A Harvard Student's Journey with the Silkroad Ensemble

Sumire Hirotsuru, Harvard '16

May 18, 2016

Earlier this month, just a few weeks away from her Harvard graduation, violinist Sumire Hirotsuru joined the Ensemble on stage during its spring residency at Harvard. Sumire, who will begin working towards a Master in Music at Juilliard in the fall, reflected on her Silkroad journey for the Japanese magazine Nikkei College Cafe.

photo Sumire Hirotsuru playing alongside Kojiro Umezaki at Sanders Theater in April 2015.

What I love about working with the Ensemble is that there are always new challenges in preparing for a performance. Working with the Ensemble pulled me out of the classical music world where you only follow what is written on the sheet music. Participating in rehearsals and listening to their performances from backstage challenged me to open my mind up to new ways of playing, and I gradually became better at adjusting my performance to what is going on onstage. At the Arts First concert, I enjoyed playing John Zorn’s Khabiel arranged by Cristina Pato because I was able to listen to what other musicians around me were playing, improvise according to what I heard, and make eye contact with everyone.

Cristina Pato and Kojiro Umezaki performing “Vojo” at Arts First.

I also faced a new challenge, co-planning a presentation at the Harvard Ed Portal about Japanese culture and music on the theme of “Discovering Home” with Ensemble member Haruka Fujii. Haruka hosted the event while other members (including Kojiro Umezaki, Kaoru Watanabe, Sandeep Das, and Shawn Conley) shared their personal stories related to Japan. Over the course of my preparation, I had a chance to think deeply about my home country, my relationship with Japanese music, and which aspects of my culture I could share with the audience. I chose to present about the Japanese concept of “ma” (written as 間, meaning space, or distance), and was very glad to realize that as a Japanese musician, I had something unique to share with the audience — something I had thought was ordinary was actually a new concept for many of the audience members. Putting together a presentation about my home was totally different from just performing, but it enabled me to appreciate my roots and to rethink how my Japanese background has influenced my playing style.

photo Sumire performing alongside Shawn Conley for “Discovering Home” at the Ed Portal.

After the screening of the Silkroad’s new documentary film, The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, I felt that my identity as a Japanese person and musician had become even more meaningful to me. As is shown in the film, each of the musicians in the Ensemble shares a common characteristic: their unique personal and cultural backgrounds have had deep influences on their careers as musicians.

The weekend I spent with the Ensemble made me confident in my decision to continue pursuing music in the U.S. after graduating from Harvard, and I cannot wait to further discover my own home through music in a new environment.