Super-Pianist Masahiro Saitoh
|By Mika Tanegashima de Tellez, editor
always talked about Masahiro Saitoh with such expressions as "Horowitz of Tokyo
University", "Super-Pianist", "Mozart-like Genius", and in 25 years after his
brilliant solo debut, his image as the "Great Artist" has been established.
He wears countless hats. This 43-year old artist is a popular comical
character Key-Bouzu of NHK TV program produced by him in order to introduce the
joy of classical music to children; an admired piano instructor on NHK TV
program for middle-age beginning level students; an exciting TV personality
followed after all over Japan by a large and organized crowd of his fan club; a
virtuoso soloist performing with major orchestras from around the globe;
thrilling chamber music player in high demand; and a sensible accompanist highly
praised by world-class singers. He is also known as a "preacher of classical
music" among his colleagues for his frequent appearance on various media making
classical music popular among people previously not exposed to it. Recently, he
has not only produced many innovative programs of his own, collaborating with
unusual artists such as Japanese classical dancers, ballet group or shadowgraph
theater company, but also conducted some orchestras.
Sakura: I would
love to hear your performance in Washington, DC in the near
you be interested in doing your 25th Anniversary tour concert?
would be interested in doing special concerts in the United States, once the
world affair is stabilized. However, there has been some cancellation of
overseas concerts in recent days (due to the war against terrorism), such as the
one in England. If I were to perform in the United States, I would like to
comfort the souls of people in America who suffered from the terrorism and its
aftermath with the healing power of music. I would also like to experiment with
my own compositions such as "Goshe the Cellist" based on Kenji Miyazawa's novel,
or "Moon Princess" based on Japanese folk tale Kaguyahime with a Japanese
Sakura: The famous Hungarian singer Ilona Tokody said
that she was convinced you had a Hungarian blood in your family when you played
Hungarian songs with her. Do you communicate with world-class musicians in
Saitoh: Yes, and a supernatural power. (Laughing).
(Laughing) It is true that musicians are equipped with communication skills that
go beyond verbal language.
Saitoh: Exactly. After I won the first prize in
the Japan Music Competition and graduated from the Tokyo University of Fine Arts
and Music, I was invited to live and take lessons in the house of
Czerny-Stefanska in Krakow, Poland. In the great musical family tradition, they
had welcomed talented pianists such as Liszt to their home to give lessons free
of charge. Every morning, she would say in Polish, which I understood none of,
"Masahiro, there are four kinds of people who play the piano. The first one is a
"student" who is training to win competitions; the second one is a "pianist" who
plays the piano to make a living; the third one is a "musician" who studies how
to play a Beethoven piece. An "artist", one must create by oneself and give it
to others. Masahiro, you must be the fourth one, an artist." As I said, I knew
no Polish, but I discovered I was understanding every word when later we asked a
Japanese language teacher to translate it.
Sakura: It appears that there
is a lack of public and private supports for classical music in Japan.
Saitoh: I think it is necessary that the classical music becomes more
popular among all people. Musicians need to revitalize the music world. In order
to do that, all musicians should work together with a sense of mission to widen
the door to the classical music.
We cannot start to talk about you without the famous Key-Bouzu character on TV,
but how did you come up with such a, permit me, strange costume --- purple
kimono, monk's vest with keyboard patterns, a wide belt with musical notations,
and an yellow-frame pair of glasses!
Saitoh: To tell you the truth, there
are variations such as Key-Bouzu Mexicana and American Key-Bouzu. (Laughing)
From my experience in performing many children's concerts, even small children
can listen to the classical music quietly depending on how we present it.
is like giving an authentic cup of coffee to a child who has never drank coffee.
I will not dilute it with excessive milk and sugar just because it is a child.
Instead, I will briefly explain about the bitterness of coffee and the variety
of coffee beans and serve a cup of excellent coffee. Even if I say, "let's drink
although it is bitter," they will say, "I do not want to drink it because it
will be bitter." It is okay if they say, "It does taste bitter." By drinking the
real coffee, they will understand how the coffee tastes. Among them, there will
be some children who will come to appreciate its aroma or the flavor. In short,
I would like to play a concert that produces real classical music fan in the
future instead of play a concert to make people understand classical music now.
If they saw a TV character called Key-Bouzu long time ago, they may be
interested and try to go to a concert, I think.
Sakura: Could you tell
us about your future plans?
Saitoh: I will continue to work hard to give
high-quality performance. In terms of kind of music, I would like to play music
of Chopin, Schumann, and Listz all my life. They are so deep and we can play
differently each time.
I often compare classical music to Rakugo (Japanese
classical comic story telling). The introduction "Jugemu Jugemu" is the same
part no matter who performs, yet it is always different depending on how it is
said, the nuance, and the performer's condition on that day. It is possible to
appreciate such subtlety and details in classical music, too
you have any message for people who are studying the piano?
Saitoh: To give
bold performance, one must live a bold life, and to give performance people
like, one must live a life people like. Musician's life principle and
performance are closely connected and should not be separated.
Please do not
quit, and continue playing. I always wish people to survive with ideas and
creativity every time I see someone with talents giving up professional
musician's life. To be honest, I, too, had rough period when continuing musical
career was very difficult. It is true that profession in music does not pay.
However, problems we encounter doing music will always be solved and rewarded by
music. There will be challenges, but I would love to work together with everyone
to overcome them. Music is so wonderful, you know.
Sakura: I know. Thank
you for your time.
This article was originally published in Japanese in a newsletter Sakura
Tsushin, January 2002, Vol. 5, in Washington, DC, USA. To send a comment or
order a copy of the article, please send a self-addressed envelop
Mika Tanegashima de Tellez
c/o Sakura Association, Inc.
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