Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
My mum had lots of LPs at home and as a child I was not only fascinated by the music but also by the machine. It was fun to put the big disc on it and listen to the incredible world of sound which came out. The piano was always at home, and I don’t remember any minute without it. Music always felt like “home” and while I had other dreams later on – like to be an astronaut or film director – I just couldn’t imagine anything other than a musical life.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
The recording of all the Beethoven piano sonatas. While I’m sure I will record them some time again, it was a great learning experience to study each one of them while I’m young. Starting performing as a child, I think my 20s were particularly difficult. The transition of being seen as a young pianist to a real, grown-up artist is hard. To record the Beethoven Sonatas was part of growing up.
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
My latest CD and the whole Four Elements project. It was the first time I didn’t concentrate on a particular composer for a recording and chose a concept-driven theme instead. I was always a bookworm, so I loved to look for poems and literature which have inspired the pieces, and to find all the influences and connections between composers where you didn’t expect them, and to tell all these stories through the music.
Which particular works do you think you perform best?
I feel at home with Viennese Classic and German Romantics. I also play Japanese pieces of the 20th century and premiere new pieces by Japanese composers sometimes. I moved away from Japan when I was 10 years old, so many things, like themes based in Buddhism and Japanese tradition, are often very fresh to me, but I still find my roots in those pieces.
What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?
I like to travel very much. For example, for Four Elements Vol. 1: Water, more than half of the pieces on the disc was written in, or inspired by the “city of water”, Venice. I had to go there and be inspired myself, and I loved it! To see the beauty of water, to feel the atmosphere at night, ride on a gondola, there are things you only can feel when you are there.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
I’d rather not think for one season but a series of programmes 4 or 5 years ahead with a concept. A clear goal is then far ahead and I can plan accordingly.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
I’m very proud that Japan has many wonderful concert venues. I always feel at home and inspired when I play in Suntory Hall in Tokyo.
What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?
I think it’s important to make music available in different platforms but in the end it comes down to the quality: any difficult piece is enjoyable when the performance is good, or you give the audience a clear background or a story to understand, so an unknown, seemingly difficult piece can also be a gateway to classical music. Overall, I want people not to forget the greatness of listening to live music. To share the music with other people, to be moved by it and have a memory you treasure for life, is incomparable to any other experience.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Since all the cancellations due to COVID-19, to be able to play with other musicians, or in front of an audience, which was something so usual before, seems to be even more precious than ever. I remember the moment last year when I came onto the stage and saw the audience for the first time after 4 months, I suddenly got very emotional and couldn’t hold back my tears.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
My answer is to both questions.
I think the priority changes while you get older. When I was younger, I tried so hard to advance my career, and it seemed “successful” to have many concerts and to be busy, but actually it was something very empty. To be successful also had nothing to do with happiness. When I was about 18 and just touring alone, playing mostly only solo concerts, I felt very lonely, even if I never ceased to like playing concerts.
Over the years, I learned that it’s important to come to a halt and to think, what is it that I really want to do, what are my goals…and that I only feel real success when I prepared the most and I did the best I could for the music I love. It’s always about the music and the people you share it with. I think there is no perfect happiness, but sometimes, when you are playing chamber music with friends, there is a moment of joy for the music you play, which is I think comes closest to perfect happiness.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
To stay true to yourself, and enjoy the music…it seems like something so simple, but it’s not to be taken for granted.
Wind, the latest in Yu Kosuge’s Four Elements series, is available now on the Orchid Classics label.
With her superlative technique, sensitivity of touch, and profound understanding of the music she plays, Yu Kosuge has become one of the world’s most noted pianists of her generation. Yu has been giving recitals and performing with orchestras since early childhood; at the age of nine she made her debut with the Tokyo New City Orchestra. In 1993, she moved to Europe to continue her studies in Hannover and Salzburg and received great support and inspiration from András Schiff.
Artist photo: Marco Borggreve