Music of Japan which includes three duets with jazz flautist Bud Shanks. There is a touching description of a 1962 recital in New York by Kimio Seto in Fragrant Palm Leaves: Journals 1962-1966 by Thich Nhat Hanh in which the Vietnamese Zen master describes how "Americans like to eat Japanese food, listen to koto music, attend tea ceremonies, and arrange flowers". Topical dependent arising includes a path from Henry Cowell to Colin McPhee and on to Benjamin Britten; read more in Colin McPhee - East collides with West.
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