Fellow: Awarded 2010
Field of Study: Music Composition
Competition: US & Canada
Mari Kimura is at the forefront of violinists who are extending the technical and expressive capabilities of the instrument. As a performer, composer, and researcher, she has opened up new sonic worlds for the violin. Notably, she has mastered the production of pitches that sound up to an octave below the violin’s lowest string without retuning. This technique, which she calls Subharmonics, has earned Mari considerable renown in the concert music world and beyond. She is also a pioneer in the field of interactive computer music. At the same time, she has earned international acclaim as a soloist and recitalist in both standard and contemporary repertoire.
Born in Tokyo, Japan, to two professors (father, architecture; mother, law), Mari began violin lessons at the age of five. After earning a Bachelors’ degree in violin performance from the Toho School, Japan’s top conservatory, where she studied with Toshiya Eto, she moved to the U.S. to study with Roman Totenberg at Boston University. One semester away from a Master's degree, she needed an extra credit to maintain her student visa. Out of curiosity, she chose an electronic music course, setting her on a new artistic path—in her words, “carrying on the old traditions of the violin while using the tools of our age.”
Mari entered the Juilliard School’s doctoral program on a full scholarship, studying with principal teacher Joseph Fuchs and serving as an assistant in Juilliard’s electronic music studio. She began composition studies with Mario Davidovsky at Columbia University, and served as a Visiting Scholar at Stanford University’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA). There she was introduced to computer-based live signal processing, and wrote “U” (The Cormorant), her first major work for violin and tape.
In 1992, she composed ALT, an acoustic solo violin work that incorporated her newly developed Subharmonics technique for the first time. A series of important recitals followed, including her Japanese debut in Tokyo’s Casals Hall and a League of Composers/ISCM Recital Award concert at Merkin Hall. The latter program included ALT, introducing the public to Subharmonics and resulting in a rave review by Edward Rothstein in The New York Times. Mari’s breakthrough drew international attention from both the musical and scientific communities. Her work was mentioned in Physics and Physics Today, and she was invited to demonstrate Subharmonics at the Acoustical Society of America’s 1995 meeting. Since then, more than a dozen articles about Subharmonics have appeared in musical and scientific journals, including several authored by Mari.
Following her graduation from Juilliard in 1993, Mari began to gain increasing prominence as a soloist and recitalist, performing her own music and others’ in more than twenty countries throughout Europe, Asia, and the Americas. She has premiered many notable works, including John Adams’s Violin Concerto (Japanese premiere), Luciano Berio’s Sequenza VIII (U.S. premiere), Tania Léon’s Axon for violin and computer (world premiere), and Salvatore Sciarrino’s 6 Capricci (U.S. premiere), among others. In 2007, Mari introduced Jean-Claude Risset’s violin concerto Schemes at Suntory Hall with the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra. The cadenza she wrote for the concerto, incorporating advanced Subharmonics, was subsequently published in Strings. In November 2010, Mari appeared as a soloist with the Hamburg Symphony performing John Adams’ Dharma at the Big Sur, under the direction of Jonathan Stockhammer, conductor.
Her star has risen steadily as a composer: she was chosen as a Composer-in-Residence at the Other Minds Festival in San Francisco, and was commissioned by American Composers Forum to write her first orchestral work, a Violin Concerto premiered at the Callejon de Ruído Festival in Guanajuato, Mexico, in 1999. She also won a commission from the International Computer Music Association, resulting in her Cuban-inspired Descarga Interactiva, premiered in Göteborg, Sweden. Further commissions followed from the AMDaT dance compony, baritone Thomas Buckner, Harvestworks, Music from Japan, and others. In 2010 she was not only awarded her Guggenheim Fellowship in Composition but spent the summer 2010 in Paris as a Composer-in-Residence at IRCAM. As one of her Guggenheim Fellowship projects, she is composing new works including a violin/cello duo with interactive computer, and a commission by the Cassatt String Quartet, for which she was just awarded the Fromm Commission grant 2010.
Mari’s multifaceted career is compellingly documented on her most recent commercial recording, Polytopia (Bridge, 2007), which includes music by Jean-Claude Risset, Conlon Nancarrow, Tania León, Milica Paranosic, Frances White, Robert Rowe, and Mari herself. Various tracks find her accompanied by electronic sound, interactive computer, and the GuitarBot, a computer-controlled mechanical stringed instrument created by the League of Electronic Music Urban Robots (LEMUR). Allmusic praised Polytopia as “a highly satisfying debut from a superlative artist who recognizes that the twenty-first century has turned a new page in the relationship between music and technology; she is utilizing all of her super powers to guarantee that her instrument—the violin—doesn't get left behind.” Mari’s latest CD, The World Below G and Beyond (Fall 2010 on Mutable Music), is devoted entirely to her own compositions. As the title suggests, it focuses on works using Subharmonics, including the premiere recording of ALT, as well as her interactive computer works.
Mari is also active as an improvising musician; three recordings feature her in that role. Her first CD, Acoustics, released in 1993 on the Victo label, is a collaboration with guitarist/world music producer Henry Kaiser, together with guitarist Jim O’Rourke (formerly of Sonic Youth) and saxophonist John Oswald. Irrefragable Dreams, an album of improvisations with avant-garde flutist Robert Dick, followed in 1996; Allmusic called it “poetic…highly recommended.” Mari teamed up with improvising multi-instrumentalist Roberto Morales Manzanares for Leyendas (1999), described by Strings magazine as “simply stunning… Kimura brings a rare level of excitement and grandeur to improvised music.”