Flautist Yuki Isami: A Taste of Classical, Japanese and Rock Instrumentals

woman in red dress playing flute Yuki Isami at the Montreal International Jazz Festival

“Une image vaut mille mots” is a French expression meaning a picture is worth a thousand words. Rearranging the saying, I asked Japanese flautist Yuki Isami one term that best represents her recently released debut single “Rives”, and she gave me the word “Déplacement”. Akin to how water flows freely along shores, “déplacement” embodies a similar freedom of movement, precisely the cultural exchange between Western composers and Japanese music. “Rives”, where land meets water, therefore mirrors the dynamics and influential exchanges that occur upon contact, similar to how water carves out magical sceneries and wonderful landscapes in the bosom of mother nature.   

“I enjoy the sound of my instrument, [it makes me] feel happy and good, and I want to share these feelings”, she says. It is no overstatement to say such feelings reached the entire audience at her show held during the final week of the 2024 Montreal International Jazz Festival. At first, only a group of adults stood right behind the barricades, but soon enough a little girl rushed into the front crowd. She had squeezed her way into the first row with great difficulty, only to run back to the other end. Was she bored? It seemed likely, given that most children can’t seem to find satisfaction in traditional leisure activities nowadays… Such thoughts were quickly disrupted by her scream. An irritating whine? No. It went like this: “Come over there! The view is much better here!” The shout was filled with excitement and amazement, and in an instant, she ran back to the barricades, now giving a piggyback ride to a younger child. She stood there, looking tall and strong, and despite her small frame, carried the girl during the show, for the stage was too elevated to see anything.

Accompanied by pianist Natsuki Hiratsuka and percussionist Ian Lettre, Yuki Isami performed outdoors, amidst the heat and bursting festivity of the afternoon. She took the stage in a floral kimono and left in a beautiful, elegant red dress, seamlessly blending traditional Japanese and Western instrumentals into a dynamic show. The kimono wasn’t merely for visuals. As a student at the Conservatoire de Musique de Montréal, Yuki Isami had baroque, classical, modern and contemporary musical styles integrated into her curriculum. “When I played the modern flute, it was always in a dress, and I thought it would be interesting to change it up, to discover not only the music and the instrument but also where it originated from.” The kimono added a dimension to the show, which Ms. Isami enhanced by sharing with the audience the history and culture of Japan through the title of her tracks: “Kusatsu is very famous for hot springs, and with heat, the water underground comes out to this magnificent region. There are a lot of minerals in the water, which makes this destination famous for hot springs. […] ‘Moisonniers de Miyazaki’ refers to the repetitive movement in labour. The labourers used to sing the melody of this song while working.”

When Yuki Isami plays the flute, she herself seems animated by the music, and such a magnificent stage presence is a testament to the turning point in her musical career. “I used to only play classical music. Then, in 2008, I started playing traditional Japanese instruments. I became part of TEKE::TEKE, a rock band, which taught me the art of being on stage, and connecting with the audience”, reveals the Japanese flautist. She isn’t implying that there is no interaction in classical music, rather it is more discrete—People applause, that’s all. In rock, however, the public is more dynamic. There is intensity in both the vocals and body movements. “Rock acquired me a stage presence”, reveals the artist. “Before, I used to be shyer and more reserved. I think I was a bit scared to be criticized by the public but now, I see things differently. People come to listen to have a good time, just like me.”

In a reflection on her journey as a professional flautist, Yuki Isami leaves for aspiring artists a valuable piece of advice. “The education I received at the Conservatoire defined success as winning the audition at a symphony orchestra, and securing the job, so I aimed for that. But it didn’t happen right away”, begins the flautist. “I just won two years ago; it’s very recent. It took me many trials.” Her secret? Ms. Isami did not turn down the projects that came her way. During her audition period, she also explored Japanese music and rock, which turned out to be two new additions that eventually shaped her music style, and even career. “Stay flexible and open to the opportunities”, she concludes.

Yuki Isami played as part of the Montreal International Jazz Fest. To find out about next year’s festival, keep an eye out HERE.

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