Born in the quiet town of Chitose in northern Japan, composer and violinist Sato Matsui is a C.V. Starr Doctoral Fellow at The Juilliard School, where she also earned her MM in Composition in 2017. Matsui's new tonalist style unites Japanese sonorities with urban American individualism, and baroque counterpoint. With diverse repertory, Matsui’s music has been heard from coast to coast in the United States, as well as in Canada and Europe.
Matsui takes a deeply collaborative approach to composition, working closely with musicians, singers, dancers, and videographer to create works inspired by human connection and relationships. Her commissions include Carol Wincenc, the Manchester Music Festival, Zafa Collective, pianist Daniel Schreiner, flutists Stephanie Kwak, Zoe Sorrell, and Emily Duncan, and violist Chloé Thominet to name a few.
Her current projects include the orchestration of her opera Hoshi, which anticipates performances at Mana Contemporary Art Center, as well as the Arts Series at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in Manhattan. Matsui is also collaborating with flutist Stephanie Kwak on a concerto for flute and orchestra for 2019, as well as the string quartet Free and So Thankful, based on a compositional workshop conducted at a Women in Need shelter in Manhattan.
Matsui has worked extensively with dancers and choreographers, and in 2017 was named the Resident Composer for the Creative Movement and Gestures Program at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in Canada, as well as a participant of the Juilliard Choreo-Comp Project. She has also collaborated independently with choreographers Ofilio Sinbadinho and Geneviève Duong, as well as movement director Rachel Pospisil. Her multimedia installation piece House of Ones was featured in the Beyond the Machine Festival in 2018, bringing together theatre, dance, videography, and surround sound production.
Matsui earned her BA from Williams College, where she received Highest Honors in Music, as well as the 2014 Hubbard Hutchinson Memorial Fellowship in Music. She is the recipient of the Milton & Silvia Babbitt Scholarship, Cartwright Scholarship, Gretchaninoff Memorial Prize, Celia Ascher Doctoral Fellowship, and King Doctoral Scholarship.
My hopscotch journey as a musician began at the age of five, when I begged my parents for a violin. Throughout my move from Japan to the US, the violin remained a constant passion. At the age of 14, I began waitressing at a local Thai restaurant to save up for a modest full-sized violin. With it, I taught violin to children, and study with my teachers and mentors Joana Genova-Rudiakov and James Bergin. James was the first person to take note of my love for composition. Out of sheer generosity and kindness, James gave me extra time at the end of every violin lesson to introduce me to the concepts of counterpoint and theory.
When I entered Williams College, I used the theory I had learned from James to pay my way through college as a Teaching Assistant. I spent these four years immersed in composition as well as violin performance and orchestral conducting. Much of what I now know in composition, I owe to these musicians I played alongside for years.
During the summers, I studied in Paris at the EAMA Nadia Boulanger Institute, where I received a rigorous training in the pedagogy of the late and legendary Nadia Boulanger. I recall many a midsummer days in Paris, playing my violin on the streets with an open case. Though, at the time, it was for a sandwich that I played, the heartfelt enjoyment of the passers-by were far more valuable than the finest feast. These strangers taught me always to be humble and honest in my musical pursuit.
My year in Philadelphia after college was the definition of bohemian life. I promised myself one year of rigorous study to apply for graduate programs in composition, and I came to live in a dilapidated house full of hungry young artists. By day, we pursued our dreams with full vigor, and by night, we laughed and talked away the deep seated fear of unmet potentials. In the coldest months of winter, I would compose at my upright in my coat and boots, my face buried in the warmth of the scarf and my fingers dancing in my fingerless gloves.
Upon acceptance into The Juilliard School for MM in Composition, I moved to New York City and begin my studies with Robert Beaser. During the past one year, I have been invigorated by the city and inspired deeply by the passion and talent of my friends at school. Hungry for the city's many offerings, I also participated in the NYU ASCAP Foundation Film Scoring Program, which also opened my eyes to the fast evolving world of music technology.
Now at the start of my DMA studies at Juilliard, I can look back and see how my hopscotch path has made me the musician I am today. I hope never to lose the conviction of the toddler violinist, the 14-year-old waitress, and the hungry street violinist. And in my reflection, I also pay my homage to the past great composers, who have always made me believe in beauty. And, more importantly, to the many mentors, friends, musicians, and strangers in my life who continue to inspire and guide me along this oddly exciting path.