Dai Fujikura: Ampere

, composer


[A MINABEL RELEASE] Dai Fujikura presents three large ensemble works, conducted by Pierre Boulez, Thierry Fischer, and Michael Lewanski, alongside three solo pieces. The ecstatic character of Fujikura's brilliant orchestration is contrasted by his introspective exploration of solo insrumental timbre, while his unique, exploratory voice is a constant throughout.


# Audio Title/Composer(s) Performer(s) Time
Total Time 76:13
01Ampere – concerto for piano and orchestra (live)
Ampere – concerto for piano and orchestra (live)
Nagoya Philharmonic Orchestra, Thierry Fischer, conductor, Noriko Ogawa, piano24:17
02Fluid Calligraphy for violin
Fluid Calligraphy for violin
Barbara Lüneburg, violin9:25
03Stream State (live) for orchestra
Stream State (live) for orchestra
LUCERNE FESTIVAL ACADEMY Orchestra, Pierre Boulez12:06
04Poyopoyo for solo horn
Poyopoyo for solo horn
Nobuaki Fukukawa, horn9:10
05Perla for bass recorder
Perla for bass recorder
Inbar Solomon, bass recorder8:12
06my butterflies for wind orchestra
my butterflies for wind orchestra
DePaul University Ensemble 20+, Michael Lewanski13:03

Composer Dai Fujikura’s second release on his Minabel imprint features three live orchestral recordings conducted by Pierre Boulez (Lucerne Festival Academy Orchestra), Thierry Fischer (Nagoya Philharmonic Orchestra), and Michael Lewanski (De Paul University Ensemble 20+). The piano concerto and title track, Ampere, highlight Fujikura’s richly colorful orchestration and a virtuosic performance by soloist Noriko Ogawa. Stream State deftly alludes to many musical worlds without inhabiting any specific one – muted trumpets, jagged pizzicatos, swooping glissandi, and punctuating percussive hits work together to paint an otherworldly sound painting. The three solo works find Fujikura in characteristic terrain, exploring the edges of instrumental technique to evoke sounds often inspired by and reminiscent of natural environments. my butterflies is in a similar vein, opening with wind instruments fluttering in imitation of the sound of an insect’s wings.

With this release, Dai Fujikura reinforces his remarkable range of expressivity and originality, drawing influence from the natural world around him and then intensifying it into a fantastic surrealism of his own creation.

Dai Fujikura

Born in 1977 in Osaka Japan, Dai Fujikura was fifteen when he moved to the UK. The recipient of many composition prizes, he has received numerous international co-commissions from the Salzburg Festival, Lucerne Festival, BBC Proms, Bamberg Symphony, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra and more. He has been Composer-in-Residence of Nagoya Philharmonic Orchestra since 2014 and held the same post at the Orchestre national d'Île-de-France in 2017/18. Dai’s first opera Solaris, co-commissioned by the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Opéra de Lausanne and the Opéra de Lille, had its world premiere in Paris in 2015 and has since gained a worldwide reputation. A new production of Solaris was created and performed at the Theatre Augsburg in 2018, and the opera received a subsequent staging in 2020.

In 2017, Dai received the Silver Lion Award from the Venice Biennale. In the same year, he was named the Artistic Director of the Tokyo Metropolitan Theater’s Born Creative Festival.

In 2019, his Shamisen Concerto was premiered at Mostly Mozart festival in New York Lincoln Center and there have so far been 9 performances of this work by various orchestras.

In 2020, his fourth piano concerto Akiko’s Piano is to be premiered by Martha Argerich and Dai is currently composing his third opera, which will be revealed to the public in the same year.

His works are recorded by and released mainly on his own label Minabel Records in collaboration with SONY Music and his compositions are published by Ricordi Berlin.




Planet Hugill

Dai Fujikura's second release on his Minabel label, Ampere, again showcases the composer's fascination with complex textures in a selection of works for orchestra and for solo instruments. The disc includes his concerto for piano and orchestra, Ampere, played by pianist Noriko Ogawa with the Nagoya Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Thierry Fischer, Fluid Calligraphy for solo violin played by Barbara Luneburg, Stream State for orchestra performed by the Lucerne Festival Academy Orchestra conducted by Pierre Boulez, Poyopoyo for solo horn performed by Nobuaki Fukukawa, Perla for bass recorder played by Inbar Solomon and My Butterflies for wind orchestra played by DePaul University Ensemble 20+ conducted by Michael Lewanski.

Fujikura's piano concerto, Ampere (2008) was written for soloist Noriko Ogawa. It is Fujikura's first piano concerto, and written for a fellow Japanese expatriot. For the work Fujikura talked of integrating the piano and orchestra so that they are 'one big piano', with the orchestra processing and reflecting back the material played by the soloist.

The work opens with an angry dialogue, as if the outburst from the orchestra are trying to interrupt the piano; In fact the work feels far more dramatic and more combative than the composer's own description. Gradually the orchestra allows the piano to develop and Fujikura's writing seems to incorporate elements of jazz. As ever with Fujikura, the textures of the writing are fascinating and it seems to be variety of texture which interests him rather than strictly melodic material. Time and again you listen to a passage and wonder quite what instruments he is using.

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The piece has the feeling of a multi-movement work and in the middle section the tempo eases and the textures thin though the piano writing still has its jagged elements. Much of the writing is bravura, albeit not in a conventional fashion, and Ogawa is quite brilliant in her performance. The more virtuoso sections develop a positively orgiastic feel to them in a wonderful moment, before things calm down. The ending is quiet and intense rather than the big finish. For the finale the composer further extends the soundworld of the piece by concentrating on a few solo instruments in the orchestra and incorporating a glass harmonica and a toy piano whose sounding pieces are made of glass. The results are simply magical, and Ogawa, the Nagoya Philharmonic Orchestra and Thierry Fischer are on fine form throughout.

Fluid Calligraphy (2010) is an attempt to explore the idea of calligraphy using a solo violinist, with the phrasing and accents deliberately not following the arc of the melodic line. The violin writing is rather eerie, full of high notes, harmonics, slides and other effects. The playing from Barbara Luneburg is stupendous. The overall sound is quite edgy, and the work has an uneasy quality. Despite the scurryings of notes there is a certain austere quality of the piece.

The orchestral work Stream State (2005) was commissioned for the Lucerne Festival Academy, founder Pierre Boulez. Instead of using the orchestra conventionally, Fujikura re-organises them into three groups, each with their own personality with the central group producing high-pitched chords and the outer two groups swapping pizzicatos. This was recorded live in 2005 as part of the Lucerne Festival, with Pierre Boulez conducting the Lucerne Festival Academy Orchestra.

It is a work that, at first, seems to be wholly about texture with the sustain string textures interrupted by others full of pizzicato and fidgety scurrying. The whole has a magical effect, but underneath there is tension, excitement builds and you sense and underlying drama.

Poyopoyo is written for solo horn but at times the sound world Fujikura seems to be exploring is closer to the trombone. The work is muted and quiet, intriguing and discreet. All Fujikura's writing seems to explore the limits of the possible in his chosen instruments, here we don't have something virtuoso but instead quite the opposite. The work explores the limits of quiet intensity, gradually moving towards more extended playing techniques. And the playing from Nobuaki Fukukawa shows stunning control.

Perla (2003/2008) is for bass recorder, a work which explores a very modern side to the instrument.  Again we are using extended playing techniques, including over-blowing, which has the result of making the instrument sound anything but the traditional renaissance and baroque stand-by. Fujikura also works in fragments which sound South American, perhaps reflecting the recorder's links to South American folk instruments. Recorder player Inbar Solomon offers superb control and playing

My Butterflies is for wind orchestra, and was inspired by the sensations Dai Fujikura's wife felt during the first weeks of pregnancy. The work was co-commissioned by the DePaul University School of Music. Again Fujikura's writing intrigues and tantalises, as you struggle to work out quite what you are listening to. There is an intriguing mix of textures, with a lot of flutter tonguing. But there is a spaciousness to the writing, you sense that quite a few instruments are being used sparingly.

In all these pieces you sense Fujikura de-constructing his chosen instrument (or instruments) and pushing their techniques to the limit, recombining in new and striking ways. His writing have a very textural quality and I am unsurprised to read of the visual side to his inspiration. The piece here are demanding, both of performers and listeners. Performers on this disc are all stunning, giving performances which command attention from the listener. And it is an attention which is well rewarded.


Shock of the New

The Minabel label offers an enchanting sonic odyssey through the musical landscapes of Dai Fujikura in Ampere, a collection which sees the composer’s constant hunger for musical expression take form in a range of compositions, from large-scale orchestral works to chamber music and pieces for solo instruments. Yet, as always, each piece offers the composer’s own distinct perspective on the forces for whom the piece is written, in his exploration of new expressive possibilities and extended techniques

The opening work is a case in point. Ampere is not traditional concerto, in which soloist is pitted against the orchestra; rather, the piano is the catalyst, evoking responses from the orchestra that reflect the various hues and textures the pianist draws from the instrument, extrapolated into a series of orchestral colours. Ultimately, though, the piano falls victim to the sympathetic responses it evinces from the orchestra, and amidst a breathless sea of fluttering pizzicato strings, is transformed from sonorous grand piano into a toy piano, whose exotic utterances are now limited in colour and scope; no longer able to provoke a range of replies from the orchestra, the toy piano falls silent, and the piece comes to a conclusion.

The shimmering orchestral textures of Stream State see the surface of the orchestra scintillating with shifting layers of material, pitching differing orchestral textures against one another in a constant state of change. Far from the homogenous, blended sound of a traditional symphony orchestra, the sound here is always in flux. A more sedate second section attempts to impose some semblance of unity across different families; low, restless brass, pizzicato strings, brittle percussion. The rest of the orchestra rises in revolt; sustained woodwind chords try to impart a centre, soon shouted down by a defiant tutti chord. Wisps of material dart elusively through the strings, to be answered by clattering percussion. Rasping brass drives a fomenting orchestra to a frenzy, before a strangely calm conclusion.

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Balancing the larger-scale works are three pieces for solo instruments. The balletic grace of Fluid Calligraphy is painted in ethereal arabesques in an exploration of the full range of harmonics on a solo violin. In Poyopoyo, the solo French horn almost attains the state of being able to speak, in the fluttering, muted survey of its articulatory possibilities. For anyone familiar with the talking trombone of the teacher in those Charlie Brown cartoons from the seventies, this is a more refined, introspective version – the schoolteacher caught alone, in a reflective soliloquy. There’s mischief here too, though, with laughter often bubbling to the surface. The natural state of the horn’s soundworld is refashioned, like plasticine, handled like something ‘soft and squidgy’ (as the title translates) and moulded into something much more articulate. The solo instrument really is speaking its own language, if only we could just catch the words – the piece is beautifully executed with superb control in this recording by Nobuaki Fukukawa. Perla is a slow, often sensuous exploration of the expressive power of the bass recorder, employing flutter-tonguing and overblowing techniques as the instrument lurks lonely beneath the moonlight.

The gentle, diaphanous opening of the final piece on the disc, my butterflies, evokes an iridescent heat-haze; the texture gradually opens out, embracing muted brass chords, building to the first sustained vertical sonorities and a moment of release. Fujikura demonstrates (as elsewhere on this disc) his extraordinary ear for texture, for instrumentation that works to enhance as well as to draw out distinct differences between families of instruments.  An oboe and bassoon melody moves in slow, measured steps, underpinned by a sustained chord in the distance, leading to a sedate and serenely noble conclusion, reminiscent of Stravinsky. Of all the pieces on the disc, this is perhaps the most lyrical, the most expressive, permeated throughout by a hushed expectation – a reflection in part, maybe, of the initial inspiration for the work, Fujikura’s wife in the early stages of pregnancy.

Coming away from the disc, you are left with a sense that your ears have been opened to the experience of sound anew; Fujikura’s music, in its tightly-controlled expressive means allied with a wonderfully articulate textural language, opens the doors to sound in a manner which makes you listen with a renewed inquisitive sense. For all its surface-level industry and constant exploration of textural possibilities afforded by the instrument(s) for which the composer is writing, there emerges an overall unity of vision, a singular concept from Fujikura’s music; that of being enchanted by sound, of being enthralled by the sonic landscapes through which the music moves. The works on this new disc show his handling of instrumental forces continuing to broaden and mature, in his continuing investigation into new aural possibilities.

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