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Alumnus Kento Iwasaki Spans Genres and Cultures as Composer and Performer
Iwasaki to Return to MCCC’s Kelsey Theatre to Present Children’s Opera Sept. 24


West Windsor, N.J. – Composer and musician Kento Iwasaki ’09 (Liberal Arts/Music) creates music that spans genres, cultures and centuries.
Just recently, he performed dreamy, improvised Japanese koto music for a program about Mars at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. On Sept. 24, he will bring “Beloved Prey,” a children’s opera based on classic Japanese Noh theater, to Mercer County Community College’s (MCCC’s) Kelsey Theatre. The one-hour, six-musician opera blends traditional Japanese instrumentation, stylized dance movements, and colorful costumes and masks in a mesmerizing story about an unusual friendship between a lioness and the antelope she takes under her wing.

Iwasaki is delighted to be returning to MCCC with The Traveling Opera Company. “I hope to introduce young theater goers to a variety of influences and give them a memorable theater experience,” he said.

A graduate of West Windor-Plainsboro High School North, Iwasaki says he enrolled at MCCC in 2007 for all the typical reasons – it was convenient and affordable.  And, he was facing the same challenges that many community college students do. He worked full- and part-time jobs and was juggling family responsibilities while attending college.

What he has done since, however, is anything but typical.

After earning his associate degree in Liberal Arts with a concentration in Music, Iwasaki transferred to Temple University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in Music Composition. He then completed his master’s in Classical Composition from the Manhattan School of Music.

These days Iwasaki is putting all that talent together as a freelance composer, music instructor and opera company director.

Iwasaki’s “portable opera” concept is drawing lots of attention and praise. It was recently featured on JapanCulture•NYC, New York City’s No. 1 blog for Japanese culture. He performed songs from “Beloved Prey” at the Ikebana International’s AKI NO KOKORO: Autumn Portraits in Ikebana & Koto at NYC’s Kitano Hotel last October.

Kento Iwasaki playing koto, a traditional Japanese harp. In the background is a mural from his traveling opera, "Beloved Prey," which will be presented at Kelsey Theatre Sept. 24.

Another view of Iwasaki playing the koto during a performance of "Beloved Prey."

And, “Beloved Prey” is just one of Iwasaki’s many projects. As a composer, he collaborates with choreographers, scriptwriters, lyricists, and directors.  As a koto player, he performs his own music and works with improvisers to create music in the moment.  (Koto is a traditional 13-string Japanese harp.)

He is also the music director of Opera-tunity, a children’s opera company that annually creates and performs new children’s operas in the West Haven (Conn.) school district. He was the composer of JYOU EN, a Yukio Mishima-inspired dance drama set in the Edo period, produced by unShout the Noise and performed in the Theatre of the New City. His music was selected by dancer Geisha Kikuno for the first Geisha performance in New York in 20 years.
Known for pushing the stylistic envelope, Iwasaki maintains that his music is grounded in the classics, including fugues and traditional Japanese works, but is also influenced by electronica and avant garde modern sounds. His compositional work has been praised for challenging listeners with its technical virtuosity, while drawing them in with melody and simplicity.

Currently a resident of Queens, Iwasaki has moved multiple times in his life. He says he has a special interest in cross-cultural communication.  “I keep my influences broad to ensure that I reach a variety of audiences with deep experiences of emotion."

Iwasaki recalls his years at Mercer as pivotal for things to come. “Many professors had a big impact on me. Professor of English Carol Bork taught me how to think and write critically, and introduced me to Mercer’s Honors program. Music instructors Jim Kelly [now retired] had a passion for both jazz and classical music history and theory. Dr. Mark Jurcisin also had a great influence on my musical development.  There are countless others who helped me learn and grow,” he said.

He says his Mercer education provided a strong foundation in music and a variety of other subjects. “Instruction in music and writing helped my career very much. The classes I took at MCCC also transferred well.”

For Iwasaki, the one-on-one office hours with his MCCC professors were precious, as were his interactions with fellow students in the Honors program. “Many professors supported me and other students who were pursuing intellectual interests and going the extra mile with our studies,” he recalled.

He advises current students to seek out like-minded classmates whenever possible. “It’s invaluable to have a community that supports your educational pursuits and allows you the freedom to explore.”

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Glenn Kraft