In July 2006, Brian Mitsuhiro Wong, an American of Japanese and Chinese descent, won the "Grand Prix" award with the highest score on his exams for his teaching credentials from the Sawai Soukyokuin Koto Conservatory in Tokyo, Japan, surpassing many Japanese native candidates. Brian was tested in vocal and instrumental performance, classical and contemporary koto works, shamisen (3-stringed Japanese lute), Japanese music theory and music history, sight reading, sight singing, and tuning accuracy. In 2007, he recorded his first album, “Brian Mitsuhiro Wong plays the Koto”.
Brian continues a brilliant legacy of koto performance in America that spans three generations, and has roots in the internment camps of World War II. Brian’s grandmother learned to play koto as a little girl at Topaz camp in Utah and Tule Lake camp in California while incarcerated with her family during WWII. A generation later, Brian’s mother, Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto, also a koto musician, taught Brian how to play the koto from the age of 4. At the age of 16, Brian attended a concert by master koto performer Kazue Sawai. Sawai Sensei’s performance was dynamic and exciting. Brian was inspired by her performance, and was inspired to continue his studies at the Sawai Soukyokuin in Tokyo, Japan under Kazue Sawai’s tutelage.
In June 2007, Brian also earned his Bachelor of Arts in Music Composition at California State University East Bay, or CSUEB, in Hayward, California. He has written works for western and eastern instruments. He studied jazz saxophone there which carried over to playing jazz koto.
Brian has traveled to Montreux, Umbria and Vienne Jazz Festivals in Europe with the CSUEB Band, and also performed on koto with them. He taught koto classes at UC Berkeley and local public schools with his mother, Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto. Brian has performed at Yoshi's Jazz Club with the Murasaki Ensemble and the CSUEB jazz ensembles, and with the Oaktown Jazz Workshop with guest Pete Escovedo. He has performed in concert with koto masters Kazue Sawai and Hikaru Sawai, as well as local koto masters Shoko Hikage, Tamie Kooyenga, Michiyo Koga and his mother, Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto.
In 2010, Brian and his mother recorded their first mother and son koto album “Oyako Don Koto” (because Brian likes the Japanese dish Oyako donburi, which is a chicken and egg dish). The album includes original works written by Brian and Shirley, and also works from their respective koto schools, Sawai and Chikushi. Brian plays traditional and jazz koto as well as jazz saxophone.
In December 2019, Brian became the second koto performer from outside of Japan to qualify as a contestant in the prestigious Kenjun Koto Competition in Kurume, Japan.
Brian also plays classical shamisen (3-stringed Japanese lute) as well as the shakuhachi (bamboo flute). He has trained on the shakuhachi with Kaoru Kakizakai, Robin Hartshorne, Shigeo Tachibana and Kanow Matsueda.
During the pandemic, Brian continued to keep busy playing koto and shakuhachi in virtual concerts. In 2020, Brian was a featured artist in the virtual series, “NextGen Geijutsuka: Future Stars of Japanese Cultural Arts”, sponsored by SF Japantown Business Association and Berkeley JACL (Japanese American Citizens League). This year, Brian performed on bass koto and shakuhachi with the SF Symphony for their virtual “Currents” series which features his mom, Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto, and will be released later this year. He also performed for the Consulate General of Japan in San Francisco in February.