Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: making great music personal



fishing in the 3rd stream

makoto nakura: an interview, part 1

November 04, 2008

Makoto Nakura is a remarkable musician with a unique talent and astonishing virtuosity on an instrument rarely spot-lighted in the classical concert setting, the marimba. The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra is privileged to feature him as guest soloist in its regularly scheduled concerts on the evenings of December 13 (at The Alex Theater in Glendale) and December 14 (at Royce Hall on the UCLA campus).

Born in Kobe, Japan, Nakura began to play the marimba at the age of eight. He earned Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Musashino College in Tokyo, where he wrote his graduate thesis on the marimba as a solo instrument. He continued his studies at the Royal Academy of Music in London, and he has been invited to the Hong Kong Academy for the Performing Arts four times to perform recitals and to serve as a visiting consultant for Percussion Studies. Because of his strong commitment to reaching younger audiences, he conducts many master classes and workshops at schools such as the Eastman School of Music and the Royal Academy of Music, where he has been named an associate.

In 1994, Nakura moved from his native Japan to New York City, becoming the first marimbist to win First Prize in the prestigious Young Concert Artists International Auditions. In the US, he has performed with orchestras such as the New York Chamber Symphony and appeared in recital at prestigious concert halls including Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall and the Kennedy Center. He has been a guest artist with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the Spoleto U.S.A. Festival and the Green Music Festival, among others.

Nakura has developed collaborative works with institutions such as the American Ballet Theatre at the Metropolitan Opera and with other art forms, including Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez’s The Ocean Calls, based on poems by Pablo Neruda. With story-telling image projection, he created The Story of Aoyagi, which is a venerable Japanese ghost story. He also produced a concert called The Encounter of Art and Music with the Hyogo Prefectural Art Museum in Japan, playing pieces inspired by Paul Klee, Jackson Pollock, and Willem de Kooning, among others.

The music of our time has been a major interest of Nakura’s. Young composers such as Kevin Puts (LACO’s 2008 Sound Investment composer), Kenji Bunch, Michael Torke, David Schober, Jason Eckardt and Pierre Jalbert have written pieces especially for him. In fact, Nakura’s December performance of Jalbert’s “Concerto for Marimba and Orchestra” with LACO will be the composition’s North American première. Beginning in 2002, Jalbert was LACO’s Composer-in-Residence.

Recent honors that Nakura has received include a National Arts Festival New Artist Award from the Japanese Agency of Cultural Affairs and the BMI/Carlos Surinach Fund Marimba Commission. His first CD, Ritual Protocol, was released by Kleos Classics; it has been followed by Tsuneya Tanabe Works for Marimba, released by Japan’s ALM Records, and Triple Jump: Six Original Pieces for Marimba and, just released, Bach Beat on the Kleos label.

A television portrait of Nakura has been broadcast on CBS Sunday Morning. You can see a picture of him here, and you can view a webcast of an entire recital by him, filmed at Trinity Church in New York City, here.

We have been privileged to speak with Makoto Nakura recently, and I’m delighted to be able to share that interview with you:

Bob: I’m most appreciative of your willingness to speak with us here at LACO, Makoto. I know you have recently attended a marimba festival in Fukui, Japan. Then, you barely returned to the States before playing a new concerto with the Eastman School’s New Music Ensemble. And then, it was off to Mexico for a tour. You really keep up a hectic pace! Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to visit with us.

Makoto: It is my pleasure, Bob. I enjoy playing, but I also enjoy speaking with people who love music like I do.

Bob: Well, that description fits many of us here at LACO! But, let’s get started: Where did your interest in music first come from? Do you come from a musical family?

Makoto: My mother is an amateur pianist. So, she had a piano, and I grew up listening to her playing. I remember she was playing Beethoven’s sonatas and many Italian songs. She wanted to teach me how to play the piano, but I was always running away, although I liked singing quite a lot.

When I was in kindergarten, we were playing “Hungarian Dance No.5” for a school show. I really liked the piece, and I begged my mother to get me a LP record of the piece.

It was when I was a third grader that I encountered the marimba. I was playing the recorder in a school band, and I was suddenly struck by this incredibly wonderful sound coming out of some instrument which another kid was playing. That was the base xylophone. Its sound is very similar to the marimba’s, but it is much smaller. I really wanted to learn to play the instrument, and I asked my mother that evening if I can start studying it.

We went to a big music shop in Kobe where I grew up, and we found out that the shop was running a music school where you can learn the marimba. Actually, I didn’t go to the school, but a teacher came to our house weekly for me to take lessons.

Meanwhile, I have witnessed the great power of music already around this time. My mother was recovering from some surgery, and it wasn’t easy. Her spirit was not gaining the strength back. But, one day she spent a whole day in front of our record player, playing symphonies by Beethoven and Schubert. After that day, she felt so much better, and she told me that great music gives us the courage to live.

We will continue with our interview with Makoto Nakura next time.

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