KUNIKO is one of the most gifted and significant percussionists of her generation. 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. Whilst studying, KUNIKO continued to develop her professional career, playing various concertos and solo recitals including the Concerto for Marimba and String Orchestra by Akira Miyoshi.
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; a story based on Yukio Mishima's novel The Priest of Shiga Temple and His Love. 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 2008-09 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 give master classes 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 album kuniko plays reich was released on Linn in 2011 and was their best-selling album of the year. kuniko plays reich features unique multi-tracked arrangements of classic 1980s minimalist works 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. Her 2012 schedule included multiple performances in Japan, Paris, Madrid, Barcelona and Koln, a major residency in Armenia and a tour of Australia.
KUNIKO continues to perform and collaborate with internationally renowned composers, conductors and orchestras including Franco Donatoni, James Wood, Toru Takemitsu, Iannis Xenakis, Seiji Ozawa, Steve Reich and Unsuk Chin. In addition to her solo performances in Asia, Europe and the United States, she has been a member of various orchestras and chamber groups such as the Saito Kinen Orchestra (Japan), Ensemble ICTUS (Belgium) and Ensemble NOMAD (Tokyo, Japan). An extremely versatile musician, KUNIKO has been actively involved in various creative art scenes and has collaborated with prominent artists including Netherlands Dance Theatre dancer Megumi Nakamura, theatre director Satoshi Miyagi, and Za Ondecoza, a Japanese taiko drumming group. KUNIKO also produces commercial music, including theme music for the television programme NHK Art Theatre.
KUNIKO is strongly committed to music education through percussion workshops, master classes and open rehearsals whenever possible in conjunction with her solo recitals. She has been working with children with learning disabilities in Japan since 2004, one example of which includes a series of log drum (slit drum) workshops.
KUNIKO is endorsed globally by Adams and Pearl. She currently resides in the U.S.A.
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'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 >>La Scena Musicale
CD of the Week: '...outstanding. Why can't all records sound this good?'more >>AllMusic.com
'... the entire album is essential listening...'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 >>Sunday Times
"Her lissome presence was all-dominating"more >>The Arts Desk
'phenomenal'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 >>