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Writing for Biwa

Free composition workshop with Japanese biwa performer, Akiko Kubota.

In March 2024, internationally-acclaimed Japanese biwa performer Akiko Kubota will be touring the UK with 'On an Endless Road: Itō Noe and the Women Composers of her Time', presented by Hera in assocation with Illuminate Women's Music. She will perform a new piece written for her by British composer Francesca Le Lohé.

As part of the tour, the Writing for Biwa workshop with Akiko and Francesca offers the unique opportunity for composers to engage with the biwa first-hand.

About Writing for Biwa

The 'Writing for Biwa' workshop offers 4 composers the chance to try out new music for the satsuma biwa, a Japanese string instrument originally played by samurai. 

Here's a little preview of 'On an Endless Road' by Francesca Le Lohé in rehearsal in Japan in December 2023.

After an online introduction to the instrument, each composer will be invited to write <2 minutes of material to be workshopped by Akiko Kubota in an in-person session facilitated by specialist composer Francesca Le Lohé in Manchester on Friday 8th March 2024. There will be an opportunity to rework the material in light of the session, before a final online workshop in April. 

There are also up to 12 spaces available for composers, musicians and/or researchers who wish to observe the workshop sessions.

The 'Writing for Biwa' workshop and the 'On an Endless Road: Itō Noe and the Women Composers of her Time' concert are part of MUSICA festival at the University of Manchester.

About Akiko & Francesca

Akiko Kubota is a satsuma biwa performer from Chiba prefecture, Japan. Her wide range of activities include performing narrative songs from the biwa's classic repertoire, collaborating with theatre groups, playing contemporary music with instrumental ensembles and featuring on anime and TV soundtracks. Akiko has performed extensively across Asia, South America and Europe and performed Takemitsu Toru's concerto "November Steps" for biwa and shakuhachi with the Brussels Philharmonic and Shanghai Symphony Orchestra. 

Francesca Le Lohé is a composer active in Japan and the UK. Her operas include: “How Was It For You?” (2022) and "THE KEY": an immersive, site-specific opera inspired by Tanizaki's novella which was awarded the prestigious 2019 “Keizo Saji Prize”. On receiving a 2015 Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation Scholarship, Francesca relocated to Japan to study Japanese language and 3 Japanese instruments, including satsuma biwa. She is now based in London. 

Who is it for?

This workshop is aimed at artists with an enthusiasm for intercultural exchange and a strong interest in collaboration. We will prioritise applications from those who have not had the opportunity to work with biwa or other Japanese instruments before. 

Participating composers should have at least 2 years experience or be currently enrolled on an undergraduate or postgraduate music course. There is no upper age limit and mid career and experienced composers are very welcome. Composers working in all musical styles are welcome to participate, however please note that applicants will be asked to submit a score in either 5-line stave notation or as a graphic score with their application. The piece should reflect their current practice and interests and can be for any instrument or small ensemble. 

Participation in the workshops is fully-funded. However participants are responsible for their own travel costs. If the cost of public transport is a barrier to participation then please contact us to see if we can help.

Hera is a disabled-led, intersectional feminist organisation. This workshop is open to all genders. We actively encourage applicants from underrepresented backgrounds, including artists from the Global Majority and working class, LGBTQ+, and d/Deaf, neurodivergent and/or disabled artists. The workshop will take place in a wheelchair accessible space, and we will do anything else we can to make it accessible to you. Please contact Toria ( to discuss any adjustments you might need, or to share your access rider. This will not affect the consideration of your application, and Toria will not take part in the selection process. 

Details & Schedule

Monday 22nd January: applications open

Friday 2nd February 11.59pm: applications close 

Friday 9th February: applicants notified of results 

Monday 12th February: 10 - 11am, Q&A session for participating composers only with Akiko Kubota and Francesca Le Lohé - held online. An introduction to the biwa video, notation guidelines and other supporting materials will be shared with composers and observers. 

Friday 23rd February: deadline to submit scores in pdf format (scores must be in either 5-line stave notation or a graphic score)

Friday 8th March: 

Afternoon: 'Writing for Biwa' workshop at the University of Manchester, Martin Harris Centre

time tbc. Each composer will have 30 minutes to workshop their ideas with Akiko Kubota, guided by Francesca Le Lohé. 

7.30pm: 'On an Endless Road: Ito Noe and the Women Composers of her Time' concert at Cosmo Rodewald Hall, Martin Harris Centre.

March - April 2024: Composers are invited to make amendments and re-submit their short pieces (<3 minutes) for a final online workshop with Akiko and Francesca in April.

Monday 8th April: deadline to submit revised works 


Mid - late April: Final 'Writing for Biwa' workshop (online). Each composer will have 30 minutes to workshop their pieces with Akiko Kubota, guided by Francesca Le Lohé. 

How to apply

To apply as a composer or as an observer, please fill out the application form:

Application deadline: Friday 2nd February 2024 11.59pm 

The application will ask you to answer the following:

  1. Why do you want to take part in/observe the 'Writing for Biwa’ workshops? (<200 words) 

  2. Tell us a little bit about your current artistic/research practice and interests. (<200 words)

  3. Tell us a little bit about where you are in your career as a composer (we do not need your full CV but would like to know a bit about your experience including recent highlights); and a little about what you would like your next steps to be. (participants only, <250 words)

  4. Submit a score and if possible, a recording (participants only)

Applicants will be selected jointly by Francesca Le Lohe and Linda Hirst (joint Artistic Director of Hera), based on the answers to these questions and the quality of the work submitted. If you would prefer to submit a video answering these questions, there is an option on the application form to include a URL. Please ensure that any video submitted does not require a password. 

If you have any questions or encounter any difficulties completing the form, please email

We look forward to receiving your application!


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