We get to know the Oscar-winning music maestro, who is in town for a sold-out concert with his friend and long-time collaborator, Shiro Takatani, at this year’s Singapore International Festival of Arts

1 / 5

He connects with his audience by sharing what he feels on stage

Within the first hour of the ticket launch of this year’s Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA) in February, all 200 seats to Ryuichi Sakamoto’s one-night only performance, Fragments, on May 28 were completely snapped up, along with the extra 40 seats added later. If you are wondering why the Esplanade Theatre will not be filled to capacity, the request to keep the audience size small came straight from the Japanese musician himself.

“I would love for my audience to feel what I feel on stage—that’s why I have to limit the audience [numbers], unfortunately,” explains Sakamoto during a group interview with local media on Thursday. For the lucky few who managed to get tickets, an intimate experience awaits, as audience members will be invited to join the maestro on stage during the performance.

2 / 5

He has a greater appreciation for the little things in life following his cancer battle

Sakamoto’s battle with stage three throat cancer, which was diagnosed in 2014, kept him away from music. Even listening to music was “too hard for me—maybe because music is too important to me. To enjoy it requires a certain amount of energy, and I lost a lot of it during [that time]”. 

He later transposed this life-changing experience into the beautiful compositions in his 2017 album async. For his Singapore concert, the Oscar-winning composer will be playing pieces from this deeply personal album, along with newer works, offering the audience an introspective reflection on the fragility of life.

The painful experience has also led him to become more appreciative of the little things in life. He shares, “After the harsh period of treatment, I had a normal Japanese meal at home in New York, and I was so happy to be able to do normal things.”

3 / 5

He first met frequent collaborator Shiro Takatani almost 30 years ago at a concert in Osaka, before the friendship was sealed at a drag entertainment show

In Fragments, Sakamoto’s astute mastery of sound will be further heightened by the cinematic visuals of his friend and long-time collaborator, Shiro Takatani, who is the founder of the Japanese art collective, Dumb Type.

The multimedia artist expounds, “I first met Mr. Sakamoto in 1990 through a [mutual] friend at his [the latter’s] concert. After the concert, we headed to a special drag event in Osaka.” Sakamoto exclaims “It was the craziest party I have ever seen in my life—it was so different, I thought it felt like the city of Madrid!”

The friendship stuck and the duo went on to work together in a creative partnership that has spanned decades. Among them is a performance installation called dis.play in 2018, presented in Metz, France, as well as Silence Spins in 2012, which was presented at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo.

At this year’s SIFA, Takatani will also be presenting a performance-installation, ST/LL, on May 24 and 25 at the Esplanade Theatre. This meditation on silence, which will unfold on a multimedia stage, is accompanied by the music of Sakamoto.

4 / 5

He has an intimate relationship with the piano

"I first touched the piano three years after I was born, and since then, it has always been with me,” Sakamoto explains. “However, the huge tsunami of 2011 affected me so much and changed my relationship with the piano. The disaster forced me to rethink about what nature and human civilisation are; I looked at the piano and thought that it was an assembly of wood, iron and some plastics that humans made. When it was destroyed by the tsunami, the natural materials—wood and iron—returned back to nature and it destroyed the artificial roots of the scales of the piano. I'm a musician and the instruments are very important. When I saw pictures of the instrumental wreckage done by the disaster, it shook my heart very much and it was very painful to see.”

5 / 5

He is constantly fascinated by the unknown

Unknown items, people, places, feelings and sounds—these are just some of the things that fascinate Sakamoto in his daily life. Calling himself a “hungry man with lots of curiosities", the maestro is fascinated by things that he has never seen or learned before. 

(Related: Gaurav Kripalani Steers The Singapore International Festival Of Arts In A New Direction)

The Singapore International Festival of Arts 2019 takes place till June 2.

© 2022 Tatler Asia Limited. All rights reserved.