FEATURED INTERVIEW: Arthur Rubinstein – “If you love life, It will love you back.”

Edited by Alex Davydovich (MGBH)

  It’s been over thirty years since one of the most interesting pianists of the 20th Century has left this world, but there will always be those curious about him not only as a pianist, but also as a human being – his personality and his character.  This edited and abridged interview is comprised of questions from various sources and is designed to provide a reader with insights into the heart and soul of the master.  With our Winter Issue coming out both around the date of his birth – January 28th – and the date of his passing – December 20th – we decided to dedicate this feature to Arthur Rubinstein (OBM).

 

Interviewer: Tell us about your family. What was your childhood like?
Arthur Rubinstein (AR) (OBM): The name Rubinstein is terribly common like the name of Jones or Brown. My mother pretended that I even played before I was born, you know. You know, as a little boy I wouldn’t talk.  I didn’t like to talk. I wanted to sing. I knew everything by a song. For instance, to get a piece of cheese, I would sing a Polish song about cheese. My father was a head of a little textile factory, but he was not a businessman. He was a very poor businessman. He was inclined to be a philosopher rather. He read books and studied languages. When he went bankrupt, he was honest. He paid all his debts. He didn’t make a fortune on his bankruptcy like others did. So, it disrupted the whole family, and my sisters and brother had to live somewhere else, and that was very sad.

I: Did anyone in your family play the piano?
AR: When I was less than 4 years old, I knew the pieces, which my elder my sisters played.  They were 18-19 years old, and they played the piano very badly, and I knew their pieces.  But knowing the pieces was not enough. My great pride was that I knew exactly when they turned the pages.

I: How did you get introduced to music?
AR: I was very lucky to have an uncle – a man who studied in Germany, who knew the German language very well. He had a great idea to write to Professor Yoachim (OBM), who was a violinist. He was the chief of the Academy of Music in Berlin. And Yoachim answered, and that was a wonderful beginning for me.

My mother had a chance to take me to him. I was four years old. He was very impressed, but, of course, he was hoping that I would be a violinist. So, when I returned home, my father gave me a tiny violin and a teacher, but I couldn’t stand it.  I broke the violin in pieces and was spanked for it.  I really couldn’t ever stand to be a violinist, because for me music was polyphony. I wanted to hear everything in music, the whole sound.  Afterwards, Joseph Yoachim understood that I didn’t want to play the violin, and he supported me for my complete educational time in Berlin.  He even paid part of my education fees.

So, when I returned home, my father gave me a tiny violin and a teacher, but I couldn’t stand it.  I broke the violin in pieces and was spanked for it.  I really couldn’t ever stand to be a violinist, because for me music was polyphony.

Q: When did you start playing in public?
AR: I started to play in public at the age of six at the charity concert in Lodz, but afterwards Joachim introduced me personally and I played with Berlin Philharmonic at the age of 12 in the Beethoven Hall.  I played two concerts with orchestra and solo pieces. Mozart (OBM) was the first concert. At that time critics wrote that I was a born Mozart player. And years later people wanted only Tchaikovsky (OBM), Rachmaninov (OBM), and similar. Later on, only music of Spain, and later – only Chopin (OBM). My goodness! At age 60, I will play everything!

Q: What does music interpretation mean to you?
AR: When I play something, even the ritual fire dance, I am convinced that there is no other music in the world.  Otherwise, I wouldn’t be an authentic pianist. An interpreter has to forget during his play that there exists other music. When I play a piece of Schumann (OBM), I believe for myself that he is the only composer in the world, and I don’t think of Chopin.  Sitting at the discussion table where people talk about musical history, I will feel things differently.  Then I will say to you that Bach (OBM) is much more important for the music history in comparison even to Beethoven (OBM), and even more so than Chopin. But judging the importance of piano music, Chopin embodies the first class – nobody has ever written so beautifully for the piano as him. He totally devoted himself to the piano and couldn’t compose for any other instruments.

I: For a pianist of your class, do you practice every morning?
AR: No, no. I will make it clear to you. Take a look at me. I should be punished for this.  For the fact that I never practiced the piano enough.  I was always satisfied with the least necessary, to play what spoke to my heart, but it was never elaborated.  It was always missing something, which resulted in wrong notes, many inaccurate passages, many unclear details with regards to the sheets, cause I played too fast in front of the audience.  You see that was always my biggest flaw, and I should be punished for it in my many years. But… what happens? The strangest thing in the world! When I married my wife, I started feeling more responsible.  I felt that the approach “after me the deluge” doesn’t work any more. Now I have a wife and children, and I am responsible for them.  After my death I don’t want anyone to be able to claim “your husband got a supreme talent, but never worked hard enough.” Then I started to work harder, you see, there this magical thing that happened.   Where other pianists reach their peak at their 30s, e.g. Horowitz (OBM) or Richter (OBM) or Backhaus (OBM) or Gieseking (OBM) – they were accomplished pianists in their mid-thirties.  Afterwards, when they got much older, they started to lose some quality. They have taken too many breaks or worked too hard, were worn off or a little tired, wanted to live another life. I, however, until today, can achieve simple technical progress.  Sometimes, I start playing scales or passages, and half an hour later I feel a little progress in my technical skill. This cannot happen to Horowitz.  He has achieved such technical peaks 10, 15, and 20 years ago, and there is no space left to improve, or… he destroys his hands.

I: Do you ever get tired after a concert?
AR: I am a strange pianist, you know. Many of my colleagues play very impressive programs and get heavily tired, begin to sweat, etc. For me, I am tired BEFORE the concert. The whole day before the concert I am tired. I start yawning like a lion. The whole day! My arm hurts or I am mentally tired. However, closer to the concert I feel great! After the concert, I am not only not tired any more; I can play the concert four times over again. That’s why I still play in public. At my age of 78, I should slow down and get ready to retire, but I cannot do it because I still feel the opportunities to improve, because it simply doesn’t make me tired. Travelling doesn’t make me tired. What makes me tired is boredom and boring people. Those things wear me off.

I am a strange pianist, you know. Many of my colleagues play very impressive programs and get heavily tired, begin to sweat, etc. For me, I am tired BEFORE the concert.

I: Have you ever composed your own music?
AR: You know I composed like every musical boy. I had talent for music, so I was composing, innocently.  I wrote a sketch for a concerto, some sonata.  I remember some love songs, which I showed off to some charming ladies. When I became 15-16, I discovered suddenly that I didn’t have the right inspiration, that it was not inspired, that it was borrowed from somebody – it was a little Brahms, a little Chopin, Mozart, a little this and that. I think that to write music, it must be absolutely necessary.  It must be there. You can’t miss it any more.  For instance, I can miss very well some unknown island, but I can’t imagine the world without Beethoven or without Mozart. You know, when I make music, it is so heavenly, I am in love with music.

I: What qualities are important to you in a person?
AR: Human beings are born without signing a contract. I always honor my signature. I have great respect for a promise given or my signed signature.

I: You are known to be a very happy person. What do you attribute your happiness to?
AR: I was very, very unhappy when I was twenty years old. You know, I was miserable.  I was at zero point in my life.  I was at the bottom.   I was finished completely in my opinion.  The woman I loved didn’t love me.  I had no money.  I had horrible debts everywhere.  I owed my money to the hotel.  They wanted to throw me out. I mean, it was terrible.  It happened in Berlin. There was one thing – I was dreaming, funnily enough, that I was the richest man in the world, that I composed a symphony, which had a fantastic success. They applauded me, and everything went wonderfully well. And then, I woke up… There was again a letter under the door, “You owe me this much… If you don’t pay tonight…” and so on and so forth. And then I wanted to take my life. I didn’t succeed. (laughing) The cord broke, I went on the floor. But then after this, I was reborn again.  So, suddenly, I saw the world with completely new eyes.  It was absolutely fresh and new to me. I saw that what in heaven am I unhappy for? Why should I be unhappy? One can be happy miserable, one can be happy sick, one can be happy in a hospital.  Even if you die, you can still be happy! It’s still life, you see.  I was convinced of that. And that kept me going.

Why should I be unhappy? One can be happy miserable, one can be happy sick, one can be happy in a hospital.  Even if you die, you can still be happy! It’s still life, you see.  I was convinced of that. And that kept me going.

I:  In your book “My Young Years” you say that you adopted very early in life a motto in Polish….
AR:  The translation is very strong in Polish, but it means, “I will never give in.” And I learned it because I was present in Lodz, my birth town, during the pogroms with the Russian Cossacks made in the streets.  I was very young. I was a school boy of around seven, and we would run away from the Cossacks who would beat up the population and make them bleed, and so on and so forth. We were terrified absolutely.  And I learned something – that I must wake up courage in me.  I tried to be courageous, not be afraid of anything. And I am not afraid of anything.  I was never afraid of anything at all.  Not afraid – I suffered about it, I took it in very much, I was unhappy about this or that…<…> but I was always rather courageous. And I found out that it probably belongs to my race, you see. I must tell you that since childhood I was a very proud Jew.  And to remain Jews, I admired their courage that they had for 2000 years in exile.  I admired the incredible character of the Jews to stick to their religion, to stick to their race.  And they are the only old race that is preserved everywhere.

We were terrified absolutely.  And I learned something – that I must wake up courage in me.  I tried to be courageous, not be afraid of anything. And I am not afraid of anything.

I: Would you explain to me, to someone who is not a musician, how you produce the tone that you do?
AR: I can’t tell you that.  I learned from a Czechoslovakian singer who was very famous. It was Emmy Destinn (OBM). Emmy Destinn struck me with her marvelous voice, which acted on me sensually, which made me cry by her sheer voice, the sound of voice, not the quality of the composition, but the quality of the voice that did something to me.  She had that. And she had, of course, as all singers, to take a breath at the right moment.  We have to take, in a way, a breath at the right moment when we speak. To make a phrase clear, we have to pay attention and stop and cut the phrase into the pieces, which make sense, isn’t it so? That same thing came to me as an idea when she sang.  I started suddenly to feel a feeling that I needed to take a breath at the piano.  I sometimes press my finger only, which means nothing, because there is a hammer, percussion hammer, nothing can change much in the piano (it’s a percussion instrument, isn’t it?), but it has a vibration.   If you let the string stay without letting the hammer down on it, it vibrates in the air.  You have the pedal to keep it a long while – if you want to, if you can. And there is a certain a certain pressure, which makes it being struck in a certain way – not hard, but just the way you want.  And it sings in you.  Well, I found it for myself that I couldn’t teach it for any money in the world.  I tell you – young people sing, sing inside. You have no voice – it doesn’t matter.  You have the best voice if you feel singing inside.

I: Do you believe in God?
AR:  Of course, I believe in God, but my God is not a gentleman with a beard. It is a power, an incredibly extraordinary power. I was preoccupied all my life, and I still am, with one question that matters, one single question: what are we here for? Who made it? Who started it? I am glad to believe, but there must be a sign to show us why. People think that happiness is to laugh all the time or to enjoy a good cutlet or beefsteak, and they go to bed nicely, and win the game sometimes…. This is stupid. There is nothing in it. That’s not life. Life is biting into it. To take it absolutely as it is.

Of course, I believe in God, but my God is not a gentleman with a beard. It is a power, an incredibly extraordinary power.

I: Can I ask you this: what emotion do you feel when you when you contemplate that death is going to extinguish so rare a machine as you are? A computer with so much heart and so crammed with music and experience? What do you feel?
AR: You know, I didn’t give it much thought. There is such a thing, which I do believe, in a word, which is not ever clear to anybody, you know, we use the word “soul” easily in every language. Every language uses it, and we don’t know what it is really, where to place it.  And I think this thing is in us, in metaphysical power somehow, which just emanates. You know I feel that always, as I told you before, in my concerts. We don’t give it much thought, but there is something floating, something unknown around us in here; and I think that has no place to disappear.  And I think that after our death, if we had an amount of it in us somewhere, it’s around.  By the way, it was once a very rainy day in London and I was with a great singer Emy Destinn.  She asked me very innocently, “How did Chopin play?” I didn’t hear Chopin play at all, so I could only imagine something.  I was just going to tell her, “Don’t ask me such silly questions.” But by some instinct I went to the piano and played a little piece of Chopin that I never played in concert.  And it wasn’t me who played. I played the piece through, and we both got a little pale, you know? I wasn’t playing it myself. I wouldn’t have played it like that.  Make what you want of it.

I:  Can we talk about your music? When people say, as they do, that you are the greatest pianist of this century, do you believe them?
AR:  Not only I don’t believe them, I get very angry when I hear that, because it is absolute sheer horrible nonsense. There isn’t such a thing as the greatest pianist of any time. Nothing in art can be the best.  It is only… different. Let me tell you my theory about it.  I think that an artist (whatever it is – a painter, sculptor, musician, performer, composer, whatever – somebody who has a title of being an artist) must have an uncompounded personality, must be the one and nobody else. There is Joe Smith and nobody else like that. For me, one says, “Oh, it’s the second Listz.” (OBM) A second is already wrong, you know? If he is a second, he is no good at all.  He is an imitator.  An artist in any way must be a world by himself.  If I were questioning somebody, for instance, “Arthur, who is the greatest of all times: Leonardo Da Vinci (OBM), Rafael (OBM), Michael Angelo (OBM), Tizian (OBM), Velasquez (OBM), Rembrandt (OBM)?” What would you do? Each one of them is a world by itself. A world! <…> Look here. If I am a pianist, I am a pianist of my kind, which pleases so many people who like this kind of my playing. But then there are others who get emotional and get moved by other pianists – by this one, and that one, and that one. Who can say that this one is the greatest? It’s nonsense.

You know lately more than ever I am thinking, “What was the reason for any success I have had in my life?” Because I certainly don’t play the piano as well as most pianists.  I never worked so much as they do. They play the piano too perfect.  I know young people who play the piano, and one can’t play it better.  But when I hear them play that way, I have my little question for them. I ask them, “When will you start to make music?” Make music, you see, that is something that pre-occupied me.  To make music is something metaphysical. A painting is visible, a sculpture is visible, a poem is visible on the paper, well, (written) music is visible, but not audible.  I mean it exists only because there are necessary to it the other types of musicians – the interpreters.  I belong to this group.  I call the interpreters good talent, the composers – geniuses, if they are the great composers. But what happened to me is something quite strange, which I observe very often, you see.  I observed the fact that I come on stage for a concert, as a picture of what happens of the stage it is rather ridiculous because a little man like me appearing there in the evening dress <..> And the public fills the hall.  They come out of their good dinner, the women look at each other, at the other women’s dresses.  Men think mostly about some business or some games or sports or G-d knows what.  And there I have this crowd – not entirely quite musical, not really knowers of music, but who like music, who love music.  And that is a very difficult proposition – I have to hold them in attention by my emotion, nothing else.  I can’t look at them.  I can’t make faces. I have to play.  Look there, straight ahead of me.  But… there is a certain antenna there, there is a certain secret thing, which goes out, emanates, not from me – from my emotion, from the feeling.  If you’d like to call it soul, this soul projects something, which I do feel that it’s doing it.  It suddenly puts the audience into my hands, there is a moment where I feel them all here in my hands.  I can hold them with one little note in the air, and they will not breathe because they wait what happens next.  That is a great, great moment. Not always does it happen, but when it does happen, it’s a great moment of our lives.

It suddenly puts the audience into my hands, there is a moment where I feel them all here in my hands.  I can hold them with one little note in the air, and they will not breathe because they wait what happens next.  That is a great, great moment. Not always does it happen, but when it does happen, it’s a great moment of our lives.

 

 

 

 

SOURCES:

(1) The Love Of Life Documentary.

(2) Arthur Rubinstein Interview at his home in Paris, 1965 (German with English Subtitles)

(3) Rubinstein at 90 Interview by Robert McNeal:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VFEsLdERZwI

The Circuit: Gilmore Keyboard Festival

Interview by Tatyana Ivanova (MGBH)

Probably one of the most well-known and established international keyboard festivals in the US, the Gilmore’s brings an opportunity connect the most prominent members of the global piano community  with the audience and share their newest repertoire.  Curtis Cunningham (MGBH), the Marketing and PR Director of the Festival, sat down with us to discuss the Gilmore’s agenda for the upcoming season.

 

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Piano Performer Magazine (PPM): What criteria is used in identifying the artists who are to be invited to participate in the festival?
Curtis Cunningham (CC): Quality and musical interest are foremost, along with the ability to sustain a wide range of repertoire. Pianists are nominated by a large and diverse group of international music professionals. An anonymous six-member Artistic Advisory Committee appraises the nominees over a period of time and assesses their musicianship and performing abilities through numerous performances under varying conditions. Throughout the four-year process, candidates for the Award are unaware they are under consideration.

 

An anonymous six-member Artistic Advisory Committee appraises the nominees over a period of time and assesses their musicianship and performing abilities through numerous performances under varying conditions. Throughout the four-year process, candidates for the Award are unaware they are under consideration.

 

PPM: What is the structure of the festival and how many days does it usually last?
CC: The 2018 Gilmore Keyboard Festival lasts for 18 days, starting on April 25, 2018 and running until May 12, 2018.

PPM: Do all the festival events happen at the same venue?
CC: Although the Festival events take place at over 15 different locations in West Michigan, it is centered in Kalamazoo.

PPM: Who are some of the regular attendees of the festival?
CC: Our audience members are of all ages. Our recitals are generally children above the age of 6 through senior citizens. Most of out attendees are from Michigan and the Midwest, but people travel across the country and the globe to attend the festival.

PPM: Are there social events / parties organized around the performances? If so, what are they like and what does it take to get on the list?
CC: Donors to the Gilmore are invited to special events throughout the festival and year. These type of events range from private receptions to private performances. You can become a donor for as little as $100.   Invitations to events can depend on your donor level.

PPM: Please, tell our readers about the Gilmore Festival Radio Series.
CC: The Gilmore Festival Radio Series is produced by the WFMT Radio Network in collaboration with The Gilmore.  The series includes many festival performances and exclusive interviews with artists, audience members, and the Gilmore staff. This inside look reveals a glimpse into the artists’ approach to their craft and the inner-workings of the Festival. In 2016, we created 13 one-hour programs.

PPM: What kind of educational events take place during the festival?
CC: The Gilmore will be holding a variety of “family concerts” throughout West Michigan featuring pianist Alpin Hong (MGBH). The concerts are designed to introduce children (and sometimes their parents) to classical music and jazz. The Gilmore also presents several in-school concerts throughout West Michigan during the Festival.
Twelve master classes are also offered. Master classes combine the rigors of practice with the intensity of performance.  We call it “learning through performance.” College and university students from throughout the Midwest are nominated by their professors to participate in the classes, given by many of the pianists performing in the Festival.
Last but not least, The Gilmore offers a variety of adult enrichment classes through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Western Michigan University. These ticketed events cover subjects such as “A Walk through the 2018 Gilmore Keyboard Festival” and “Learning to Listen to Music.” Instructors include the Gilmore staff and local experts.

 

Twelve master classes are also offered. Master classes combine the rigors of practice with the intensity of performance.  We call it “learning through performance.” College and university students from throughout the Midwest are nominated by their professors to participate in the classes, given by many of the pianists performing in the Festival.

 

PPM: One of the key points in the mission statement of the festival is supporting the creation of keyboard music. How is it accomplished?
CC: The creation of new music for the keyboard is an important part of The Gilmore’s overall mission. Every Gilmore International Keyboard Festival includes the premiere of newly commissioned works for keyboard instruments. Commissions for 2018 have yet been announced.

PPM: How often does the festival take place, and what happens in-between behind the scenes?
CC: While the Gilmore Artist Award happens every four years, The Gilmore Keyboard Festival itself takes place every two years. In order to create a festival with nearly 100 events in 18 days requires a good two years of planning, research and execution. Besides the Festival, The Gilmore also presents a recital series for young artists, the annual Rising Stars Series, and a Piano Masters Series, presenting recitals by major pianists in the off-Festival years.

PPM: Can you, please, tell our readers about the pianists for this upcoming season? Are there any new categories of events compared to 2016?
CC: Highlights next spring include performances by Gilmore Artist Award recipients Rafa Blechacz (MGBH), Kirill Gerstein (MGBH), Ingrid Fliter (MGBH), Leif Ove Andsnes (MGBH), and the yet-to-be announced 2018 Gilmore Artist. The Festival debuts of 2018 Gilmore Young Artists Wei Luo (MGBH) and Elliot Wuu (MGBH); and tenor Lawrence Brownlee (MGBH), who will make his Festival debut with pianist Justina Lee (MGBH), performing classics of the song literature and ending the program with African-American spirituals.
The 2018 Festival showcases a broad spectrum of keyboard virtuosity and repertoire performed by artists who range from legendary pianist Murray Perahia (MGBH) to the 2018 Gilmore Young Artists, Wei Luo and Elliot Wuu. Making their Festival debuts are pianists Michael Boriskin (MGBH), Michael Brown (MGBH), Benjamin Grosvenor (MGBH), Kim Heindel (MGBH), Justina Lee (MGBH), John Musto (MGBH), and Yury Shadrin (MGBH). Returning are Leif Ove Andsnes (MGBH), Katherine Chi (MGBH), Leon Fleisher (MGBH), Ingrid Fliter (MGBH), Kirill Gerstein (MGBH), Alon Goldstein (MGBH), Paul Lewis (MGBH), Murray Perahia (MGBH), Lori Sims (MGBH), Daniil Trifonov (MGBH), and Orion Weiss (MGBH).
For jazz fans, The Gilmore will present ten jazz ensembles next spring in 21 concerts and jazz clubs, including notable artists Paolo Alderighi (MGBH), Bill Charlap (MGBH), Emmet Cohen (MGBH), James Francies (MGBH), Gregg Kallor (MGBH), Justin Kauflin (MGBH), Christian Sands (MGBH), Jeremy Siskind (MGBH), Dr. Lonnie Smith (MGBH), Stephanie Trick (MGBH), and David Virelles (MGBH), and some keyboard outliers such as Nellie McKay (MGBH) and accordionist Julien Labro (MGBH). In addition, the large and lively band Snarky Puppy will bring its high-energy, innovative music to southwest Michigan for the first time. In a special theater presentation, The Gilmore will bring 11 performances of Liberace! to the Festival in a collaboration with Farmers Alley Theatre. This musical tour-de-force with a rollicking piano score will have audiences cheering the life of a uniquely American icon.

A new addition this year is the live-streaming of some of our performances.

PPM: How big is the event and how many attendees do you expect this year?
CC: OVER THE SPAN OF THREE WEEKS this spring, the concert halls of West Michigan will be occupied by some of the most accomplished pianists in the world. Kalamazoo’s biennial Gilmore Keyboard Festival is the largest gathering of keyboard artists in North America, featuring more than 50 pianists and 200 artists in nearly 100 concerts and events. Over 15,000 attendees are expected to flock to The Gilmore this year.

 

OVER THE SPAN OF THREE WEEKS this spring, the concert halls of West Michigan will be occupied by some of the most accomplished pianists in the world.

 

PPM: Where do the festival volunteers come from?
CC: Festival volunteers come from all walks of the community. Most are music lovers that offer their time because of their passion for the arts and serving the community.

PPM: What makes the Gilmore Festival different from other festivals around the US and Europe?
CC: The Gilmore Keyboard Festival was the first of its kind to offer awards on a non-competitive basis. Unlike most other open competitions throughout the world, the nominees have no idea they are being considered until the Award is granted. The festival itself concentrates on the celebration of keyboard music in a highly concentrated manner.

 

Unlike most other open competitions throughout the world, the nominees have no idea they are being considered until the Award is granted.

The festival is also heavily supported by private and public donations that allow world-class performers to perform for extremely reasonable ticket prices. This allows patrons to attend a variety of different events.

 

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Generation Z: Interview with Umi Garrett

Interview by Tanya Levy (MGBH)

Not every California teenage pianist gets a title of the Young Steinway Artist.  Umi Garrett (MGBH) became one at 13.  A recipient of many acclaimed piano awards, she was only nine years old when she recorded and released her first album, Just For You.  Her performance of Chopin’s Fantasy-Impromptu in C-sharp minor, Op. 66 from this album appears on the soundtrack for the major motion picture Jobs.  Her second recording, Music in Life, was recorded in 2013, at the age of 12.  She spends a lot of time in solitude playing piano, but does he best to live the balanced life of a normal teenager.  In this interview she shares with the readers what it’s like to be Umi Garrett. 

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Piano Performer Magazine (PPM): How did your relationship with a piano start?
Umi Garrett (UG): When I was four, my friends started taking after school (rather, after kindergarten) group lessons in piano.  They seemed to be having lots of fun, and I was always fascinated by music and instruments, so I asked my parents to let me start.  Eventually, we got an upright piano, and then a grand piano a few years later, and my love for piano and music continued to grow.  I don’t think my parents could even imagine that this is what would happen when they let me start taking music lessons.  Nevertheless, here I am now, still just as fascinated by the piano as I was 13 years ago.

PPM: Please, tell our readers about your piano teachers and what you’ve learned from each of them.
UG: My current piano teacher, Professor John Perry (MGBH), has taught me that there is more to being a pianist than staying inside and practicing. He has taught me that it is important to form experiences and make connections with people in order to better make connections with the audience through music. He has also taught me, in addition to my other piano teacher, Mrs. Mina Hirobe-Perry (MGBH), how to produce a better, more beautiful sound that can reach every corner of the concert hall. My past teachers has taught me a lot about technique, but my current teachers have taught me not only how to play well technically, but how to create art to share with the audience.

PPM: Please, tell our readers a little bit about your family. Do you have any siblings? Who are your parents?
UG: People always ask if my family is musical, and the truth is, I’m the only musician in my family. It’s fun being the only musician in its own way – I can be the first person to play some pieces for my family and I can teach them about classical music. I’m the only child, but I’ve always wanted siblings.  However, I’m pretty close with my parents.  I often spend time with them going shopping or playing games.  They’ve always been incredibly supportive of my musical and other endeavors, and I’m very lucky to have parents like them.

PPM: Which performance venue has been your favorite so far?
UG: I’ve played in so many beautiful venues, that it’s hard to choose. However, my favorite venues are when I played in elementary schools in Tohoku in 2013 and 2015 in Japan. Tohoku, the Northern region of Japan, was hit with a devastating earthquake and tsunami in 2011, and I had the amazing opportunity to play for and spend time with some of the children in the area who survived the tragedy. Music has an incredible therapeutic and healing quality that I hoped I could help the children with.  I visited 4 schools in 2013 and 2 schools in 2015, and every time, I was so touched by the children’s strength and hopefulness for the future. Seeing their smiling faces after playing my pieces will always be my favorite memory from a performance.

Music has an incredible therapeutic and healing quality that I hoped I could help the children with.  I visited 4 schools in 2013 and 2 schools in 2015, and every time, I was so touched by the children’s strength and hopefulness for the future. Seeing their smiling faces after playing my pieces will always be my favorite memory from a performance.

 

PPM: Who are your favorite composers? What types of piano pieces do you like to perform the most and why?
UG:  I love playing all types of pieces, for that reason – each one is unique and requires different technical skills as well as emotional understanding.  My favorite composers are always changing, and it also depends on if I’m listening to these composers’ pieces or playing these composers’ pieces. Right now, my favorite composer to listen to is Brahms (OBM) (and especially his symphonies).  His music is so powerful, yet so beautiful.  My favorite composer to play right now is Beethoven (OBM).  I am obsessed with playing his music. The more I play his pieces and the more I study his scores, the more gems I find in his music – like a hidden melody or rhythm pattern. It’s almost like treasure hunting and I love it.  I love the passion and intensity of his pieces.  I also love the challenge of getting into the mindset to play Beethoven – I almost have to change my personality for a few minutes while I play, from cheerful to moody.  That’s the cool thing about performing music.  You can be a completely different person when playing different pieces.

PPM: Can you share any funny stories or awkward moments from your performance experiences?
UG: I was performing in a student recital with two of my friends in a music festival in Italy a couple years ago. The unique thing was that the concert was held outside, in a courtyard space.  There was a nice and bright spotlight up above the keyboard because it was already dark, and in the background there was a beautiful church in the distance.  Everything was going perfectly until, right when I was about to play, the church bells began ringing, and didn’t stop for at least a whole minute.  It was funny because it almost perfectly coincided with the rhythm of the piece I was playing, and then the chamber music of piano and church bells was completed with an ambulance, full sirens going, driving right past the courtyard.  Oh, and also, remember the spotlight I mentioned? Well, not only did I like it because I could see the keys, these flying ant bugs loved it, and they’d fly up to the lightbulb, hit it, and drop like flies (literally) onto the keyboard. It was more funny than an inconvenience, though, and we all had a nice laugh about the bugs, the church bells and the ambulance afterwards. It was definitely an experience!

Oh, and also, remember the spotlight I mentioned? Well, not only did I like it because I could see the keys, these flying ant bugs loved it, and they’d fly up to the lightbulb, hit it, and drop like flies (literally) onto the keyboard. It was more funny than an inconvenience, though, and we all had a nice laugh about the bugs, the church bells and the ambulance afterwards. It was definitely an experience!

PPM: Please, tell our readers about your CD recording experience/s.  Do you have any upcoming albums?
UG: I love recording for my CDs.  The recording takes a really long time and is exhausting, but it’s a really rewarding experience.  It’s unlike a concert, because in a session, it’s just you, the piano, and the microphones.  Whereas in a concert it’s you, the piano, and the audience.
My favorite thing about music is sharing it with the audience in performance, but there is something really intimate and personal about recording music.  It’s also really exciting because you feel the anticipation of the new CD release and hope that people will like it. Speaking of new CD releases, I’ve got a new CD!!  It’s called Storybook, and it’s filled with my favorite pieces.  I’ve been working on it for over a year now, and I am so happy with it.  I named it Storybook because of how each piece in the album has a special, personal story behind it, but also because I want to inspire people to think of their own stories with the music.

Speaking of new CD releases, I’ve got a new CD!! It’s called Storybook, and it’s filled with my favorite pieces.  I’ve been working on it for over a year now, and I am so happy with it.

PPM: Do you compose your own music?
UG: I don’t compose my own music, but I enjoy improvising whenever I can.  I think it’s really fun and therapeutic to just go to the piano and play whatever is on your mind.  I also love improvising with friends, especially ones who play different instruments, because you start getting more ideas and colors to share and pass around while you play.

PPM: What does being a piano professional mean to you?
UG: To me, being a piano professional means to always do my best, regardless of the circumstances.  In February of 2015, I was diagnosed with terrible tendonitis in both arms, preventing me from practicing for an entire week before an important performance of Chopin’s Concerto No. 1.  My solution was to prepare by repeatedly listening to recordings of the piece, studying the score, and reading many of Chopin’s letters. I discovered a passage, in which Chopin wrote of the exact concerto that I was to perform.  Reading, “It is… a thousand happy memories…a kind of reverie in the moonlight on a beautiful spring evening” was more helpful than practicing the piece a thousand times.  I was able to put myself in Chopin’s shoes when performing and form an emotional connection with the audience.  Being professional means to overcome difficulties and create the best music that I can.

PPM: How often do you visit Japan? Do you have relatives there?
UG: Not as often as I’d like to. I used to go once or even twice a year when I was younger, but now I only visit if I have performances there. That’s a bit of a bummer because my mom’s whole side of the family lives there, including my grandparents, but it’s not all bad because every time I go to Japan, I can play for them at my concert.  I think at one point I hadn’t gone back in about two years, but this summer I actually got to go to Japan just for vacation for the first time in five or six years, which was great. I visited my grandparents in Tokyo and ate lots of amazing food, visited friends, and actually went sightseeing a little bit and went up the Tokyo Tower for the first time. Most of the time I’m in Japan, I’m rushing through the city to rehearse and travel, which is a lot of fun in its own way, but getting to have a little time to myself and relax was just amazing.

PPM: What is the biggest difference between the Japanese and American culture, in your opinion?
UG: I’ve noticed that American people tend to be more direct about what they want and need, while Japanese people are more indirect in expressing their true feelings.  I don’t think one is better than the other, but I definitely find it interesting. Also, things in Japan are a lot more compact and smaller. Doorways are smaller and cars look like tiny little boxes.  After you’re in Japan for a while, it starts looking normal, but if you just arrived there from America, everything looks “fun sized.”

PPM: Not so long ago, you performed on a cruise. What was that travel experience like, and what memories do you carry from that trip?
UG:  I was invited to perform on a Crystal Cruises transatlantic cruise ship a couple nights a week. The cruise started in Edinburgh and went to Hamburg, Amsterdam, made its way up towards Iceland, passed by some other Northern islands, Nova Scotia, then finished in New York.  Iceland, though, was definitely one of my favorite stops on the route. Reykjavik was interesting to visit.  The memories just keep getting better and more vivid as time goes on – you start remembering these little things that you saw and experienced, like the cute, yet unpronounceable, street names or the smell that comes from the small crepe shops on the side of the road.  One thing that I remember really vividly is that it was SO cold, which was crazy, because it was the middle of August.  But then again, it’s not so crazy, because Iceland is so far north. In any case, if you ever plan to go to Iceland, even if it’s in the middle of summer, bring LOTS of warm clothes.

The memories just keep getting better and more vivid as time goes on – you start remembering these little things that you saw and experienced, like the cute, yet unpronounceable, street names or the smell that comes from the small crepe shops on the side of the road.

 

PPM: What’s your favorite clothing style to wear in your every day life and who picks your wardrobe for concert performances?
UG: My concert performance wardrobe is picked out by my mom and I. Usually, we buy dresses especially for concerts, but my favorite performance dress right now is one that I got for prom last year.  A lot of performance gowns can be uncomfortable, so it’s really awesome when you can find a dress that feels awesome and looks awesome, too.  Outside of concert clothes, comfort is definitely a big part in my wardrobe, especially because until recently, I’ve never been really interested in shopping or fashion. Now, I’m starting to see it as a way to express myself and my personality, but I’m still experimenting and playing around with styles.  But if I had to describe my wardrobe in one word, it would definitely be “comfy.”

PPM: In the past you’ve been home schooled. What type of homeschooling was it? How was this experience for you and what advantages and disadvantages do you see in it?
UG: I was home schooled for seventh and eight grade, and I did online schooling.  Of course, every person and student has their preferences, and I’m sure some really enjoy online schooling, but my experience with it wasn’t the best.  I’m a fairly social person, and I enjoy being with my friends for the majority of the time. I’m also the only child and a pianist (which is a lonely profession in itself, because it requires hours of solitary concentration).  So, almost all of my social interactions come from school.  As you can imagine, homeschooling was really lonely for me. It did have its advantages, though.  The schedule was flexible, and I could go to school in my pajamas if I wanted to.  For me, however, the disadvantages outweighed the advantages, and I started going to a non-virtual high school (a real high school) starting freshman year, and I’ve been loving it!

PPM: Would you name five favorite things in your room?
UG: My five favorite things in my room are the map that has pushpins to show all the places I’ve been, the wall of postcards that I’ve bought and friends have sent me, a drawing of flowers made by my best friend, all of my stuffed animals that I refuse to give away even at 17, and the wall decorations I currently have.  So if you’ve watched Stranger Things, you know that there’s a wall in the show that’s covered with Christmas lights and has the alphabet written underneath it.  I’ve always wanted to replicate it, and with the help of my friend, we managed to make it, and right now it might be my favorite thing ever.  The only downside to this decoration, though, is that when people who haven’t seen the show come into my room, they want to know why I have the alphabet taped onto my wall and tease me, asking if that’s the new topic I’m learning in school. It’s okay, they’ll see what it truly is when the lights start flickering.

My five favorite things in my room are the map that has pushpins to show all the places I’ve been, the wall of postcards that I’ve bought and friends have sent me, a drawing of flowers made by my best friend, all of my stuffed animals that I refuse to give away even at 17, and the wall decorations I currently have.

PPM: What do you enjoy doing on a weekend when when you are not practicing?
UG: On a typical weekend, if I’m not practicing, I’m probably at home or at a friend’s house eating food and watching Netflix.  I also really enjoy reading and baking sweets.  My friends and I also go shopping or to Dave and Busters where I destroy the block-stacking game and win a couple hundred tickets at a time.

PPM: What are some of the things that make you smile and what are you pet peeves?
UG: Last Christmas, I asked for a Polaroid camera, and ever since then, I’ve been carrying it around with me and taking pictures of my friends and I.  I usually take two or more so I can give them to my friends and still have some memories left over.  Looking at these pictures always makes me smile.  I don’t have a lot of pet peeves, but when people directly bite into a chocolate bar instead of breaking it off into the pieces (likes it’s supposed to), it makes me want to take their chocolate bar away, because, clearly, they don’t deserve it. I mean, come on, the little indentations are there for a reason.

PPM: What qualities in people do you respect the most?
UG: I have so much admiration and respect for people who stand up for what they believe in.

PPM: What are some of your favorite places in California?
UG: I really love Long Beach. It’s near my home, but I don’t get to go there often, so it’s a treat when I can. I love the ocean and the beach, and Long Beach has these amazing little cafes, art stores, and gelato shops that I just love.  I just love walking on the beach and in the town.  Besides Long Beach, my other favorite place is obviously Disneyland. Disneyland is perfect.

PPM: What is your favorite food?
UG: I’ll honestly eat anything and everything. If someone offers me food, I’ll take it, even if the person is a complete stranger.  If I have to choose though, I would pick Japanese food.  I can’t get anymore specific, though, since there’s too many Japanese foods that I like: ramen, sushi, dumplings, mochi, and basically everything else. I also love pasta and pizza and In-N-Out burgers. Also, ice cream.

PPM: Do you celebrate Japanese holidays? If so, which ones?
UG: Since I’ve been born and raised in the good ole United States, I’m pretty Americanized, but I still celebrate New Years’ in a sort of Japanese way. And by sort of Japanese way, I mean that I pester my mom every year to make me the traditional Japanese New Years’ dishes because they are SO good.

PPM: What does gratitude mean to you and what are you most grateful for in your life?
UG: I’m most grateful for the friends and family in my life.  Without them, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. Even and especially during stressful times, they are always by my side, supporting me and keeping me motivated. So to me, gratitude means to care for and to be supportive of my friends and family like they have been for me.

PPM: What makes you feel most centered and grounded?
UG: My friends and family, especially through crazy times. They remind me to take a breath and live in the moment.

PPM: What is your dream as a pianist?
UG: My dream as a pianist is to be able to use my music to help others. Music can have such a positive impact on people and I hope that my music can have these effects.

 

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