官方網站 Noriko Ogawa, Pianist
In Sight/Music & Arts: Pianist recalls blossoming of 20-year career
A trip to Britain to study piano for a couple of months was meant to be just that--a temporary stay. But for Japanese pianist Noriko Ogawa, her jaunt abroad has turned into something life-affirmingly permanent: a worldwide career based in both Japan and Britain.
"It was like a dandelion seed landing on the earth and putting down deep roots," Ogawa recalled in a recent interview looking back on her 20-year career. She'll play a recital later this month at Tokyo's Suntory Hall to mark the occasion.
It was back in 1987, when Ogawa was a student at the Juilliard School in New York, that she met British pianist Benjamin Kaplan and decided to go to Britain.
"I was given a grant to study with him for two and a half months, aiming to participate in the Leeds International Pianoforte Competition at the end," Ogawa explained.
She was 25 and thought it was her last chance for a breakthrough. She intensely focused on what Kaplan said during lessons, trying to decipher his British accent.
"I scared Ben with my stares," she said with a laugh.
They were reckless times.
"The day before I went to Leeds, I took out 40 pounds (8,400 yen at the current rate) from my bank account, leaving only 7 pounds in it. A middle-aged female teller asked, 'Are you going to be all right?'" she recalled with a laugh.
"I had nothing to lose; I was ready to come home if I failed."
But Ogawa won third place in the Leeds competition in northern England.
An invitation to play professionally in Britain followed. She made her concert debut in 1988. "British people trust their own judgment. People who liked my performance kept coming back."
One success led to another, and Ogawa played piano across Europe, North America and Japan.
Looking back, Ogawa said she is grateful to Kaplan for paving the way for her success.
"To me, Ben, in his 50s then, was a 'young' teacher because my teachers from elementary school to Juilliard were older. They became ill and died, one after another, before I could get enough lessons from them," Ogawa said.
Ogawa's upcoming recital bridges her past to the future.
"Debussy's '12 Etudes' has been my favorite piece, particularly recently," she said, adding that it is rarely performed in its entirety. "It is what Debussy really wanted to write toward the end of his life. Turns out, it's not very friendly to the ear. But I want to perform what I really like at my landmark concert."
Next on the program is "Returning," a quiet piece by the young Japanese composer Dai Fujikura, who is currently writing a concerto for her.
"Although I am known for my sonorous sound, Fujikura believes a soft sound brings out the best of my personality."
The culmination of the recital is Liszt's Sonata in B minor, which has been an important piece throughout Ogawa's career.
"Liszt excels in resonating the piano. Given the large concert hall, I won't have to restrain my playing," she said.
Ogawa has been highly praised for her ongoing Debussy recording series, but it's noteworthy that her 22 albums on Sweden's BIS label include many Japanese composers. Toru Takemitsu featured on her 1996 debut album.
"I was encouraged when Takemitsu said my musical character suited his works," Ogawa recalled. "When I play his pieces live, my Western audiences turn tranquil, gripped by their beauty."
Performing the works of Japanese composers while abroad reminds Ogawa of her strong Japanese roots. The work of Meiji Era (1868-1912) composer Rentaro Taki touches her deeply. "Underneath his music that sounds like Beethoven is something Japanese. I have seen my Japanese audience cry as well," she said.
Ogawa goes back and forth between Japan and Britain just about every month. One thing Ogawa says she appreciates in Britain is being part of its close-knit pianist community.
"We often critique each other in relaxed settings, such as over dinner. It's more exchanging notes coated with humor than a battle."
Ogawa's passion extends to creating musical experiences for a larger audience. Among her achievements is a concert series for parents of autistic children named after Jamie, an autistic child Ogawa lived with when she was a boarder in London. The concerts give the parents a chance to relax while the kids are at school, or the kids can come along, too.
The project began in 2004 at the Muza Kawasaki Symphony Hall, where Ogawa serves as an adviser (Kawasaki is her hometown). The next Jamie's Concert will take place there on March 6.
"We have tea after the performances, with Jamie's favorite biscuits that I bring from Britain," Ogawa said.
"Jamie's parents are very happy that through Jamie they can bond with people under similar circumstances."
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Noriko Ogawa performs Feb. 19 (7 p.m.) at Suntory Hall in Tokyo. See map on this page. 2,000 yen-5,000 yen. Call Kajimoto at 0570-06-9960.
She also performs March 5 (7 p.m.) with the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra at Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space. 2,800 yen and 3,800 yen. Call the Japan Federation of Musicians at 03-3437-6837.(IHT/Asahi: February 1,2008)
Paris-based violinist Sayaka Shoji (above right) and pianist Noriko Ogawa, who lives in Britain, will play Tokyo's "La Folle Journee au Japon" festival, ...