Yuzo Toyama


Born: 1931
Born in 1931, Yuzo Toyama studied at the Tokyo Music School (later Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music) and at age 19 won second prize in the school's Chamber Music Division for his Pieces (3) Caractéristiques pour clarinette, basson, et piano. His composition teacher during the early '50s was composer Kan-ichi Shimofusa, who in turn had studied with Paul Hindemith. Following a period as a student conductor with the NHK Symphony Orchestra during the early and mid-'50s, Toyama took master classes with Erich Leinsdorf in Salzburg, Austria. He returned to Japan at the end of the 1950s and joined the NHK Symphony Orchestra, conducting it on a world tour in 1960, where he debuted what would become one of his most popular compositions: Rhapsody for Orchestra. Toyama's music was heavily influenced by the work of Shostakovich and Bartók and, even more so, by Kodály, particularly in his use of the traditional melodies of his homeland as a source of inspiration. Drawing from musical sources as diverse as Kabuki theater, folk, and work songs, he freely juxtaposes traditional Japanese instruments, including the kyoshigi (paired percussive wooden sticks), with more conventional Western orchestral forces. And as much as he melds the Eastern pentatonic scale within framework of European music, the Rhapsody for Orchestra is virtually a folk musical travelogue of Japan. Toyama conducted the NHK orchestra on two subsequent international tours and has found an international audience for his compositions. Mstislav Rostropovich was the soloist for the Moscow premiere of his cello concerto (with the composer conducting) and a commission from the Australian Ballet resulted in the writing of his ballet Yugen. As a conductor, Toyama has been acclaimed for his work in operatic as well as concert works, with a repertory that encompasses Britten (Peter Grimes) and Poulenc (Dialogue of the Carmelites), among many others. He has conducted all of Japan's major orchestras and has held the position of permanent conductor of the NHK orchestra since 1979. For his work at the podium and as the author of more than 225 compositions ranging from songs to symphonies, Toyama has received numerous awards in Japan for his contributions to the nation's musical life. Despite his advancing age, he was still making guest appearances in Europe at the outset of the twenty first century.