How did your journey to becoming a professional musician start?
I was living in New York as a small child, and like many Japanese children, I started the piano aged 5. Living in NY, I was blessed with the opportunities to listen to world-class artists at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, and my parents took me to them as much as possible. I heard Pollini, Midori, Richard Goode, Brendel, etc etc. I was accepted to The Juilliard School Pre-College Division aged 10, and this changed my view of the music world. I was surrounded by so-called prodigies- Sarah Chang, Gil Shaham, Midori, etc- many of whom have become top artists today. This was most stimulating and it definitely spurred my dreams and ambitions to become a professional musician.
Who were the most influential people in your development as a musician?
My teacher at Juilliard, the late Richard Fabre helped me expand my repertoire and learn many different styles. Mikako Abe in Tokyo, who I studied with for 10 years since age 12, grounded me with the basic techniques and the attitude to pursue deeply for the truth. In my twenties, Jan Marisse Huizing, in Amsterdam opened my eyes and ears to a myriad of historical recordings, which profoundly changed my interpretations, and Dominique Merlet in Paris helped me finish off my training and become a complete musician.
What is your favourite part of performing? Some artists say it’s the preparation leading up to a performance or the rush during the performance. What’s yours?
I think it is a combination of both the process in preparing for a performance and the feeling during the performance. I hardly have any experience of playing well when I wasn’t prepared - so I enjoy the preparation just as much, if not more than the actual performance. But, the actual performance always leaves me wanting more and improving, or doing it all over again.
The inevitable deserted island question… You’re on a deserted island with your instrument and you can only have 5 pieces of music. What are they?
This is a difficult one! The Chopin Nocturnes, the Beethoven Sonatas, the Debussy Images (Book I), the Kapustin Etudes Op.40 and the Schubert Sonatas. Maybe this is a cheat answer as there are 21 Chopin Nocturnes, 32 Beethoven Sonatas, 8 Kapustin Etudes....
In a concert setting, what is your definition of success?
When I am able to maintain focus throughout, even with small mistakes. This is after having done thorough preparation, of course! Also, when I can hear, sense and feel the audience’s full attention, I know I have them engaged completely.
Which composer's work do you feel you perform best and why?
Chopin, Schumann, Schubert, Debussy. This past year, Beethoven (I don’t know if I perform him the best, but I absolutely adore immersing myself in his music), and more contemporary composers such as Nikolai Kapustin and female composers such as Amy Beach.
For someone of any age who is thinking of learning a musical instrument, what are some words of advice you have for them?
Persistence, perseverance and discipline will take you far! Of course, within reason and without losing the enjoyment! Once the enjoyment goes, it is very difficult to motivate oneself. And receive good coaching when you can, as bad habits are often more difficult to undo.
What do you do in your everyday life (off the stage or out of the studio) that provides inspiration for your performances?
Reading, watching films, listening voraciously to all genres of music, chatting with friends, meditating, going for walks.
In scary or unsure times, what keeps you going?
Music in all forms - playing, listening (for work and pleasure), teaching etc.
What do you think needs to be done to grow classical music audiences?
Classical music needs to be accessible and lose the somewhat snobby and exclusive stigma. There are many renowned artists doing this at the moment- by communicating with their fans through social media, such as violinists Ray Chen, Hilary Hahn and Nicky Benedetti, pianists such as Boris Giltburg and Igor Levit (and even Evgeny Kissin!). They offer down-to-earth practise tips, post interesting and educational videos (sometimes funny ones too!), and generally just being human. I think this is a wonderful and effective way to engage with, especially younger audiences.