Naoko Ikeda: Aya

Selected & Reviewed by ANDREW EALES

The Willis Music Company have long been a leading name in the publishing of educational and accessible piano pieces, best known for the Dozen A Day series, the John Thompson Piano Method, and their extensive catalogue of great music by William Gillock.

I recently reviewed their Accent on William Gillock compendium and Jason Sifford’s Keybop series, and in this review I turn to another of their leading names, the Japanese composer Naoko Ikeda, whose music has met with considerable popularity in the States already, and is now gaining long-overdue attention here in the UK.

Ikeda’s extensive back catalogue includes many individually published pieces as well as several collections, a couple of which I picked up last year. I will be looking at her back catalogue in a future article, but for now I am turning to the recently published Aya, “10 Introspective Pieces for Piano Solo”.

The book is suitable for intermediate players (I would suggest around UK Grade 4-5 level), and is a superbly rewarding discovery…

Shimmering Colours

Naoko Ikeda lives in Sapporo, Hokkaido, in norther Japan. She is passionate about introducing the world to her country’s essence through her music. Influenced by classical, jazz, pop, and the pedagogic works of William Gillock, her compositions reflect her diverse tastes with beauty, elegance and humour.

According to Ikeda, her new collection was written with the Japanese word “Aya” in mind. Two Japanese characters represent “Aya”; the first translates into shimmering colours and a glowing appearance, while the second invokes beautiful shades and hues, intricate patterns, and the feel of elegant silk.

The cover artwork, presented on smooth, matt card, deliciously evokes the essence and subtlety of these qualities:

The ten pieces within bear the titles:

  • Vega
  • Chō (The Butterfly)
  • The White Phoenix (Homage to Itō Jakuchū)
  • Fujin (Soul of the Wind)
  • Yūjō (Friendship)
  • Umi (The Sea)
  • The Three Romances: Moon, Ocean and Earth
  • Elegy

Preceding the scores the composer writes a short introduction about each piece, which I found helpful as an entry point to understanding the context, cultural significance and meaning of works whose titles might be ambiguous to those not so familiar with their background

And indeed, it is the different cultural perspective and approach that undoubtedly gives these pieces their unique appeal and distinctive qualities, hard to convey in words and yet unmistakably Japanese.

Ikeda’s pedagogic experience and insight are evident throughout; her writing fits well under the fingers and is intuitive, both in its physical ergonomics and sonorous use of the instrument. She seemingly borrows figurations from Gillock while retaining her unique voice; from a UK perspective I could also draw parallels between Ikeda’s aesthetic and that of Pam Wedgwood.

The player is well supported, with ample fingering throughout the book and suitable pedalling clearly marked. The notation is well-spaced, with an intelligent layout that minimises page-turns.

The Three Romances particularly stand out for their musical imagination, while I was moved by the poignant expressivity of the closing Elegy, which is dedicated:

“…in loving memory of my father. It is also for anyone impacted by the worldwide Covid pandemic and who may have lost a loved one. We mourn and remember.”

Closing Thoughts

For those yet to discover the evocative and scintillating music of Naoko Ikeda, Aya certainly offers a beautiful starting point. Like much of her music, these delightful pieces draw their colours from a wide range of influences and offer immediate appeal.

With their beautiful shades, hues, and intricate patterns the ten pieces that make up the publication inventively fulfil the promise of their titles, combining to deliver an album that is likely to bring pleasure to players young and old alike. Aya is a wonderful addition to the intermediate repertoire.

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Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a widely respected piano educator, published composer and author based on Milton Keynes UK.

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