Musical Connections with Cellist Eru Matsumoto

Eru Matsumoto
Video game and anime music have long struggled to find a place within the realms of what is considered “serious” music and Eru Matsumoto probably realizes this more than most. As the principal cellist for the rePlay Symphony of Heroes video game concert at Anime Expo as well as a soloist who performed selections from Sword Art Online, Eru Matsumoto was careful to affirm her love for classical music, but also stress that music, in all its forms, should serve to connect with the audience.

In my conversation with cellist Eru Matsumoto at Anime Expo, the theme of “forging connections through music” was one that came up repeatedly. From the beginning, her interest in the cello laid the foundation upon which Eru’s musical threads would be initially stiched. But it was her passion and persistence that would ultimately allow her to reinforce those threads, thereby linking them together into a rich and meaningful tapestry.

Indeed, Eru’s love for the cello seemed to have been preordained. When I asked her about her musical start, she reminisced, saying, “I started playing the cello when I was six years old. Both of my parents were not musicians, so I was the one who asked them to let me play the cello. I don’t even know how I learned about it, but I remember asking them every day and they didn’t want me to play it. But when I said ‘cello’ in my dreams, they were finally convinced and found a cello teacher as well as a cello for me to play on.”

While Eru had done other activities like ballet, painting, and piano, the cello captivated her and her interest grew to where becoming a cellist seemed all but inevitable. This level of dedication would spur her on to try out for and successfully enroll in the Juilliard School’s Pre-College program.

For readers who might not be familiar with Juilliard, it’s the top music conservatory in the US and one of the top programs in the world. Getting into Juilliard is like the non-musician’s equivalent of getting into Harvard, except that the process is even more competitive. First, applicants have to send a recording and then, if they’re selected, have to audition in front of a panel of Juilliard professors. Sometimes as many as 4,000 people will apply for the audition, but only 5 will be selected. These stats did not deter Eru however. Her affinity for the cello was strong, and after her audition, she was selected to study under cellist David Soyer.

For a young, aspiring musician, Juilliard proved to be a rich, collaborative environment. Eru explained that Juilliard students were routinely picked to play at events like the Olympics or work on popular TV shows and movies. For Eru, graduating from Juilliard gave her opportunities to perform at venues like Carnegie Hall and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. But for all the music she’s performed, the rePlay Symphony of Heroes concert would mark her first live performance of video game music.

“Well, I first got invited to perform at Anime Expo. We’d been talking throughout the year and everyone was giving out ideas and we thought it’d be cool to have an orchestra involved.”

With this plan under way, I was most curious about her reaction to this opportunity. Given Juilliard’s tendency to focus on more serious forms of art music, where would newer media (relatively speaking) like video games stand in the eyes of serious musicians like herself?

“I feel like all music is the same because it’s an expression of love and making music is a part of me so I really enjoy doing everything and I’m lucky to have these opportunities.” If this passion for embracing music in all its forms wasn’t apparent enough through her performance at rePlay, a quick dig through her YouTube account shows her playing Adele’s “Someone Like You” as well as Les Miz‘s “I Dreamed a Dream.”

That there are barriers in getting a new medium like video game music to be more widely accepted remain, but those barriers are being chipped away slowly. After all, it took orchestras awhile to embrace movie music and video game music will also have to go through similar pains in getting accepted. That said, Eru’s decision to perform video game music is less out of a desire to blaze new trails; it’s borne out of a far simpler desire: “I like to perform different kinds of music and I love using music as a medium to connect with audiences. I hope to spread what I respect, change people’s opinions, and influence the world in a good way.”

Before the interview closed out, we played a little game where I’d name a musician and she’d tell me what she thought of them. This was certainly an unorthodox activity, but probably the most revealing as she shared quite a bit about the three musicians I named:

  • Seiji Ozawa: For those who don’t know him, Japan’s best-known conductor. Here’s what Eru had to say: “I met him at a festival. He’s so unique in that when he’s conducting, it’s as though he’s living the music. The first time I met him was at Tanglewood and I draw a lot of inspiration from him. I would like to be able to connect with music just like he does, especially in the way he expresses music with his whole body.”
  • Midori: Because I attended USC where Midori teaches, I was curious to know what Eru had to say about one of the world’s best-known violinists. In her words, “I respect her so much, especially because of how she debuted when she was so young. I really admire her commitment, not only to her music, but to her charities. Overall, she’s so strong and determined that, even when she’s walking, she gives off this aura of knowing where she’s going. She’s so bright and has had this determination since she was very young.”
  • Joe Hisaishi: But of the three, my favorite response was when I asked her about Joe Hisaishi. At the mention of his name, her eyes lit up as she exclaimed, “Oh my gosh! He’s one of my favorite composers and all of his works are so amazing!” And then, she continued, “I really love playing his Okuribito theme. They had the idea of him collaborating for this concert at AX, but it didn’t go through. Still, it would be a dream of mine to collaborate with his music.”

    Seeing that most anime fans associate Hisaishi with Hayao Miyazaki’s films, I wondered how she felt about the partnership. She replied by saying, “I feel like the movies are really great but I connect to them through the music. On the whole, I really liked Totoro and Laputa, but musically, I absolutely love everything. I can think of themes from each movie that I love. The music is so different and so new, but his style and characteristics are so identifiable. My favorites include ‘The Dragon Boy’ from Spirited Away. Ponyo‘s music also has these atmospheric themes that are really good and remind me of Ravel’s ‘Daphnis and Chloe’. The Princess Mononoke soundtrack is also amazing. Hisaishi creates emotion and that’s the most important thing. We have the strong attachment to the movie because of the music.”

Her wish to connect with and instill new experiences unto her audience is what drives her forward. For Eru Matsumoto, she closed out our interview by saying, “Music really changes the world and is a part of our life and can’t be separated. I just hope to be as good an influence as possible and connect with every generation. The Sunday concert is a new kind of experience for everyone, including the whole orchestra. It’ll be so amazing and I hope people will enjoy it!”

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Anime Instrumentality's Founder and Editor-in-Chief. As you can probably guess, I'm a big anime music junkie with a special love for composers who've put out some beautiful melodies to accompany some of my favorite anime series. I tend to gravitate towards music in the classical style with Joe Hisaishi and Yoko Kanno being a few of my favorite composers, but I've come to appreciate jazz and rock as anime music has widened my tastes.

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