Karen Tanaka (b. Tokyo, 1961) is acclaimed as one of the leading living composers from Japan. She has been invited as a composer in residence at many important festivals, and her music has been widely performed throughout the world by the major orchestras, ensembles, international festivals and on radio. She has composed extensively for both instrumental and electronics media. “Her music is delicate and emotive, beautifully crafted, showing a refined ear for both detail and large organic shapes…”, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.
Karen Tanaka’s musical education began with piano lessons when she was four years old and formal composition lessons from the age of ten. After studying French literature at Aoyama Gakuin University, she studied composition with Akira Miyoshi at Toho Gakuen School of Music. During four years of study there, she won several major awards in Japan and Europe for her composition, including prizes at the Viotti and Trieste competitions and the Japan Symphony Foundation Award.
In 1986 with the aid of a French Government Scholarship she moved to Paris to study composition with Tristan Murail and work at IRCAM as an intern. In 1987 she was awarded the Gaudeamus Prize at the International Music Week in Amsterdam for her piano concerto Anamorphose. She studied with Luciano Berio in Florence in 1990-91 with funds from the Nadia Boulanger Foundation and a Japanese Government Scholarship, at the end of which time she wrote Hommage en cristal, a commission from the Ultima Festival in Oslo for the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra.
A series of important commissions from Japan, including the orchestral piece Initium (1993), Wave Mechanics (1994) and Echo Canyon (1995), confirmed her as one of the leading living composers from that country. During the same period, there were increasing performances and broadcasts around the world including the UK, USA, France, Scandinavia and five ISCM festivals. She is co-artistic director of the Yatsugatake Kogen Music Festival, previously directed by Toru Takemitsu.
Her recent works, such as The Song of Songs, Night Bird and Metal Strings, develop new directions in her musical language using the latest technology and reflecting different aspects of contemporary culture. In recent years, Karen Tanaka’s love of nature and concern for the environment has influenced many of her works, including Frozen Horizon, Water and Stone and the tape piece Questions of Nature.
Since 2000 she has had significant premieres: an ensemble piece Water and Stone, commissioned by Radio France in Paris; a second string quartet At the Grave of Beethoven, commissioned by the Arts Council of England for the Brodsky Quartet (released on CD by Vanguard label); two solo piano works: Techno Etudes, written for Tomoko Mukaiyama (released on CD by BVHAAST label), and Crystalline III, commissioned by the Canada Council; and five orchestral works; Guardian Angel for the Brooklyn Philharmonic, Departure for the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Lost Sanctuary for the NHK Symphony Orchestra, Rose Absolute commissioned by the Michael Vyner Trust for the NHK Symphony Orchestra conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen, and Urban Prayer for Joan Jeanrenaud (cello) and the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kent Nagano. The performance of Guardian Angel by the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl in July 2002 brought her music to the attention of the large audience in Los Angeles.
Karen Tanaka currently lives in Santa Barbara, California.
Roland Auzet: Percussion(s) (mode 189-192)