Friday, November 12, 2004



Acclaimed pianist
performing in isles

Jon Nakamatsu claimed a distinguished place on the international musical scene in 1997 when he was named the Gold Medalist of the 10th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, the only American to achieve the distinction since 1981. A former high school German teacher, Nakamatsu, who has several relatives in Honolulu, became a popular hero overnight in the highly traditional medium of classical music.

Jon Nakamatsu

Where: Doris Duke Theatre, Honolulu Academy of Arts

When: 7:30 p.m. Monday

Admission: $40

Call: 524-0815, ext. 245

Also: » 7 p.m. Saturday at the Kauai Community College Performing Arts Center ($20 general, $5 for students); 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the University of Hawaii at Hilo ($15 general, 60 and older $13, students $7; and 8 p.m. Nov. 19 at Kahilu Theatre on the Big Island ($25, $30 and $35).

» 7 p.m. Nov. 13 at Kaua'i Community College Performing Arts Center, (808) 245-8352; 7:30 p.m. Nov. 17 at University of Hawai'i-Hilo Theater, (808) 974-7310; and 8 p.m. Nov. 19 at Kahilu Theatre on the Big Island, (808) 885-6868.

Following a summer that included returns to San Francisco's Midsummer Mozart Festival, Connecticut's Summer Music at Harkness festival and Colorado's Strings in the Mountains, Nakamatsu's current season is highlighted by solo appearances from New York City to Hawaii, where the San Jose, Calif., resident will perform five solo recitals statewide from tomorrow through next Friday.

Also significant were two international debuts: Performances last month with Kazuyoshi Akiyama and the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra, and a recital in the new "Sandvika Master Series" marked Nakamatsu's first appearances in Japan and Norway, respectively.

Nakamatsu will be joined during his Monday appearance at the Doris Duke Theatre by members of the Galliard String Quartet and the Spring Wind Quintet for a program that will feature Schumann's Piano Quintet, Op. 44, and Poulenc's Sextet for Piano and Winds.

The Star-Bulletin caught up with Nakamatsu just before he boarded his plane from San Jose:

Star-Bulletin: You travel nine months a year and perform about 60 concerts. How many frequent-flier miles have you amassed?

Jon Nakamatsu: Just over 600,000 miles. I never use them, really, and any vacation for me only lasts, at most, two to three weeks.

SB: Any tricks about getting through airport security?

JN: I take off my shoes, belt, wallet, watch and put everything in the carry-on bag. The trick is: Do not get beeped. I did get beeped in Japan, and the security woman bowed to me and said, 'Please, may we check your shoes.' Then she handed me slippers so I didn't need to stand in my socks. In the Dominican Republic, for a time I couldn't convince the customs people I didn't speak Spanish. They didn't know what I was.

SB: This year, you performed for the first time in Japan.

JN: Japan is a very hard market to break into. The only reason I got this debut is I had worked with a Japanese conductor in New York. When I told him I hadn't performed in Japan, he said I would make his debut with him. The experience was quite amazing. I had never even been there as a tourist before. The concert sold out. The hall, piano and audience were fantastic. I can't wait to go back.

SB: You have some firsts in these Hawaii concerts?

JN: I've never played on Kauai or the Big Island. This is also the first time I am doing a Chamber Gate, two big works with a wind ensemble, and then a group of four string players.

SB: You do a lot of piano recitals. Are you trying to revive that musical form?

JN: During the economy's downturn, a lot of organizations cut out piano recitals because they were costing some serious money. Recitals went out the door; that's a shame since the piano literature is huge. Chamber music is the most social aspect of music making, and everyone is an equal partner. You work in a different way than with an orchestra. You have a greater responsibility to the group, and I find that to be a very rewarding experience.

SB: How are you different, artistically, since your Van Cliburn win?

JN: In terms of playing, you come eventually to a different understanding of yourself. It doesn't necessarily get easier. It gets more difficult as you do it longer because you have more to risk. You're going up against yourself every time you go out on that stage. But what does get better is that you understand how you deal with all of that a little bit better. And I have also learned new pieces so I don't have to do the same pieces over and over.

SB: What are your artistic goals?

JN: No matter what you're playing, every time you go to do another concert, it's always different. I always try to improve on what I did before ... to get a little deeper into it, more effective and meaningful.

SB: Do you enjoy rehearsing?

JN: Yes and no. I enjoy being at the piano, working on the pieces, the time alone with the music. But what is stressful is when I have to learn a lot of music in a short amount of time.

SB: Is it difficult to use different pianos?

JN: Yes, probably half of the pianos are not very good. Some are just lemons. Some people take care of their pianos, some people don't. The great thing is that if you get a piano that you actually love, that lets you play freely, without inhibition, it allows you to do things that you never thought you could do and the piano actually speaks to you.

SB: Name one musical weakness.

JN: Well, everything. I constantly doubt that I can actually do any of this. Every time I perform, no matter how successful it is publicly or how good I feel, I never ever think what I've done is a best. But if I felt that way, I would stop performing; there wouldn't be anything more for me to do. It's much easier for me to be more frustrated than satisfied.

SB: What are your best concerts?

JN: My best performances are where I feel so unencumbered that I can just try anything. And I do.

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