Pianists should make professional début as tweens or risk missing opportunities, says Japanese pianist


Yuja Wang, now 25, began studies at the Beijing Conservatory at age 7 and won her first compeition prize, in Germany, at age 11.

Start young or take the risk of missing out on success is Japanese pianist Hiroko Nakamura’s advice to would-be pianists in today’s edition of Yomimuri Shimbun (newspaper).

The newspaper quotes her:

“Pianists’ physical ability peaks at the age of 17 or 18,” she said. “To publicize their presence as pros, debuting at 12 or 13 is already too late.”

Nakamura was an adjudicator at the international competition in Hamamatsu (Japan’s piano city, home to Yamaha and Kawai) in February. The youngest competitor was 12-year-old Tomoharo Ushida, who came away with a contract with Universal Japan, which has just released the boy’s début album.

The article continues:

“He’s not just good at playing,” Nakamura said. “He’s talented enough to impress listeners by playing to his feelings.”

Some people are wary about having growing children debut when they are very young.

However, Nakamura said: “The large amount of information provided on the Internet means the world is changing faster than before. Talented children should debut early or they’ll miss out on opportunities.

“Listening to classical music isn’t a symbol of intelligence any more, and the genre will be supported by a limited number of listeners in the future.”

You can practically hear stage parents everywhere revving up their young ones for the fight, especially given the phenomenal success of pianists like Lang Lang, Yundi and, most recently, Yuja Wang.

But how many people stop to think about the difference between early success and building a sustained, satisfying career.

Pure physical ability may peak during one’s Olympic javelin-throwing years, but fine artistry thrives on layers of insight and experimentation that accrue over time and experience.

We have little choice but to play along with our culture of consumption, but that doesn’t mean we have to foster the same sort of mentality in the arts. Youngsters, no matter how talented and pumped on making a mark, are still youngsters, who need to develop self-worth and self-awareness as much, if not more, than their musical technique.

Not that little Tomo Ushida doesn’t put on a fine show. Here he is playing Franz Liszt’s Liebestraum No. 3, courtesy of Universal Japan:

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