Isao Matsushita

(b. 1951, Tōkyō – d. 16 September 2018, Tōkyō).

Japanese composer of mostly stage, orchestral, chamber, choral, and vocal works that have been performed throughout the world; he was also active as a conductor.

Mr. Matsushita studied composition with Hiroaki Minami at the Tōkyō Geijutsu Daigaku – Tōkyō University of the Arts from 1973–77, where he then studied composition with Toshirō Mayuzumi from 1977–79. He studied composition with Isang Yun at the Universität der Künste Berlin from 1979–86.

Among his honours were Erster Preis in the competition of the festival Ensemblia in Mönchengladbach (1985, for Toki-no-ito 1 – Threads of Time 1) and the Yoshirō Irino Memorial Award from the Asian Composers League (1986, a commission to write Toki-no-ito 2). His music has been performed in Australia, Austria, Canada, China, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Japan, Singapore, and the USA, including at the Olympic Games in Nagano (1998).

As a conductor, he served as music director of Ensemble Kōchi in Berlin from 1982–86 and again served as its music director in Tōkyō from 1999–2018. In addition, he served as music director of Camerata Nagano from 1990–2018 and of the Bunkyō Civic Orchestra in Tōkyō from 1993–2018. He worked as a guest conductor of orchestras in Germany and Japan.

He was also active in other positions. He organised concerts for the Asian Arts Festival of the Agency for Cultural Affairs of Japan in 1999 and served as executive chair of the Asian Music Week in Yokohama in 2000, the Nagano Music Festival in 2000 and the Asian Music Festival in Tōkyō in 2003. Moreover, he served as vice-president of the Japan Federation of Composers in Tōkyō from 1997–2005 and as chair of the Asian Composers League from 1999–2004. He later served as vice-president of the Japan Federation of Composers from 2008–12 and as its president from 2012–18 and again as chair of the Asian Composers League from 2014–18.

He taught composition at the Tōkyō Geijutsu Daigaku from 1987–2018, where he served later as its vice-president and taught as an associate professor of contemporary music from Asia and other subjects at its Performing Arts Centre from 2003–18.

His primary publishers are Kawai, Ongakunotomo Edition and Zen-on.


Website: (mostly in Japanese)



Bōfuri – Mosquito Larva (kyōgen [traditional form of comic theatre from Japan] opera, libretto by Tokuro Miyake), kyōgen cast, small orchestra, 1995

A Midsummer Night's Dream (kyōgen opera, libretto by Motohide Izumi, after William Shakespeare), kyōgen cast, small orchestra, 1995

Shinano-no-kuni – Zenkō-ji Story (opera in 3 acts, libretto by Jun Maeda), 1997

Fujito (incidental music, play by Zeami Motokiyo), noh cast, string quartet, 1999 (also version for noh cast, string orchestra, 1999)

Minasoko-no-kan (traditional ballet, after Natsume Sōseki), noh dancer, small orchestra, 2002

Togakushi Story (ballet in 1 act, scenario by Mamoru Kondō, after a traditional story from Japan), orchestra, 2004

Amano-Iwato – The Cave of the Sun God (ballet, scenario by Mamoru Kondō, choreography by Tamae Tsukada), orchestra, 2004

The Transfer Student (musical), 2009

Kentoshi (opera in 4 acts), 2009–10

Misaki-no-kufi (musical), 2011

The Sky Is Always Blue from the Clouds (musical), 2012


Etwas, piano, symphonic band, 1974

Diffusion, large orchestra, 1976

Alabaster, 3 orchestras, 1977–79

Toki-no-ito 2, piano, large orchestra, 1986–87

Legacy of a Dream (symphonic poem), large orchestra, 1989

Chikugo (symphonic poem), large orchestra, 1990

Grand Atoll, 4 saxophones, large orchestra, 1992

Toki-no-ito 3, large orchestra, 1993

Hi-ten-yu – Fly-Heaven-Play (concerto no. 1), wadaiko (drums from Japan), large orchestra, 1994 (version of chamber work; also version for wadaiko, orchestra of instruments from Japan, 2010)

Ondo-no-funauta, large orchestra, 1994

Yume-no-shirabe-ni – To the Air of a Dream, viola, small orchestra, 1995

Paraphrase on 'Shinshū' (Olympic march), large orchestra, 1998

Tōryanse (fantasy), large orchestra, 1999

Concerto, saung (arched harp from Myanmar), large orchestra, 1999

Concerto, futozao shamisen (wide-necked lute from Japan), large orchestra, 2000

Hiten-no-mai – Dance of the Flying God, symphonic band, 2002

Dharani – Time for Prayer (symphony), calligrapher ad libitum, small orchestra/large orchestra, 2002

Kaze-no-mantra, 14 flutes, 2002

Kisaragi-ni – To February, ryūteki (bamboo flute from Japan)/nohkan (bamboo flute from Japan), small orchestra, 2003

Brilliant Time, 2003

A Time for Prayer (concerto), 2 violins, orchestra, 2005

Festival Overture, 2005

Kaze, Soshite take-no-otoni – Of Wind Rustling Bamboo, shakuhachi (bamboo flute from Japan), string orchestra, 2006

Izanai-no-mai – Invitation Dance, ensemble of instruments from Japan, orchestra, 2006

Tenku-no-mai – Dance of the Firmament (concerto), 2 shakuhachi, orchestra of instruments from China, 2007 (also versions for 2 shakuhachi, orchestra, 2007; 2 shakuhachi, small orchestra, 2007; 2 shakuhachi, string orchestra, 2007)

Hiten-no-inori – Prayer of the Flying Gods, symphonic band, 2007

Tenku-no-hikari – A Shining Firmament, 2008

Kono-koto, ensemble of 13-string koto (zithers from Japan), orchestra, 2009

Prayer of the Firmament – Ode to Precious Life, 2011

Air of the Firmament (concertino), violin, small orchestra, 2011

Ten-Chi-Kyo-Ō (concerto no. 2), wadaiko, large orchestra, 2011

Sumō Jinku (symphonic poem), large orchestra, 2013

Asakusa Jazz Rhapsody, saxophone, small orchestra, 2014


Sonata, oboe, piano, 1974

Layer, 9 French horns, 1976

Ashi-no-sho, oboe, 1979

Seseragi-no, clarinet, percussion, 1980

Interstellar 1, trumpet, organ, 1981

Interludium 2, cello, 1982

Atoll 1, 4 saxophones, 1982

Atoll 2, alto saxophone, piano, 1982

Astral, 4 ensembles (flute, harp, violin; English horn, viola, percussion; clarinet, cello, percussion; bass clarinet, double bass, piano), 1982

Ashi-no-ha-ni, 13-string koto, violin, 1983

Kōchi 1 – Eastern Wind 1, clarinet, 2 A-clarinets, 1983

Astral Alpha, clarinet, cello, marimba, 1983–84

Toki-no-ito 1, string quartet, 1984

Fanfare, 2 French horns, trumpet, trombone, tuba, 1984 (version of vocal work)

Airscope 1, flute, harp, 1984

Airscope 2, improvisational shakuhachi/marimba, fixed media (2 tracks), 1984

Kagiroi-no, nohkan, percussion, 1985

L'Aurore, violin, piano, 1985

But All Can Hear (B-A-C-H), marimba, 1985

Go-un – Five Buddhist Aphorisms, cello, ensemble (flute, clarinet, bassoon, harp, percussion), 1985

Airscope 3, timpani, marimba, 1986

Nami-no-hazama-ni, shakuhachi, shamisen, 2 13-string koto, 1986–87

Azusayumi, 13-string koto, ensemble (3 13-string koto, 17-string koto), 1987

Optical Poem, double bass, piano, 1987

Optical Time, timpani, 1987

Hingashi-no, shakuhachi, shamisen, 13-string koto, 1987

Kaze-no-rosho 1, nohkan, 1988

Quartet for the Glory of Vice, clarinet, violin, cello, piano, 1988

Interwaves 1, 6 percussion, 1988

Interwaves 2, 2 marimbas, 1989

Aki-no-mai 1 – Autumn Dance 1, kokyū (bowed 3-string instrument from Japan), 1989

Kōchi 2, clarinet, 1989

Aki-no-mai 2, 3 shakuhachi, shamisen, futozao shamisen, biwa (lute from Japan), 2 13-string koto, kokyū, 4 percussion from Japan, 1989

Interwaves 3, percussion, 1990

Sea Space, 13-string koto, violin, piano, 1990

Optical Scope 1, electronic organ, percussion, 1990

Optical Scope 2, French horn, violin, piano, 1991

Kaze-no-rosho 2, 20-string koto, 1991

Optical Wave, 6 percussion, 1992

Quintet, oboe, French horn, violin, cello, piano, 1992

Lyrical Time, organ, 8 rototoms (1 player), 1992

Hi-ten-yu (concerto no. 1), wadaiko, ensemble (clarinet, bassoon, French horn, 2 violins, viola, cello, double bass), 1993 (also versions for wadaiko, large orchestra; wadaiko, orchestra of instruments from Japan)

Toward a Time of Dreaming, 2 French horns, 2 violins, viola, cello, double bass, 1994

Awayuki-no-mai – Dance of the Snowflakes, marimba, 6 percussion, 1994

Aki-no-haoto-ni – To the Sounds of Autumn Leaves, flute, 20-string koto, 1994

DAAD (fanfare), 3 trumpets, 1996

Toki-no-shirabe-ni – To the Air of Time, violin, piano, 1996

Yume-no-omoi-ni – For the Love of a Dream, cello, piano, 1998

Kaze-no-utage I – Festival of the Wind I, any number of yokobue (family of flutes from Japan), 2000

Fantastic Dream, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, French horn, violin, viola, cello, double bass, 2000

Hibiki-no-utage – Festival of Sounds, any ensemble, 2001

Mantra, violin, 2001

Ashi-no-mai – Reed Dance, oboe, 2001

Mantra of Flame, 4 percussion, 2004

Minazuki no oto – Sounds of June, vibraphone, fixed media, 2005

Yobikawashi, shakuhachi, 13-string koto, 2007

Fanfare, ensemble of shakuhachi, 2007

Tisarana – Prayer of the Firmament, oboe, bassoon, piano, 2008

Kaze-no-utage II, trombone, 2010

Prayer (fanfare), 10 trumpets, 2010

Oh, This Tiny Planet Earth (variations), trumpet, organ, 2011

Toward a Brilliant Time (fanfare), 8 trumpets, 2012

Time of Birds, 2 flutes, harp, 2012

Yuragi-hitoha, 30-string koto, 2013

Ikaruga no sō hiki uta – The Koto-Playing Song of Ikaruga, oboe, violin, 2014


Sorushikosuteki-yoru (text by Katsue Kitasono), 16 mixed voices, clarinet, violin, viola, cello, double bass, 1977

Fanfare, mixed chorus, 1984 (version of vocal work)

Ao-no-rosho (text from a Buddhist sūtra), 1987 (its four sections may be performed separately: Blue; Absolute Poem; Ao-no-sochi; Optical Poem, mixed chorus)

Gogatsu-o-okuru-uta (text by Katsue Kitasono), mixed chorus, piano, 1989

Black Landscape (concertino, text by Katsue Kitasono), female chorus, piano, 1991

Haru-no-garasu – Glass in Spring (text by Katsue Kitasono), mixed chorus, piano, 1992

October Nocturne (text by Katsue Kitasono), female chorus, piano, 1993

Madrigal (concertino, text by Katsue Kitasono), female chorus, piano, 1995

Minami-no-ehon – Picture Book from the South (text by Kunio Kishida), female chorus, 1996

Tenjiku shokei (oratorio, texts from Buddhist sūtras), shōmyō (Buddhist chanter), speaker, children's chorus, mixed chorus, large orchestra, 2000

Tosa-no-fuyu – Winter in Tosa (text from a traditional story from Tosa Province), female chorus, small orchestra, 2003

Festival Overture, 'Yakushi Nyorai', mixed chorus, orchestra, 2009

Aoi-kaze, mixed chorus, 2010

Watashi-ha mirai, children's chorus, 2013


Yuzukuyo – Moonlit Evening (text from the Kokin Wakashū [10th-century anthology of poems from Japan]), mezzo-soprano, piano, 1974

Ju-kyō (vocalise), soprano, small orchestra, 1975

Koyaseru-tabito (text by Prince Shōtoku), soprano, piano, 1976

Hitori – Alone (text from the Man'yōshū [8th-century anthology of poems from Japan]), soprano, piano, 1984

Fanfare (vocalise), voice, 1984 (also versions for voice, piano, 1984; mixed chorus; 2 French horns, trumpet, trombone, tuba)

Three Haiku of Bashō (text by Matsuo Bashō), soprano, flute, clarinet, bassoon, harp, percussion, 1985

Ao-no-haikei – Blue Background (Buddhist chant, texts from Buddhist sūtras), shōmyō, percussion, 1986

Blue, voice, shakuhachi, 1987 (section of Ao-no-rosho; may be performed separately)

Absolute Poem, soprano, 13-string koto, 1987 (section of Ao-no-rosho; may be performed separately)

Ao-no-sochi, speaker, shamisen, 1987 (section of Ao-no-rosho; may be performed separately)

Azusayumi-mayumi (text from the Nihon Shoki [8th-century collection of classical history from Japan]), voice, 1988

Optical Poem (text by Katsue Kitasono), female voice, flute, violin, cello, piano, 1989

Three Variants (text by the composer), voice, piano, 1994

Hagoromo-no-mai – Dance of the Flying Goddess (text by the composer), speaker, ryūteki, percussion, 1995

Yume-no-ato – Ruins of a Dream (text by Matsuo Bashō), soprano, alto saxophone, 2000

Gasshō – A Prayer (symphony, texts from Buddhist sūtras), shōmyō, small orchestra, 2004

Hiten (cantata), shōmyō from the temple Yakushi-ji in Nara, orchestra, 2008

Ashibiki-no–Nubatama-no (text from the Man'yōshū), voice, 13-string koto, 2008

Mikyo Denrai, shōmyō, 2 small orchestras, 2008

Renri-no-eda, shōmyō, shakuhachi, 2 17-string koto, violin, 2012

Sumō jinku (symphonic poem), yobidashi (voice from sumō), orchestra, 2013

Somedono-no-kisaki, Oni-no-tame ryōran seraruru go, voice, 13-string koto, 2013


Interludium 1, 1981

For Three Times, piano 4 hands, 2001

Time-Rhyme-Light, piano 4 hands, 2003


Interstellar 2, 1981

Airscope 4, electronic organ, 1988


Sazanami-ni – To Ripples, 1982


Dance Suite for Children, piano, 1983

A Fountain on a Distant Star, piano, 1984


Ko-kyō, shakuhachi/ryūteki, double bass, piano, wadaiko/percussion, light installation/calligraphy, 1985

Go-un kai-kuh – Sounds and Lights, variable ensemble of instruments from Asia, light installation, 1991

Dhammapada 1, harp, violin, percussion, ikebana (flower arrangement from Japan), 2001

Dhammapada 2, harp, violin, percussion, kōdō (incense ritual from Japan), 2002

Dhammapada 3, harp, violin, percussion, chadō (tea ceremony from Japan), 2002

Dhammapada 4, harp, violin, percussion, calligraphy, 2003