Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra: making great music personal

fishing in the 3rd stream

interview with makoto nakura, part 3

December 01, 2008

This is the conclusion of our interview with Makoto Nakura, marimba virtuoso; Nakura will be featured as guest soloist with LACO in its regularly scheduled concerts of December 13 (at The Alex Theater) and December 14 (at Royce Hall):

Bob: What is the musical environment in which you usually play these days? Are you currently playing as a regular member of a classical ensemble?

Makoto: I play as concerto soloist with orchestras; I give solo recitals; and I play as chamber musician. I used to play in several percussion ensembles, and I am still a member of “Percussion Group 72,” which is one of leading percussion ensembles in Japan.

Bob: Are you currently teaching, and if so, where? What proportion of your time does that activity occupy?

Makoto: I teach privately sometimes, and give masterclasses at universities. From next spring I am going to teach in a music college, but I am not supposed to tell you where yet.

Bob: Well, congratulations! I guess that makes us among the first to know. We’ll wait until it’s announced, so that we don’t spoil the surprise…

What kind of music do you like to listen to for your own enjoyment? Who are some of your favorite classical musicians?

Makoto: I like listening to Bach at any time. I like listening to classical guitar music, too. Maybe because it is very intimate, and it sounds perfect when I am alone at night.

Recently I also discovered that New York City’s Classical Radio Station plays much more interesting repertoire early in the morning. I found out this thanks to my jet lag. When I turned on the radio at 2:00 A.M. one day, they were playing Elliot Carter’s “Concerto for Orchestra.”

Bob: When do you remember first hearing or hearing about “Third Stream” music? What is your reaction to the notion, and to the music?

Makoto: I always knew about the mixture of classical and jazz, but I haven’t heard this expression “Third Stream” until you told me. It is maybe because I didn’t grow up here and didn’t go to school here.

For me, the earliest exposure to this mixture is Paul Creston’s “Marimba Concertino.” It was composed in 1940, and it has lots of jazzy rhythm and harmony. I always enjoy playing this concerto very much.

Bob: What direction do you see your career taking in the future?

Makoto: I will stay in classical music, I’m sure. But, since I play lots of contemporary classical music, and work with many living composers, I feel the division of music into different genres has become rather vague. What kind of music it is really depends on composer’s styles, which vary very much today. Some music has a jazz influence, some is derived from folk music, and also, popular music has big influence on today’s contemporary music.

I enjoy the teaching, and working with young performers, too. I would like to do it more in the future.

Bob: This has been truly delightful, Makoto. Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Makoto: “Creating new repertoire for marimba” has been a very important mission I have had throughout my career. Because the marimba is a new instrument in classical music, we haven’t got wide repertoire yet.

I have been commissioning new music for marimba from many composers, and so many pieces have been born so far. They are solo, concerto, and chamber music.

But to commission a piece from a composer, someone has to pay the composer to write the piece. I used to pay out of my pocket. But, at one point, I realized this new music will become the heritage for the future generations. Then I thought if I could raise money from many people and commission new music, we can say our generation is passing something to the next generation.

This is when I started “ISGM New Music Commissioning Fund.” ISGM is my “fan club” in Japan, and I asked its members if they want to contribute some for commissioning new music. Since 2001, more than 300 people have contributed, and ten new pieces were born!

It is quite moving when I see everyday people like my truck driver who transports my marimba contribute to this project. These people are the ones who are very interested in what kind of piece is coming out from this project, too.

The concerto I play with LACO, “Concerto for Marimba and Orchestra” by Pierre Jalbert was indeed born this way in 2005. I premièred it in Kobe in front of the people who participated in creating this new work. I am very excited that my performance of this piece with LACO will be its North American première. I feel like this is a gift from my people in Japan to the audience in L.A.!

Bob: It is, indeed, Makoto, and it means a whole lot more to me to think of it in those terms. I’m sure it will mean more to our readers and listeners at the concert, as well!

Thank you so much again for taking the time and effort to share this interview with us. We are most appreciative, and we look forward to hearing you and LACO play the Jalbert Marimba Concerto this December with great relish!

Makoto: Thank you again, Bob, for inviting me to participate with you in this interview for the LACO audience. It has been my pleasure.


Thanks for this interview! I really enjoyed reading it and then watching the concert. It is so fun to know something about the soloists before the concert begins. I wish all orchestras did this. Keep it up!

  • —anonymous, December 16, 2008 05:08 pm

I'm really glad you enjoyed the interview; it was certainly a lot of fun to do! I'm happy to report that Nakura-san is as delightful in person as he is on the stage, as personable as he is virtuosic...

  • —Bob Bragonier, December 17, 2008 09:30 am

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