Japan’s Kazuhito Yamashita “has…made a career of annexing orchestral classics to his kingdom of the guitar,” according to Jeff Magee in the Ann Arbor News. The classical guitarist transcribes symphonies and other classical pieces, usually played by many varied instruments together, so that he and others can play them on the guitar. He has been compared to revolutionary classical guitarist Andres Segovia, and is acclaimed by most serious music critics, though Jim Ferguson of Guitar Player admitted that some experts consider Yamashita an eccentric who attempts tasks too large for his ability. In addition to his transcription talents, his actual playing has also won raves from the critics; for instance, reviewer Michael Wright labeled Yamashita’s technique with the instrument “brilliant and flawless” in Audio.
Yamashita showed his genius early, and entered international competitions while an adolescent. While still in his teens he gained worldwide attention by winning three of them; one in Spain, one in Italy, and another in Paris, France. Afterwards he gave many concerts in his native Japan, and by 1978, when he was about seventeen years old, he was ready to make his first professional European appearance. Music apparently runs in the Yamashita family; his sister Naoko is also a classical guitarist, and has recorded with him.
Yamashita’s transcription credits include J. S. Bach’s First Sonata for Unaccompanied Violin, Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony, Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade,” Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite,” and Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.” The last was lauded as “almost legendary” by Ferguson, who also had praise for Yamashita’s recordings Guitar Concertos: Vivaldi, Carulli, Giuliani and Music of Spain, though he felt the material on both of these albums was somewhat “tame” for Yamashita. “A musician of his exceptional abilities is best showcased with exceptional material,” he concluded. Wright disagreed, saying that Guitar Concertos “is stunningly vital.” Further, Walter F. Grueninger, reviewing the album in Consumer’s Research Magazine, declared his amazement at Yamashita’s “virtuosity and range of expression” in the work.
As for Yamashita’s transcription of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade,” Tom Mulhern of Guitar Player hailed it as “dynamic and expansive.” Yamashita chose to record this work with his sister Naoko; together, according to Mulhern, the Yamashitas lived up to the greatest possibilities inherent in the performance of classical guitar duets. The album with “Scheherazade” also included the “Petite Suite” by Claude Debussy, played with “striking grace and precision” in Mulhem’s opinion, and four short pieces listed together under the title of “Francaix Divertissement.”
Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite” is rendered by Yamashita as a “fascinating… work filled with a broad range of textures and timbres,” Ferguson claimed in another Guitar Player review. The critic also pointed out the skillful way that Yamashita tackled the difficulties of making such a complex work manageable for the guitar. With “Firebird Suite” Yamashita also recorded his famed interpretation of Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony— also known as the “New World” Symphony—which Ferguson gleefully proclaimed a “relentless display of ’impossible’ guitar work.”
Yamashita has performed, among other works, his transcription of J. S. Bach’s First Sonata for Unaccompanied Violin in the United States. But besides devoting himself to the older classical composers and being, as Ferguson asserted, the only classical guitarist who produces transcriptions of full symphonic works, Yamashita also “champions new music,” according to Magee. One of the modern composers he has promoted is the Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu, whose “Folios I, II, and III” he performed at a 1989 concert in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Born c. 1961 in Japan.
Classical guitarist, transcribes classical works for guitar; began performing in his teens; recording artist and transcriptionist
Awards: Won three international competitions as a teenager.
Addresses: Record company —RCA Records, 6363 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90028.
Bach’s Sonata No. 1 for Unaccompanied Violin.
Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony.
Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.”
Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite.”
Music of Spain, RCA, c. 1987.
Guitar Concertos: Vivaldi, Carulli, Giuliani, RCA, c. 1987.
(With Naoko Yamashita) Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade/Debussy: Petite Suite, RCA, c. 1988.
Dvorak—Symphony No. 9 (“From the New World”)/Stravinsky— The Firebird Suite, RCA, c. 1989.
Ann Arbor News, November 5, 1989.
Audio, January 1988.
Consumer’s Research Magazine, April 1988.
Guitar Player, June 1987; June 1988; July 1989.