Born in Chitose, Japan, Sato Matsui is a New York based composer and collaborator whose musical language draws influence from traditional Japanese sonorities as well as her training as a classical violinist. Her current projects include a commission from Carol Wincenc for her 50th Anniversary Commissioning Project, which will be premiered partially at the National Flute Association in Salt Lake City this summer, and fully at Merkin Hall in spring of 2020. Other upcoming commissions include a mixed ensemble piece for Red Dog Collective, a solo viola piece for Chloé Thominet, a string orchestra piece for Palaver Strings, a solo flute piece for Zoe Sorrell, a cello sonata for Philip Sheegog, and a string quartet for Apple Hill String Quartet to name a few.
Her recent activities include Kinokonoko, a large ensemble commission from Joel Sachs for the New Juilliard Ensemble, which received its Lincoln Center Premiere in April of this year. In May, Matsui’s scoring of Shakespeare’s As You Like It was produced by director Ian Belknap at the McClelland Drama Theater. Matsui’s Free and So Thankful was the runner up for the 2019 String Quartet Smackdown with Invoke Quartet in Austin, Texas, and awaits album release.
Matsui is the recipient of the 2019 Charles Ives Scholarship and is currently a C.V. Starr Doctoral Fellow at the Juilliard School, where she also earned her master’s degree while studying with Robert Beaser. She received her BA from Williams College, where she studied composition with Ileana Perez-Velazquez, violin with Joana Genova, and conducting with Ronald Feldman. She is also a winner of the J. William Fulbright Scholarship, and will research the manuscripts of Erik Satie in Paris for the coming academic year.
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 four 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.
As I prepare for my next chapter in Paris, 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.