Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and pursue a career in music?
My mother introduced me to classical music – she took me to have a portrait photo taken playing the piano when I was three years old. That was the starting point, and she has continued to encourage and support my music making throughout my life. I was also encouraged by my very first teacher in a local town in Oita prefecture where we lived, and I decided very early on, at about the age of five, that I was going to be a concert pianist!
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
I was very fortunate to see many of the greatest artists visiting Japan in those days – not just pianists but orchestras and conductors as well. They produced a different sort of sound to the people around me, and I wanted to find out more about “what is this?” I also loved going to the ballet – we had all the top visiting companies from Europe and Russia. Later, on leaving Japan firstly for the US and then to the UK, I was finally able to experience first-hand the culture and traditions of western classical music.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
Practice is one of the greatest challenges for any musician! On a daily basis I have to sit at the piano and not just prepare my programmes but constantly look for development and improvements, and try to find better ways of producing – and communicating – the music to my satisfaction.
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
Not deliberately, but probably sub-consciously, I think that I put off programming the Goldberg Variations for a long time. I finally took the plunge in 2016, and as well as being relieved I was actually quite pleased with the result. So now I am preparing to record in summer 2017, and have more performances arranged next year, including Hebden Bridge Piano Festival and Southbank Centre.
Still memorable for me is my debut recital at the Wigmore Hall. I played the late Schubert B flat Sonata in the second half, with Japanese music by Yoichi Togawa in the first half.
Which particular works do you think you play best?
This is a really difficult question! But I do really enjoy playing Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata, and included it on my first CD for Quartz Music. I also feel a strong affinity with many Japanese composers, Takemitsu of course and others such as Somei Satoh, Maki Ishii. Playing their music always gives me a taste of my home country – it is difficult to say what exactly, sometimes it is the understated emotions, other times I can just smell the fields of the countryside!
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
I try to find themes to follow throughout a season, so that the repertoire is connected. Not necessarily historically but emotionally – contrast and variety in programmes is important of course, but not too much otherwise a concert loses that sense of connection. For example, I have recently been playing Haydn’s Andante con Variazioni followed by Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata – they are in the same key and also thematically very similar, which you would normally avoid but somehow it works very well!
For 2018/19, I am really looking forward to celebrating the life and work of Clara Schumann, lots of exciting plans in the pipeline – not just solo recitals but chamber concerts and concertos, replicating performances of some of her favourite works in the places she lived or visited often.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
I am so lucky to be playing again next season at Kings Place (with the Carducci Quartet) and I am also really looking forward to returning to the newly refurbished Purcell Room. But what really matters to me is a venue that creates the right space for communication with the audience, which can happen anywhere.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Another hard question! A truly memorable experience for me was for the very opening season of Cadogan Hall, I gave a chamber music concert for wind quintet and piano with “Principals of Sound” who were then the principal players of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra: John Anderson, Andrew Nicholson, Michael Whight, Daniel Jemison and Martin Owen – they are all now doing other wonderful things, but we sometimes manage a reunion!
I am also really proud of the special project “Ensemble Tozai” for Japan 2001, which is a combination of Japanese traditional and western musicians. We toured all around the country, the most memorable experience being at the Royal Pavilion for the Brighton Festival, where we premiered “Toru’s Mist”, commissioned from Gavin Bryars.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
Of course we all need endurance and dedication to succeed. But sometimes, success can be measured on a more everyday level – like dealing with a less than perfect piano, or resisting the urge to run away just before the start of the concert!
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Always remember that you have to communicate the composer’s music to the audience. We have to produce colours so strong and vivid that they can see them, just like a painting.