Award-winning composer Koji Nakano’s music reflects the relationship between beauty, form and imperfection through the formality of music. In 2008, he became the first composer to receive the S&R Washington Award Grand Prize. Since then, Nakano has been recognized as one of the major voices among Asian composers of his generation. As a composer, scholar and an educator, his musical activities have included community service and outreach to help bridge Eastern and Western musical cultures. His recent work strives to merge both musical traditions and also make reference to theatre, philosophy, rituals and spirituality.
Nakano has composed more than seventy works, including solo, chamber, choral works, symphonic movements, concertos, operas, and various cross-cultural compositions featuring Asian traditional instruments. His music has been premiered in Europe, USA, Canada, Australia, and Asia. His works have been performed at such venues as Carnegie Hall, Merkin Hall, Jordan Hall, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Smithsonian Museum, Asia Society, Tokyo Wonder Site, ISCM World Music Days, Tanglewood Music Festival, Aspen Music Festival and School, Bowdoin International Music Festival, June in Buffalo, Composers Conference at Wellesley College, Pacific Rim Music Festival, Chelsea Music Festival, Creativity Unlimited Music Festival in Australia, Asian Composers League Festival & Conference, Shanghai New Music Week, China-ASEAN Music Week, Taipei International New Music Festival, SoundBridge Contemporary Music Festival in Malaysia, Yogyakarta Contemporary Music Festival in Indonesia, among others.
His portrait concert has been presented at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, at Tenri Cultural Institute of New York, at Northern Illinois University, at Georgia State University as part of the College Music Society’s Fifty-First National Conference, at Musicasa in Tokyo, at Seoul National University in Korea, and Burapha University in Thailand.
His compositions have been commissioned, premiered and performed by Tapestry Opera, Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, Del Sol String Quartet, Ensemble Offspring, Ensemble Reconsil Vienna, Borealis String Quartet, Anermet String Quartet, ARZ Ensemble, Hong Kong New Music Ensemble, Helikon Ensemble, Guangxi Symphony Orchestra, Taipei Chinese Orchestra, Taipei Chamber Singers, Little Giant Chinese Chamber Orchestra, Chinese Orchestra of Guangxi Arts University, as well as soloists including Hsi-Jong Wang (pipa), Gamin Kang (piri, saenghwang and taepyunso), Kohei Nishikawa (shinobue and ryuteki), soprano Stacey Fraser, among others.
In addition to being the recipient of 2008 S&R Washington Award Grant Prize from the S&R Foundation, Nakano has also received composition awards, grants and fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council (2), the Asian Cultural Council (2), Japan Society of Boston, the Agency for Cultural Affairs in Japan, the National Gugak Center in Korea, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Science Council in Taiwan, Tanglewood Music Center, Meet the Composers (2), ASCAP (16), American Music Center (4), University of California at San Diego, California State University at San Bernardino (4), New England Conservatory of Music, New School University, Composers Conference at Wellesley College, Ernest Bloch Music Festival, as well as fellowships for residency from Rockefeller Foundation's Bellagio Center, MacDowell Colony (2), Yaddo (3), Millay Colony for the Arts (3), Djerassi Resident Artists Program (2), Ucross Foundation, Ragdale Foundation, Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts (2), Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (2), Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts (2), and Atlantic Center for the Arts (2).
Nakano has guest lectured at the University of California at Berkeley, the University of California at Davis, the University of Texas at Austin, Rutgers University (the State University of New Jersey), Rice University, Claremont Colleges, California State University at San Bernardino, Chapman University, Creighton University, Sheridan College, the University of Western Sydney, Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Seoul National University, Korean National University of the Arts, Ehwa Womans University, Sangmyung University, Pai Chai University, Jeju National University, in South Korea, Shanghai Conservatory of Music in China, Taipei National University of the Arts, Taiwan Normal University, National Taiwan University of Arts, Taipei Municipal University of Education (now the University of Taipei), National Chiao Tung University, Soochow University, Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, Hong Kong Institute of Education, Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music in Singapore, SEGi College in Malaysia, and Royal University of Fine Arts in Cambodia, as well as at Chulalongkorn, Mahidol, Rangsit, Silpakorn, and Payap Universities in Thailand.
In 2012, Nakano was the featured composer for "The Arts Converge - Contemporary Art and Asian Musical Traditions” at Northern Illinois University, where his portrait concert was presented at the School of Music Recital Hall. He was also the guest composer for the 2013 Taipei International New Music Festival in Taiwan, the 2014 ISCM New Music Miami Festival in USA, and the 2014 China-ASEAN Music Festival at Guangxi Arts Institute in China. In 2015, the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players and its artistic director/conductor Steven Schick gave the world premiere of his Time Song V: Mandala at Hertz Hall commissioned by the Jebediah Foundation New Music Commissions as part of the final concert of Project TenFourteen.
In 2015, Nakano was a guest composer for the University of California at Berkeley (Composition Colloquium), the University of California at Davis (Valente Lecture), Rice University (Common Practice 21C: Classical, Contemporary, and Cross-Cultural Music Festival), Guangxi Art Institute (China-ASEAN Music Week), Shanghai Conservatory of Music and its New Music Week, as well as Centennial College and Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. In the fall of 2015, he was a guest composer for the 33rd ACL International Festival & Conference in the Philippines, Sangmyung, Ewha Womans, and Jeju National Universities in Korea. In addition, Nakano was a Guest Professor for the Department of Korean Music at Seoul National University, where he gave a lecture, composition lessons, and a portrait concert of his music.
Nakano currently divides his time between USA and Asia as a composer and an educator. He is the Head of International Affairs in the Faculty of Music and Performing Arts at Burapha University in Thailand, where he also teaches composition as a full-time faculty member. At Burapha, he is also the Director of International Programs for the Annual Music and Performing Arts International Festival, and the Artistic Director of Experimental Thai Music Laboratory for Composers and BUU Asia Pacific Creative Network.
As the co-founder of the Asian Young Musicians’ Connection (AYMC), Nakano promotes new music by commissioning young and emerging composers to create music for worldwide professional musicians for its regular concerts, lectures and workshops. From 2008 to 2012, Nakano was a Fellow Council Member of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. In addition, he served as a committee member of the National Performing Arts Task Force on Diversity in the Performing Arts in 2009.
Nakano received his Bachelor’s Degree in composition with distinction, and Master's Degree in composition with academic honors and distinction, Pi Kappa Lambda, from the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, where he was a scholarship student and studied with Lee Hyla and John Harbison. From 2002 to 2003, he studied with Dutch composer Louis Andriessen in Amsterdam and at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague as the Japanese Government Overseas Study Program Artist. Nakano received his Ph.D. in composition from the University of California at San Diego, where he studied with Chinary Ung under the Gluck Composition Fellowship. From 2008-2012, Nakano served as a Fellow Council member of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.
His recent premieres include: Spring Breathes VI for daegeum and marimba for the Creativity Unlimited Music Festival 2017 at Western Sydney University in Australia;Spring Breathes V for saenghwang, piri and taepyunso and string quartet by gamin and ARZ Ensemble at National Gugak Center in Seoul, South Korea; Spring Breathes - double concerto for ranad ek and khlui/pi-nai and Chinese Orchestra for the closing concert of the 2017 China-ASEAN Music Week at Nanning Royal Palace Hall, China; Spring Breathes IV for Chinese musical instruments by the Little Giant Chamber Chinese Orchestra at National Recital Hall in Taipei, Taiwan.
As a Guest Professor, Nakano has previously taught composition at Taipei National University of the Arts, National Taiwan University of Arts, National Chiao Tung University in Taiwan, and Seoul National University in Korea. During the winter quarter of 2013, he was a visiting faculty to teach World Music Composition at the University of California at Santa Cruz.
In the fall of 2016, Nakano was the Scripps Erma Taylor O’Brien Distinguished Visiting Professor at Scripps College in Claremont in USA, where he gave various lectures at the Claremont Colleges. During his residency, Imagined Sceneries for two sopranos, koto, chamber ensemble and pre-recorded tracks based on "The Tale of Genji" was premiered at Scripps Clark Humanities Museum as par of its Noh Festival.
His current commissions include a new work commissioned by Taipei Chamber Singers for the 2017 Music Unlimited Program; Spring Breathes VII for Japanese, Korean, Chinese and Western instruments with new choreographed Thai dance for the Hong Kong Crossroads Ensemble to be premiered in 2018; and his second opera Spiritual Forest for the Opera Theater Program at California State University, San Bernardino.
Nakano is the Resident Composer for the LotusFlower New Music Project in USA, and a member of ASCAP.