• voc; koto/str4tet
  • voc
  • 25 min

Programme Note

When I was approached by Bunka Kaikan to compose the music for this new piece in collaboration with dancer and choreographer Kaiji Moriyama, it felt important to me to delve into and draw inspiration directly from Japanese culture. Musically, this translated into the idea of integrating the country’s traditional national instrument, the koto, into a chamber ensemble otherwise comprising of singer and string quartet. With its plucked strings making it a distant cousin of the guitar, I am also trusting the koto will help me build a bridge between the genres of contemporary classical music and pop, genres I am intending to straddle within this modern song cycle. The vocal treatment will embody this further, its style lying somewhere between Renaissance melancholy song and 21st-century experimental pop. I am most eagerly looking forward to working together with Kaiji, his art of movement expressing and extending our ideas beyond what Ben Osborn and I could ever imagine.

Josephine Stephenson, May 2023



The invitation to respond to the Japanese traditional story The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter presents an interesting challenge. Josephine and I do not want to appropriate a culture that is not ours – we can only approach this story from an outsider’s perspective, coming from a different time and place. In my reading of the tale, the story is fascinating not just as a sort of proto-science fiction but also as a narrative of a female figure who finds a way to assert her own freedom of choice despite the patriarchal structure she finds herself in. At the same time, the character Kaguya’s prioritising of the non-human, natural world over the world of status and wealth makes her an intriguing heroine for a modern interpretation. Reading The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter and exploring its themes, I was drawn to the 20th century poet Akiko Yosano as a complimentary literary counterpoint to the story. Akiko’s carefully crafted poems use traditional forms and imagery as a means of expressing feminism, feminity, sensuality and a connection to nature – as such, I’m using her style as a guideline to help me translate and deconstruct this ancient story and rebuild it into the lyrics to Josephine’s song cycle.


Ben Osborn, May 2023