At the age of 20, young Canadian pianist Naoko has already been a winner of the Violons du Roy prize, the Bodouin Trophy, the 2016 Southern Ontario Chamber Music Institute Prize; she also received full scholarships to Banff Centre’s Rolston/Szekely Program and the Royal Conservatory of Music's Taylor Academy. Naoko also was the Bronze Scholarship winner at the 2014 Neapolitan Music Festival.
Currently pursuing Piano Undergraduate Studies with Suzanne Beaubien at the Conservatoire de Musique de Québec, we were
glad to have a moment of Naoko's time and to receive the latest updates on some of her current musical endeavors:
Q: How did your life as a pianist begin?
NS: My parents first enrolled me in piano lessons when I was little because they thought it would help my sense of pitch, which apparently seemed to be lacking quite a bit. According to my parents I would often come home and sing songs I had learned at school, but when they went to the school performances they were surprised to find out what the songs were actually supposed to sound like! However, my real interest in piano began when I started to enter piano competitions at the age of nine or ten. The competitions really motivated me to practise, and eventually I developed a true appreciation for music.
Q: What do you love most about playing the piano, and do you play any other instruments?
NS: Piano is the only instrument that I play. I think the thing that I love most about playing the piano is the aspect of being able to share the music with other people. I believe that music has the ability to take the performer and the listener away from reality and transport them to a different place mentally.
Q: Do you have a favorite piece of music?
NS: I think if I had to pick one, my favourite piece would be Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Op.26 in A-flat major. I first heard this piece when I was about eleven years old. An older friend of mine was playing it at a gala concert, and I was incredibly moved by his performance. I don’t know why, but the theme in the first movement just really spoke to me -- even at the age of eleven, when my interest in classical music was just beginning. I have been drawn to the piece ever since, and I really hope to play it someday.
Q: If you could spend a day with any two composers past or present, who would they be, and why?
NS: The first composer I would like to meet is definitely J.S. Bach. Bach left so little musical instruction on his manuscripts and the instrument that he had was so different from the modern-day piano that nowadays it’s really up to the performers to try to imagine how he envisioned his music to be played. I would be very curious as to how he would interpret his own music and what he would think about the interpretations of his music that exist today, played on the modern-day piano.
The second composer I would like to meet is Franz Liszt. Liszt is not only known for being an extraordinary composer and pianist, but he was also known to be one of the best teachers of his generation. Many of his students went on to have successful careers in music. I think it would be very interesting to learn about his teaching methods and to see how piano pedagogy has changed over time.
Q: Are there any memorable performance experiences that you can tell us about?
NS: Actually, my most memorable performance is one that just happened yesterday! About a month ago, one of my friends asked me to accompany her at her recital. I was preparing for all of my competitions and exams at that time, so I ended up only having about two weeks to learn and perform forty pages of challenging repertoire -- a Schumann Violin Sonata and a contemporary piece by Szymanowski. Since we are both studying away from home, we only had a span of ten days to squeeze in rehearsals. The preparation was very intense, and there were so many times I wished I hadn’t taken on such a difficult project. But in the end, I ended up really enjoying the performance, and I think learning this repertoire really helped me grow as a musician.
Q: Where is your dream performance location?
NS: This probably sounds weird, but I think it would be really amazing to play on a different planet! But until that day I would love to play anywhere as long as there is an audience willing to listen!
Q: What do you hope to be doing musically in ten years time?
NS: My lifelong mission is to create a positive impact on society through music, so I hope that in ten years time I will have moved closer to this goal, in addition to having improved my skills as a musician. I really enjoy doing charitable work through music, such as performing at and organizing benefit concerts, so I really hope I would still be doing that. I would also hope that I will have had enough experience to be in a position where I can encourage and help youth give back to society through music, just like the many people who are helping me today.
Q: What are your main interests outside of music?
NS: My main interest outside of music is in business and, more specifically, in philanthropy. When I was 17 years old, I started my organization, Musicians’ Dream Aid, which gives financial aid to aspiring young musicians. We are actually hosting our fifth fundraising concert this weekend, so that keeps me busy most of the time when I’m not playing the piano.
Watch Naoko Sakata's video documentary and learn more about her musical endeavors: