Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Kazuhito Yamashita

For a long time, I was aware of Kazuhito Yamashita, a Japanese classical guitarist who made quite a stir in the 1980s when he released recordings of solo guitar transcriptions of such pieces as Dvorak's New World Symphony, Stravinsky's Firebird Suite, and Musorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition.

Thanks to YouTube, I found three videos of Yamashita playing the latter piece live, I think in 1984 or so. It's the most jaw-dropping performance I've ever seen on classical guitar.

Part I:

Right around 4:07, he does this left-hand trill combined with jumping up to play a melody on the upper frets. Amazing.

Part II:

At the beginning -- I've never seen left-hand shifts that are so fast. Then at 1:02 he speeds up!!! What a jerk.

There's an very impressive arpeggio effect at 2:19 and following --- he somehow does this super-fast arpeggio and then brings out a melody with his middle finger.

Then there's an amazing movement at 8:13. Notice that at 8:47 to 8:50 he's throwing in some right-hand harmonics amongst all the other blazingly fast stuff!

Part III:

In this one, he starts out with this tremolo effect where he's sweeping one finger (sometimes the first finger, sometimes the pinky!) back and forth over the first string really fast, all while playing chords with his thumb. I've tried this, and it just seems impossible.

Then at 2:12, he starts on a movement that has some incredibly fast scales and repeated notes, such as at 4:40 or so. I've never heard another classical guitarist who could play quite that fast. Again, if you look closely, he's using his pinky as part of the scales.

There's also a mind-bogglingly difficult section at about 7:06, with a melody taking place at the same time as some repeated notes. At 7:26 he does this interesting right hand effect that creates this shimmering sound.

To sum up: It's a bit insane to play such an ambitious piece on the solo classical guitar. But whenever I watch Yamashita play, I keep having the same reaction that I myself (as a classical guitarist) have often gotten from people who have never heard classical guitar before: "I never knew a guitar could do that."

UPDATE: Here is me playing one of Yamashita's arrangements.


Blogger "Q" the Enchanter said...

Great. I remember Yamashita got a lot of negative criticism back in the day for this arrangement. I always found it strange that these critical reviewers compared it to Ravel's orchestrated version, seemingly unaware that Mussorgsky originally composed the piece for solo piano (with which arrangement Yamashita's own compares quite favorably, I think). In any case, however it stacks up against Ravel's, Yamashita's adaptation is a remarkable achievement in its own right.

10:12 AM  
Blogger ScurvyOaks said...

Sorry, guys. Listening to this was like watching the Special Olympics. I don't doubt for a moment that it represents a remarkable accomplishment, but there's no mistaking it for the real thing. The all-time best performance is Sviatoslav Richter playing the solo piano version in the Sofia Recital of 1958.

6:04 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Actually, the CD recording is quite good. The video is poor quality and also he plays too fast.

1:29 AM  
Blogger thinkpad20 said...

I find Yamashita to be an inspiration. Despite his critics, no other guitarist that I've heard has ever been able to play his transcriptions (in fact, Mr. Buck is the first I've heard to even attempt it - bravo!). He truly is a modern Paganini or Liszt. Of his many transcriptions, possibly his most impressive (if you could even decide that) would be that of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody no. 2. There's an audio version on youtube for those interested. In light of his innovations, it surprises me that his revolutionary techniques such as single-finger tremolo picking have not been attempted by some of the "bigger names" in classical guitar, such as Williams, Isbin and the like. 30 years ago, only Yamashita could play those things, and now - still only he can play them. Why is this the case, I wonder? At the time, Paganini was so vastly ahead of his peers that he didn't even write a lot of his compositions down, assuming that nobody else would be able to play them. In light of what we've seen, perhaps this is truly the case with Yamashita. Perhaps the blogger could comment on this. Also if anyone reading this has heard any other performances or recordings of Yamashita transcriptions, I would be most interested in hearing them so feel free to contact me (ithinkican[at]gmail[dot]com).

As to the videos themselves - they really do Yamashita little justice, though his skill is readily evident. They are poor quality, even for being recorded 20+ years ago. However, thanks to the blogger for pointing out some of the easily-missed technical nuances. For those interested in Yamashita I would also suggest watching his transcription of Bach's Prelude to Suite no. 6 in D major for Solo Cello, on youtube at Much better quality and a fantastic performance (with its own jaw-dropping moments of course).

12:56 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Well actually I can play his pictures at an exhibition arrangement :-) I will record it after i finnish my next cd. Recording will be on a greg smallman guitar which has a great dynamic range. I have one clip of a Rak piece on youtube at the moment check out tom ward balalaika. Cheers

8:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

o and i agree Yamashita is the Paganini or Lizst of the guitar despite his lack of compositions. But lets not forget Chopin, Alkan, Sorabji and the likes.

8:03 AM  
Blogger eliteguitarschool said...

Kazuhito was probably never told what he couldn’t do. He saw a problem and solved it. Thank God for him! He is my ultimate guitar hero! The fact is anybody could play the way he does with the right attitude. I was always told what I shouldn’t do with the guitar. Don’t use the right hand pinky, don’t play a certain piece it’s “too hard for you right now”. Don’t do this don’t try that, all that conservative BS. I started out playing electric guitar. Did pretty good, got board and switched to classical after ten years. I started out by learning Bach’s 1st lust suite. My teacher told me not too. I didn’t listen. Now I’m working on Kazuhito’s arrangement of “pictures at an exhibition”. I am flying solo on this one. No teacher to fill my head with doubt. FYI…I have noticed that even he has changed some chord voicing’s to his arrangement by watching the video. We all can do what we work hard to do. Long live faith!

1:42 PM  
Blogger Fidelinho said...

Yamashita plays too fast. So fast that people (maybe) can not enjoy the music. I think guitar is not all velocity, it's beauty in the interpretations. Although yamashita were the fastest of the world and can play very dificult pieces, he's not a real artist; He's a clown.

2:48 PM  
Blogger pmaz said...

Well... well... Had mister Yamashita being born at the center of "opinion forming" societies, would he get bad press? But he was born in Nagasaki: He is the Nagasaki bomb that blew the mind of the "classical guitar" establishment in the 80's.

An article wrote in 1990's by a lesser endowed guitar player states that he is "controversial" and the gunk stuck somehow.

Mr. Yamashita just proves that the limit of what can be done on the guitar sits in the performer and he raised the bar above what most can stand or are prepared to accept.

He is a great artist and deserves all respect.

10:55 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home