Today's "high priestess of Mozart" (and Schubert) is
a risk-taker who plays the piano on her own terms

Mitsuko Uchida: as dedicated to Schönberg as she is to Mozart and her beloved Schubert

Neither prodigy nor protégée, Mitsuko Uchida nevertheless made her way to the highest firmament of classical music. Slowly but steadfastly she won the race, so to speak...

When she began piano lessons at an early age as part of her traditional Japanese education and even after she had shown demonstrable talent on the keyboard, no one in the Uchida household in Tokyo could have imagined that someday she would become the world's " high priestess of Mozart" and be hailed as one of the "supreme Schubert pianists" of our time. She would have been raised as a dutiful diplomat's daughter to become perhaps at best a model Japanese housewife, had her uncommon love for Western music not intervened.

Today, much is made of the "Mozart Effect" on children. It remains arguable whether or not listening to Mozart's music enhances a child's IQ but, more than the routine piano lessons, it must have made quite an impression in the young Uchida's mind. In an interview with the Detroit Free press, she recalled listening to her father's collection of classical recordings by European composers but it was Mozart she listened to "again and again."

The family's move to Vienna when she was 12 was a turning point in her life. Vienna, after all, was where Mozart composed the masterworks that ensured his immortality. And it was in Vienna where, while continuing her musical studies under Richard Hauser at the prestigious Vienna Academy of Music, the Japanese ambassador's daughter could at last satisfy her boundless intellectual curiosity about the culture of Western music. She must have impressed her music teacher, for only two years later at age 14 she performed her first concert at the Vienna Musikverein. In the meantime, German became her second main language and when her father was assigned back to Japan four years later, not surprisingly, she decided to remain in Vienna to continue her studies. In 1969 recognition came when she won first prize at Vienna's Beethoven Competition. The next year, she won second prize at Warsaw's Chopin Competition.

Though fully steeped in the traditions of the Viennese school of piano-playing, Uchida somehow felt stifled by its many restrictive rules. So, in 1973, confident of her artistic maturity, she flew the coop - giving up Vienna and music school to give free rein to her creative impulses, she moved to London where musical freedom beckoned. London is where she lives to this day. (And English, naturally, has become her third main language.)

In 1975 she won second prize at the Leeds Competition, yet a concert career remained elusive. Ignoring conventional wisdom and eschewing the competition circuit and the usual paths to fame, she embarked on her own self-directed and liberating explorations into music - and at the time, into Mozart in particular. In the next several years devoted herself to an intensive self-study of music. She listened and read. Indulging her fascination with Mozart, she studied everything about the composer, his works, and the culture of the time until she could understand the many hidden complexities of his music and the source of his genius. Then she played his music - strictly on her own terms, making it her own.

Finally in 1982, she began to tell the world what Mozart had revealed to her in the course of her virtual dialogue with the composer. And what a revelation! First she played all of 20 piano sonatas in a series of performances before London audiences at Wigmore Hall, repeating the program later that year in Tokyo, astounding critics on all occasions with her fresh, inspired and elegant playing. It was Mozart as they had never heard him played before - passionate, intelligent and insightful. In the 1985-86 season, she served up twenty-one piano concertos, conducting the English Chamber Orchestra while playing from the bench. In no time, she became in demand all over the world, recording contracts poured in, and fame rushed to her door.

While Mozart was her first calling card, she refused to be associated only with Mozart to the exclusion of other composers she loved dearly. Her concert repertoire and her discography of many award-winning recordings will show that there are indeed other composers close to her heart - Bach, Beethoven, Bartok, Debussy, Schönberg, Schumann, and Schubert dearest of all! To each composer whose works she performs or records, she devotes the same amount of study and careful preparation that she gave to Mozart.

Today, Mitsuko Uchida has new and continuing partnerships with the world's distinguished musicians and orchestras. In 2002, for example, she was Artist-in-Residence at the Cleveland Orchestra where until 2007 she will perform the entire Mozart concerti cycle conducting the orchestra from the piano. In 2004, she concluded her own chamber music Perspective Series at Carnegie Hall entitled "Mitsuko Uchida: Vienna Revisited" where she juxtaposed Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert with the composers of the Second Viennese School (Schönberg, Berg and Webern), and which she brings to Europe in the 2005-06 season. Her special professional partnerships includes, among conductors: Kurt Sanderling and Jeffrey Tate with both of whom she has made many recordings, as well as Pierre Boulez, Seiji Ozawa, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Sir Charles McKerras, and Sir Colin Davis; among performers: the Brentano Quartet, violinist Mark Steinberg, and most recently (affirming her love for Lieder) tenor Ian Bostridge with whom she recorded Schubert's song-cycle Die schöne Müllerin, the only singer she has had occasion to collaborate with.

Uchida's service to music extends beyond the concert stage. She served for several years as the first woman Music Director of the Ojai Music Festival in California and serves with pianist Richard Goode as Co-Artistic Director of the Marlboro Music School and Festival in Vermont which brings together aspiring young musicians and established artists. Her commitment to the development of young musicians extends to her support of and appointment as trustee of the Borletti-Buitoni Trust.

Music is and will be Uchida's one all-consuming passion well into the future. Already plans are afoot for the series of concerts she will perform in 2018 when this artist of the highest order celebrates her 70th year of a truly extraordinary life in music. Let's all mark our calendars! - GBCajipe ©FanFaire








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