Jamaica Plain Cellist Project Debuts 8 New Solo Pieces by Immigrant and First-Generation American Composers

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Jamaica Plain cellist Leo Eguchi's new solo project Unaccompanied features immigrant and first-generation American composers telling their own personal journeys of America.

Leo Eguchi (Photo by Justine Cooper)

Unaccompanied features eight new short solos commissioned and performed by Eguchi, which echo his experience as a first-generation Japanese-American growing up in the Midwest. The show features world premieres by composers with backgrounds from the Middle East, Latin America and Asia, and each piece will be introduced by a short film about the composers and stories of their lives in America.

“My young life in a small town was a split-screen existence. The experience was very different depending on whether I was out in public with the white or the Japanese side of my family,” said Eguchi.

He added his bifurcated childhood existence continues as an adult in Boston, with his own mixed-race family and a successful career as a classical musician.

“Sometimes I move through society, accepted and respected as an artist,” said Eguchi. “But at other points, like when I’m not with my wife and daughter, I’ve had so many experiences of being disparaged, viewed as a threat or threatened, and abused by authorities.”

Unaccompanied is free to the public (suggested $10 donation on site) and will be performed Oct. 22 at 7:30 pm at the Pao Arts Center in Boston’s Chinatown neighborhood. 

One of the eight composers is Jamaica Plain's Shaw-Pong Liu, a Chinese-American composer whose work is influenced by aspects of American culture which perplex her, particularly gun violence.

"In my piece, I use the incredible sonic capabilities of the cello to explore the oscillation between grief and rage (and a tender bit of hope) that are part of my familial and cultural inheritance," said Liu. "When I think about my American-ness (the prompt that Leo gave us composers), I can't help but feel that grief and rage are a big part of this identity - especially in the face of the recurring mass violence that we are forced to be numb to in order to survive each day in this country.

Eguchi contacted composers he knew and has worked with, and others he's admired.

“It’s an amazing mix of music,” said Eguchi. “From highly accessible to more abstract, some with traditional structures and others more modernist-feeling.”

The composers are:

  • Portland, Ore.-based composer Kenji Bunch, whose work Eguchi has played with Sheffield Chamber Players and whose Japanese-American background echoes his own;
  • Philadelphia-based Colombian composer James Diaz, whose work is deeply influenced by psychedelia, as well as graphic design and photography techniques;
  • Award-winning, San Diego-based Mexican composer, songwriter and conductor Frank Duarte, who is pursuing his doctorate of music at Michigan State University;
  • Gabriela Lena Frank, the Peruvian American pianist whose father is of Lithuanian Jewish heritage and whose compositions often draw on her multicultural background (Frank’s piece will premiere next spring);
  • Abstract modernist composer Jose Luis Hurtado, a musician of Mexican background who is a professor of music at University of New Mexico;
  • Boston-based Chinese American composer Shaw-Pong Liu whose work is influenced by things that perplex her about American culture including the prevalence of gun violence;
  • New York-based composer Earl Maneein whose mixed Chinese and Thai/Mon background mirrors a divergent career as both a heavy metal violinist and a popular Orthodox Jewish wedding musician;
  • Syrian-American composer Kareem Rouston who lives in Sharon, Mass, and whose piece Eguchi describes as meditative and based on Syrian orthodox chant; and 
  • Afghan composer Milad Yousufi, whom Eguchi met in Kabul, and whose work has been heard around the Boston area over the past year including with the Me2/Orchestra and Winsor Music.