The Japanese pianist and composer, Yuji Takahashi (brother of the innovative pianist Aki Takahashi), studied composition with Minao Shibata and Roh Ogura, and piano with Hiroshi Ito at the Toho School of Music from 1954 to 1958. In 1961, he made a sensational debut at a modern music festival sponsored by the Nippon Broadcasting Company, substituting at the last minute for the regularly scheduled soloist. This marked his emergence as a leading exponent of new piano music. The start of his career as a composer can be traced to 1962 and a piece for electronics and twelve instruments. At about the same time, along with fellow composers Toshi Ichiyanagi and Kenji Kobayashi, he organized an ensemble for new music, the New Directions group.
Sponsored by the Ford Foundation, Yuji Takahashi lived in Berlin from 1963 to 1965, where he studied with Iannis Xenakis. In 1966, supported by a grant from the J. D. Rockefeller III. Fund, he came to New York to study computer music and to attend the summer courses at the Berkshire Music Center at Tangleood from 1966 to 1968. In New York he composed music using computers, and was subsequently a highly visible and influential participant in new music activities in the USA, with appearances at the Berkshire Music Center, the Ravinia Music Festival, the Stratford (Ontario) Festival and The Center for the Creative and Performing Arts at the State University of New York at Buffalo. During this time, he was a soloist with such ensembles as the London Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, Toronto Symphony Orchestra and Buffalo Philharmonic. He gave solo recitals at the Athens Festival, the Stockholm Festival, the Oxford Bach Festival, the Domaine Musical in Paris, the Signaal series in Amsterdam, the Twice Series in Los Angeles, the Princeton Chamber Concerts and the Evenings for New Music and New Images of Sound in New York. In 1966 and 1968 he performed and spoke at the UNESCO International Music Council Congresses in Manila and New York and wrote a work performed at the Japanese Music Pavilion at the 1970 Osaka World’s Fair.
Yuji Takahashi remained in the USA until 1972, teaching piano at Indiana University and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. In 1971, during his residence in San Francisco, he performed 3 of his own electronic works (Time, Yeguen, and Bridges) at one of the first informal concerts (called “Bring Your Own Pillow” at the Hansen Fuller Gallery on Grant Avenue) of what was to become the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players.
For many years, Yuji Takahashi was known, along with only a few other pianists - Tudor, Kontarsky, Helffer, Roger Woodward, Jacobs, Rzewski - as someone able to decipher and play the most difficult new works for piano. Xenakis wrote both Herma and Eonta for Takahashi. Takahashi premiered Herma in Tokyo in February of 1962 and Eonta in December, 1964 in Paris, with Pierre Boulez conducting. Takahashi also gave the premieres of a number of works by Toru Takemitsu - Piano Distance (1961), Corona (1962), Arc (1963), and Asterism (1969) and has written about his relationship with Takemitsu in the 1996 essay “The Life of the Composer”.
Yuji Takahashi has over 100 Japanese releases to his his credit. Among his the recordings as a pianist, are the complete works of Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern and Alban Berg, music by Messiaen (solo pieces, also Visions de la Amen with Peter Serkin), Xenakis, Cage, Rzewski, Na, Cardew, Takemitsu, the Indonesian composer Selamat A. Sjukur, Earle Brown, and Roger Reynolds, also J.S. Bach's Art of the Fugue (BWV 1080) and the E minor Toccata, two volumes of Satie's solo piano music, a Sonata of Wilhelm Friedemann Bach and Marche et Reminiscences pour mon dernier voyage of Rossini. Also important are his recordings, as conductor, of music by Xenakis, Maceda, Sofia Gubaidulina, Zorn and Varese.
Upon his return to Japan in 1972, Yuji Takahashi was involved in organizing and performing with like-minded groups of musicians - the composers’ group tranSonic (along with Takemitsu and Joji Yuasa), in the 1980's, the Suigyu (Water Buffalo) Band, writing and performing Asian protest songs and, in 1999, Ito. He has done much work in recent years with computers in the making of music; in 1989 he appeared at the Macintosh Festival in Tokyo, and in 1991 organized the first Pacific Rim Computer Festival and the Ikebukuro Cyber Café. He has also participated in symposiums and discussions of his work, such as the 19th ISCM Summer Course for Young Composers in Poland in 1999 with Louis Andriessen, the 1999 Tokyo Festival, where he appeared with, among others, the Korean traditional musician and composer Byung-ki Hwang, and the 2003 Northeast Asia Festival in Osaka, where he organized a symposium called “Proposals from East Asia” with the Chinese composer Xiao-song Qu and the Korean composer Hyo-shin Na. In 1997, he was composer in residence at the Pacific Music Festival in Sapporo, where numerous works of his were played, many of them by young musicians, and where he performed as pianist and conductor.
In his music Yuji Takahashi follows the stochastic procedures as practiced by Xenakis. His musical/political activities have connected him personally and musically with composers like Frederic Rzewski, Cornelius Cardew and Christian Wolff. His work here has borne fruit in many pieces, among them: For You I Sing This Song, written in 1976 (for the American bi-centennial) for the group TASHI. Kwangju, May 1980, written to accompany the slides by Taeko Tomiyama, as a memorial to those who died in the uprising of the Korean city of Kwangju against the dictatorship of Chun Doo-whan. The piece also exists in a version for orchestra.