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15 Questions to Christine Yoshikawa

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Hi! How are you? Where are you?

Hi! I'm doing quite well, thanks.  Right now I'm at home in Florida, though parts of the year I live in my home town of Vancouver, Canada as well.


That’s on your schedule right now?

I'll be flying to Canada, Ft. Providence and McPherson for a series of concerts next week. I'm  performing Beethoven's Emperor Concerto with the RCO and Chrisopher Dean Butterfield, and also performing piano quintets by Bloch, Brahms, Schumann, and Chausson's concerto for piano, violin and string quartet with the Gillean and Baughan String Quartets.

I am also working on an album, recording works by Stephen Chatman, Phillip Neil Martin, Ned Rorem, Scriabin and Rachmaninoff which will be released by Eroica Classical Recordings in the spring of 2006!


If you hadn’t chosen for music, what do you think you would do right now?

I would be an Architect. Design and Business have always been a long-standing interest to me, and  I  have been exposed to it through my father. I studied urban design, and spent hours in the design studio sketching, drafting, building models, and working with CADD and Adobe Photoshop during grad school, and enjoyed it very much!  Similiar to any compositional process, architects build  "visions" from start to completion, drafts a plan, then renders the model which eventually results in the physical manifestion of that vision.   It's a unique and interactive profession, one that combines the artistic, mathematical, scientifical, and pschological components. I think it was Goethe who once said  "Architecture is like frozen music" and I couldn't agree more. Like musical compositions, there are cognitive and emotional meaning captured behind each design.  It's all about self-expression, your design reflects your personality, individuality,  your community, your life, and I think it is tremendously exciting when your design idea becomes a physical reality!


What or who was your biggest influence as an artist?

I think all my teachers have left indelible prints in me, especially my mother for being my first and most influential teacher. I owe a lot to my father too, for opening my eyes to his field and helping me relate my art with his!


What’s the hardest part about being a musician and what’s the best?

Oh, it's very tough to name just one! There are so many challenges in sustaining a life as a performing artist.  I  try to better allocate my energy among performing, family, health, self, and how to delve into ways to bringing my life into a more balanced alignment with my values. Though I love to travel, it can be physically draining at times too, especially when I don't have the luxury of "down-time" to get over the jet-lag before a performance.  Sometimes I'll catch an overnight flight to get to my destination the next morning, with a concert that evening. There's a lot that goes on in my mind, but I manage to be at peace with myself and try not to let my worrying override my joy and anticipation of my concerts.

The best part?  Absoultely everything! The travel, the focus, the excitement of the unknown, meeting my new piano and my audience, being on stage in front of hundreds of people and showing them what I do for a living, and that I enjoy doing it. It's very rewarding!


What’s your view on the classical music scene at present? Is there a crisis?

Well, it has a lot to do with the dynamic nature of the relationship between economic development and household structure, I think. I feel that there is a significant amount of social, spatial and structural change amongst  households which contributes to the classical musical industry. It seems as though there are increasing number of single person and sole parent household across all age groups, and so the income spectrum and wealth distribution is definitely attributable to the overall decline in subscription sales. Some people cannot go regularily to concerts because of their obligation at home, and moreso if you are a single parent.

Incidently, our world has evolved to where everything is virtually a  "point-click" away, for example, the evolution of business which has stepped up to E-commerce, and internet "concerts" which allow people to work and listen and watch concerts from home. There seems to be an  increasing growth of this especially in the urban and rural fringes. In the urban core, we  have to compete with other entertainment such as sports, football, baseball, hockey games which embraces North American culture. We can't possibly compete with an event that draws up to 50,000 to 80,000 to these games!!!

Much can be said about the social and demographic change and how they affect the population's age structure, education, household composition, and household income. Which expenses need to be curtailed, or eliminated? It's all about priorities and frivolities, right? Thankfully, the U.S. Congress established the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) forty years ago which now serves as the nation's prominent source of government support for the arts, but still, it provides funding for select arts organisations. The rest of the funding lies in the hands of patron donors to support the operating budget of non-profit performing arts institution. This 501(c)(3) status - a title given to non-profit arts organization from the government- allows donors to write off gifts as tax deductions. 

I think we definitely need to restructure the way in which we approach marketing, and how we collaborate with the public, and to serve the  public's needs. In other words, the performing arts institution can change their approach to better match the changing audience.


Some feel there is no need to record classical music any more, that it’s all been done before. What do you tell them?

Art imitates life, and life imitates art, period! Music is constantly evolving within ourselves. The way energy flows in, through, and around my environment has direct impact on my practice, performance, and recordings. I feel that there is nothing wrong in recording pieces that have been previously recorded. In fact, some artists revisit certain  masterpieces after recording them many many years ago. We are able to taste their emotions and sentiments that abounded within their different stages of career and life.

If someone were to assert that there is no need to record classical music because it's done before, I would love to suggest to them, Glenn Gould's two phenomenal recordings of the Goldberg Variations,  the first recorded in 1955 and the second, 1981.   The latter, recorded a year before his death, is  much more introspective, and diametrically different from the youthful pizzazz captured 26 years ago! Hope that this will leave them with plenty to ponder....


What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? What’s your approach to performing on stage?

A good live performance to me is when I'm expressing all that I am and all that I can be, feeling at one with my instrument, the music, the composer, the conductor, the orchestra, and most importantly, my audience. I feel that I am in control and that I have transcended time, where I am relishing every note and sound that comes out of my piano. That's when I know I'm deeply connected. It's a unique metaphysical experience so hard to describe. I feel very much at peace on the concert stage, and I couldn't be any happier!

I always tell my students to approch a concert with confidence, and to take a moment to visualise the way you want to sound, look and feel before taking the stage. Once you are on the stage, everything you do transfers to the audience. The more positive energy you put forth, the more they become part of your performance. It's very interactive!


What does the word “interpretation” mean to you?

I will always have a different  reflection and emotional response to what is written. An artist serves as a conduit between the composer and the audience, so I make myself a part of the written music, take my audience on a journey with me, and let them hear it in a fresh and colourful light. To me, every piece of music rests in an abeyance state until I perform it. Once off the stage, it returns to that state awaiting its next rebirth.  That's what makes a performance so special. It's never the same. Any sort of interpretation must have an impact on me, otherwise, it's not interpretation, it's just an idea.  Ideas are what materialise inside your mind during practice, interpretation is what unleashes your soul in a performance.


True or false: It is the duty of an artist to put his personal emotions into the music he plays.

True, but with certain boundaries!  Artists should be individual, and their unique voice and style will naturally penetrate into their performances. On the other hand, we need to be respectful and perserve the underlying messages, images and intentions of the composers.


True or false: “Music is my first love”

Yes, absolutely true!!   I learnt how to read music before I could read English or Japanese. I live and breathe music, I hear music constantly in my mind, during a work-out, standing in line at the bank, in my sleep, everywhere! There's a downfall to all this though ...  There's nothing more annoying than having a Bach fugue visit your mind in the middle of a good movie. Then, I'd have to multi-task! :o)


True or false: People need to be educated about classical music, before they can really appreciate it.

This is very difficult to answer! I would have to say both. I think that those educated in music are in many ways better informed, and that we have an advantage for appreciating the many dimensions of music at a much deeper level than those who are not. People often turn to music when everyday language isn't enough to express their thoughts or emotions. Music unleashes feelings and memories, and it's also comforting in times in healing emotional wounds and ecstatic in times of joy. Music can be a window to the mind and it's a wonderful form of expression that can be enjoyed by everyone, educated or not.


You are given the position of artistic director of a concert hall. What would be on your program for this season?

Oh there are a million of works that I would love to programme!  Assuming that we have financial stability,  it would be wonderful if we could support a series of concerts devoted to prominent young contemporary composers, and showcase the beauty and diversity of the music created by them.  I would also love to invite a broad array of visiting orchestras, solo artists, choirs, programming everything from  Bach Cantatas,  Rachmaninoff's Symphony #2, Messiaen's Turangalila-Symphonie, to anything of the twenty-first century, and of course,  jazz!  Basically,  my primary goal  as an artistic director would be to provide a strategic vision to fulfill the mission statement at hand,  provide young artists/composers a well deserved exposure,  and to raise the profile and significantly contribute to the cultural vitality of wherever I may be!


What’s your favourite classical CD at the moment?

My absolute favourite is the 10-disc set released by the RCA label of Rachmaninoff performing his own works, along with works by Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Debussy and other great masters. It's called "Sergei Rachmaninoff - The Complete Recordings".  It reveals an artist of tremendous personality, striking originality and technique, I was so spellbound by it. Oh, I just absolutely adore him!!


Have you ever tried playing a different instrument? If yes, how good were you at it?

I started the violin when I was 5, and kept it up until about 12. I played in the  school youth orchestra in Vancouver, performing various literature including the Vivaldi A minor Violin Concerto Op. 3 #6, where our conductor divided the solo part amongst 5 soloists, myself being one of them!  It was an uneasy alliance because I wanted to be with the piano and the violin. As I grew older, it became increasingly difficult to find time for both instruments. Then, a few years later, I became so fascinated by the saxophone, so I learnt the tenor in high school, and had so much fun! Guess I'm like a child in a candy store. Having perfect pitch though, I  found it to be a bit of a challenge to be looking at a note on a page, and hearing a different pitch! :o)



Christine Yoshikawa

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