Prague Shakuhachi Festival was founded by Doc. Vlastislav Matoušek PhD., composer and ethnomusicologist, professional shakuhachi player Christopher Yohmei Blasdel and Marek Matvija, film-maker and shakuhachi player, in 2006. Their ideas and passions that bridge sound, spirituality, and new media, continue to shape the event.
The festival earned its reputation for featuring the highest quality traditional Japanese music, commissioning and premiering new pieces by Czech and international composers, and exploring new possibilities of Japanese instruments in improvised music and interdisciplinary projects.
Kumiko Shuto, Mitsuhashi Kifu and Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra with Marko Ivanovic perform November Steps (Toru Takemitsu), Prague, 2016
In 2010, we partnered up with the European Shakuhachi Shakuhachi Society to organise the European Shakuhachi Festival, the largest event centered around the shakuhachi in Europe up to that date. Since then, Prague has become one of the important centres of the shakuhachi and Japanese music in the world.
For the celebration of its 10th jubilee in 2016, we worked together with the Prague Spring Festival, Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra, National Gallery, National Film Archive, BERG Orchestra, National Theatre, Japan Foundation, Czech Ministry of Culture, and many other important cultural institutions, presenting peaks of Japanese music and contemporary music for Japanese instruments.
In 2017, the organisation of the event has been handed down from 108 Hz, represented by Vlastislav Matoušek, to NEIRO Association for Expanding Arts, represented by Marek Matvija. To keep up its artistic value and prestige, the festival is transforming from annual to biennial basis (happening every two years). The next ISFP will happen in September, 2019.
In its past, the festival featured such stellar performers and artists as Mitsuhashi Kifu, Dozan Fujiwara, Shodo Sakai, Kuniyoshi Sugawara, Zenyoji Keisuke, Sato Kikuko, Pamelia Kurstin, Shuto Kumiko, Slavek Kwi, Amit Chatterjee, Akira Matsui, Takahashi Ryudo, James Ragan and many, many others.
Since 2007, the festival continued to grow annually thanks to friendship and passion for Japanese instruments that connected people around Europe and increasingly around the whole world. The festival began at a yoga studio and few micro-venues, gradually it moved to the halls of the Academy of Performing Arts (HAMU). Now, it collaborates with some of country’s leading art institutions and bodies.
Christopher Yohmei Blasdel about the festival’s inception:
The Prague Shakuhachi Festival
The idea for a shakuhachi festival in Prague occurred, for me, one day in 1996, when Vlastislav Matousek and I met to discuss shakuhachi music on a humid summer evening in a leafy suburb of Tokyo. I was inspired by Vlastislav’s intense dedication to the shakuhachi, and I listened intently to the stories he told of the many obstacles he faced when trying to learn the instrument in his home country. Vlastislav came of age during the Communist regime, a time of extremely little artistic or scholastic freedom. As a student, he was very interested in Asian music, but there were few opportunities to study in Prague and it was impossible for him to leave the country, since he had once been jailed for sharing satirical poems about the government. After the fall of the Communists, he could finally leave the country, but there was no money available for musicians to travel abroad. A grant from the Japan Foundation enabled Vlastislav to journey to Japan, his mecca, to study the shakuhachi.
He told me this while the cicadas made their livid sounds in the trees nearby. He paused to listen, and, as if inspired by their sounds, turned to me and suddenly said, “Someday, let’s do an international shakuhachi event in the Czech Republic.” The thought of an ancient Japanese instrument resounding in an ancient European city was intriguing, though at the time I had no idea of how to make it happen.
Eight years later in 2003, however, I was invited to Budapest to perform in the annual Budapest Spring Music Festival, and I recalled Vlastislav’s dream. From Budapest it was easy to stop by Prague, and he arranged a small workshop and a few concerts, thereby planting the seeds for something bigger. The next Prague shakuhachi gathering occurred in 2006, and by 2007 we had the rudiments of a festival going.
And it all began while listening to insects on a summer evening in Tokyo.
This year, 2017, marks the 11thanniversary of the Prague Shakuhachi Festival.