Her astonishing virtuosity, exquisite musical insight and expressive yet elegant performance style continues to attract not only audiences, but established conductors and composers too. She is renowned for her flawless technique when playing both keyboard and percussion instruments, which blends seamlessly with her profound musical intelligence.
Kuniko studied under the legendary marimba player Keiko Abe at Toho Gakuen School of Music in Tokyo, Japan and advanced her studies under Robert Van Sice at Rotterdam Conservatorium in the Netherlands. She graduated with the highest honour (summa cum laude) as the first percussionist in the institution's history.
After graduation she was based in Europe for over ten years, winning major awards including the Kranichsteiner Musikpreis from the Internationales Musikinstitut Darmstadt in 1996 and second prize at the International Leigh Howard Stevens Marimba competition in 1996. In 1997, Kuniko recorded James Wood's Marimba Concerto in London where her performance was highly complimented by the BBC. In addition, Kuniko was a guest soloist at the James Wood Portrait concert at the 2001 Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival which was broadcast on BBC Radio 3. In 1999, Kuniko released her first solo album To The Earth.
Career highlights for Kuniko include the Japanese premiere of the music theatre production of The Pure Land (Jodo) in 2005 by James Wood. In May 2006, Kuniko revived the legendary percussion concerto Cassiopeia by Toru Takemitsu as a part of the Takemitsu Memorial Concert at Tokyo Opera City in Japan. The performance was recorded live and is available on a limited edition CD. During 2008-9 Kuniko showcased a solo recital at Sao Paulo University as part of the first International Percussion Festival, appeared at the historic Monday Evening Concert series in Los Angeles, performed a solo recital at Vancouver New Music Society and gave the Japanese premiere of Unsuk Chin's Double Concerto at the Suntory Summer Festival.
In March 2009 Kuniko created a new live performance Sound Space Experiment - Steel Drum Works in Tokyo, Japan. At this performance she gave the world-premiere of Electric Counterpoint, transcribed for steel pans, marimba and vibraphone by Steve Reich. In 2010 she was invited to perform concerts and masterclasses in Canada, Australia, Portugal, Congo and South Africa. Kuniko also performed Steel Drum Works in Vancouver, Canada, Saitama and Itami, Japan, and at the international music festival Les Flâneries Musicales de Reims in France in 2011. Kuniko's critically acclaimed recording kuniko plays reich was released on Linn in 2011 and was its bestselling album of the year. kuniko plays reich features unique multi-tracked arrangements of classic minimalist works from the 1980s by Steve Reich, personally endorsed by the composer. Kuniko performed her Reich arrangements live in Tokyo, New York, Modena, Reims and at the Cheltenham Festival in England in 2011. She conducted a world tour in 2012 including multiple performances in Japan, Paris, Madrid, Barcelona and Köln, a major residency in Armenia and a tour of Australia. 'Kuniko plays Reich in Kyoto' concert which was presented at Kyoto Arts Centre in 2012, received the prestigious 12th Keizo Saji Award by Suntory Arts Foundations.
In 2013 her eagerly awaited second album from Linn was globally released, featuring the premiere percussion arrangements of four of the great Estonian composer Arvo Pärt's signature works. The album is entitled CANTUS and was in the UK's Top 10 Specialist Classical Chart. This album also received the ‘Best Recording' Award at Japan's Music Pen Club's 26th Music Awards.
In 2015 Kuniko globally released the major percussion works Pléïades and Rebonds by the great twenty-century composer Iannis Xenakis. The album was double-nominated in the ‘Best Contemporary Music' and ‘Best Recording' categories at the Japan Academy Awards.
Kuniko is strongly committed to music education through percussion workshops, masterclasses and open rehearsals whenever possible in conjunction with her solo recitals. She has been working with learning-disabled children in Japan since 2004, including a series of log drum (slit drum) workshops.
Kuniko is the only Japanese artist signed to the world renowned audio label Linn Records (based in Scotland). Kuniko is endorsed globally by Pearl and Adams (NL).
She currently resides in USA.
For further information -
'Kuniko's third album for Linn is a thrilling and atmospheric recording of pieces by Xenakis, and a fine test of speed and resolution.'Audiophile Audition
'The profound musical intelligence of both Xenakis and kuniko come thru in this wild percussive work...'more >>BR Klassik ‚,Leporello‘‘
,,Kuniko ist eine Tänzerin an ihren Perkussionsinstrumenten – man spürt ihre Körperspannung zwischen den Tönen, man fühlt, wie sie im Raum nach den einzelnen Klängen greift. Jede Bewegung ist genau bemessen, und so arbeitet sie mit jedem Takt die Schönheit der Musik des großen Klang-Architekten Xenakis heraus.''more >>Gramophone
'Kuniko passes this rite triumphantly. Her effortless, glitch-free technique and ability to manipulate mallets and sticks to seemingly coax melodies from non-melodic instruments are bound to humble aspiring and established percussionists alike.'more >>Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review
'Kuniko's performance is unparalleled, as is the work.'more >>Crescendo Magazine
'jeu éblouissant'more >>The Sunday Times
'These are meticulous and muscular performances, at once elemental and elegant. Brilliant.'more >>The Guardian
'Kuniko takes on the 1978 dance score Pléïades, and treats its effervescent textures to a loose, sensual swing.'more >>AllMusic
Editor's Choice: 'Highly recommended.'more >>PS Audio
'It's beautifully elastic-loopy, in every sense of the word-and it may make you smile.'more >>SA-CD.net
'Her thrilling performance of this remarkable piece [Pléïades] is astonishingly confident and absolutely hypnotic.'more >>ArtistXite
‘Japanese percussionist Kuniko transforms Iannis Xenakis’ challenging percussion music into a plastic, three-dimensional and hypnotic musical experience.’Blouin Art Info
'...a totally fulfilling, all encompassing experience.'more >>NPR Music ‘Deceptive Cadence’
Songs We Love: 'A terrific all-Xenakis affair.'more >>All About Jazz
'Kuniko's performances are celebratory.'more >>Image HiFi
,,Auch eine neue Aufnahme von Kuniko bei Linn setzt ein audiophiles Glanzlicht.''more >>American Record Guide
'This exquisite-sounding program offers compelling transcriptions of his Für Alina as well as the Cantus and the unforgettable Fratres.'more >>Classical Ear
'The recording, as we have come to expect from Linn Records, is first class.'more >>Audiophile.no
‘[If] Are you open to exploring new musical terrain, there's no reason to let this opportunity pass, with its innovative sound in many channels. Carpe Diem!’more >>International Record Review
'...this thoroughly engaging, fastidiously produced recording casts the marimba in an entirely new light.'more >>Gramophone
‘The most convincing moment is reserved for Reich. New York Counterpoint continues where ‘Kuniko Plays reich’ left off.’more >>Baker & Taylor CD Hot List
'...masterful transcription...'more >>All About Jazz
'As striking as the music is, the spectre of Kuniko in flight is equally striking from her athletically efficient performance to her precise and exquisite presence: a total artistic package, shining with grace and brilliance.'more >>Facts & Arts
'Renowned Japanese percussionist Kuniko Kato makes stunning music from the simplest of instruments, stretching their sonorities to heights never previously heard on record.'more >>Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review
'This is one stunning album. Kuniko is a phenomenon and she makes the music her own in sonically moving ways. Excellent!'more >>AllMusic.com
'... the entire album is essential listening...'more >>La Scena Musicale
CD of the Week: '...outstanding. Why can't all records sound this good?'more >>Infodad
‘Kuniko’s arrangements are attractive, and she certainly plays them well…’more >>SA-CD.net
'The timbres and overtones are captured with extraordinary beauty.'more >>SA-CD.net
'...great minimalist music...Kuniko’s playing is – as ever – subtle, austere and hypnotic.'more >>Irish Times
'Varied recording venues and microphone perspectives are used to create soundworlds of a delicacy and richness well beyond what the instrumentations suggest.'more >>MusicWeb International
'Kato's superb control of the marimba and vibraphone deepens these pulsing, rocking and 'tintinnabular' effects.'more >>The Independent
'...intricate rhythms are what catch the ear, but it's the overtones and silences that mesmerise'more >>The Times
'Listening to these marimba rhythms is just right for a hot day, in fact it’s as refreshing as standing inside Niagara'The Observer
'imaginiative reworkings...in the hands of a master marimba player...an absorbing recital.'more >>cheltenhamfestivals.com
'Beautiful, intricate, captivating arrangements of some of the most heartfelt music that minimalism has to offer.'more >>The Big City Blog
'...a gorgeous touch, adding a shimmering, sustained richness...'more >>American Record Guide
'Kuniko is an exciting and expressive percussionist...'more >>Phile-Web
'successful in creating new dimensions'more >>L'Union
"...pour finir ce furent des applaudissements nombreux et enthousiastes."more >>The Arts Desk
'phenomenal'more >>Sunday Times
"Her lissome presence was all-dominating"more >>Audiophile Audition
'Kuniko is quite a percussionist.'Time Out Tokyo
'Kuniko has since established herself as one of the world's foremost interpreters of Reich's percussion pieces...'more >>Music Web International
'[it] has an attractive sound and energy.'more >>CKUA Radio
'...music brimming with vitality and carefree energy, the sound of nature in motion.'more >>The Music Cube
"If you're looking for something cool and modern, (but still accessible and easy on the ears) I definitely recommend Kuniko Plays Reich."more >>Musica Magazine
A glowing review from the Italian magazine Musicamore >>The Scotsman
"It is her direct collaboration with Reich...that adds sheen to the multi-tracked finished article."more >>The Nottingham Post
"...a superb album."more >>The Observer
"It's a hypnotic and strangely calming experience."more >>Words and Music
"Kuniko expresses this beautifully."more >>