In a man's world, here's a woman who wields baton with the firmest of hands
BY SHINYA MINAMISHIMA CORRESPONDENT
Keiko Mitsuhashi in front of La Scala in Milan (Shinya Minamishima)
In the male-dominated world of conducting, Keiko Mitsuhashi is often described as "the first female conductor." But she says she "has not been so conscious" about her gender in her career so far.
That may change. Mitsuhashi, 30, won second prize at the Arturo Toscanini International Conducting Competition in Parma, northern Italy, in October, becoming the first woman to receive one of the prestigious event's top two prizes.
Upon hearing she had won the award, her mentor Seiji Ozawa told her, "Now you stand at the starting point. Brace yourself and work hard."
Mitsuhashi decided to enter the world of professional music while still a third-year junior high school student.
In 1995, she and other students at a music school in Hiroshima performed in Jerusalem. On Oct. 31, they were invited to a luncheon attended by then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at his official residence.
Rabin approached the piano and suddenly hit four notes, "mi, fa, so and re," Mitsuhashi said. He asked his guests, "Would you play music using these notes?"
Mitsuhashi responded with an impromptu piece. Rabin and his wife were delighted, she recalled.
"Even though I could not make myself understood in words, I got my feeling across via music," she said.
Four days later, Rabin was assassinated.
Even though the incident shocked young Mitsuhashi, her interchange with Rabin confirmed her belief that "music can be a strong means of communication," she said.
She said she decided to become a conductor because "I like the chemical reaction created by communication with musicians."
Desiring to learn more about opera, which grew out of the close connections between music and the language of its birthplace, she moved to Milan last year.
She moved to Venice, home of the Teatro la Fenice (The Phoenix opera house), this month.
"I want to help bring this great music, which developed over so many years, into the future," Mitsuhashi said.