Mitsuko Uchida: Piano's Mysterious Magicianby Lucie Renaud
/ July 1, 1999
Mitsuko Uchida, the 50-year-old
pianist the critics nicknamed the high priestess of Mozart," "the leading
Schubertian of our time," and "the greatest classical pianist of the present
day" will be performing an all-Schubert recital (3 impromptus and 2 sonatas) at the
Festival International de Lanaudière on July 23, 1999.
Mitsuko Uchida started her piano studies in Tokyo. Her family was
not particularly interested in classical music, but they thought it appropriate for a
young girl to study an instrument. In 1961, Mitsuko Uchida's father was appointed
ambassador in Austria and the whole family moved to Vienna. Mitsuko Uchida continued her
studies with Richard Hauser at the Vienna Academy of Music. When her father went back to
Japan four years later, she decided to stay behind in Vienna. In 1969, at age 20, she
received the first prize at the Beethoven Competition. The following year, she won second
place at the Chopin Competition in Warsaw.
In 1973, Mitsuko Uchida took an
important step towards the pursuit of her musical career. She decided to stop taking
lessons and moved to London (where she resides to this day). In 1975, she won second place
at the Leeds' competition. Despite all those prizes, fame was slow to come. In 1982, she
performed all of Mozart's nineteen sonatas at London's Wigmore Hall. The public and
the critics went wild. An executive from the Philips recording company attending the
recital booked her right away to record all nineteen sonatas. She also recorded all
the Mozart's concertos. She intends to perform those once again in the years
2000-2010, conducting the orchestra from the keyboard.
Despite her success and fame,
Mitsuko Uchida barely gives 50 concerts and records only one CD a year (exclusively for
Philips). She is very private, refusing most interviews. She despises all the glamour and
the marketing strategies of the musical industry. She likes taking risks and doesn't
intend to become a commodity to be traded. An intriguing pianist, she prefers to surrender
her personality to the expression of the composer's ideas.
When she is away from the
concert scene, she doesn't listen to other musicians' recordings. Instead, she analyses in
much detail the scores she will be performing and finds out about the instrumentation
typical of the era. She reads composers' biographies extensively to capture their
personality at the specific time they wrote a particular piece. After that, she starts the
interpretation process, instinctively at first, then by practising at length, playing,
thinking and sometimes dreaming.
Mitsuko Uchida's musical
interests don't stop with Mozart, far from it. In the last 15 years, she has performed
works by Schubert, Beethoven, Schumann, Debussy, Bartok and Schoenberg and charmed
audiences and critics alike. Her powerful concentration, her flawless technique and her
colourful playing making her stand apart from other pianists of her generation. She
achieves perfect balance between both hands and succeeds in extracting the harmonic
substance of the chords she plays.
Last year, Mitsuko Uchida
decided to associate Schubert and Shoenberg in an unforgettable series of recitals. By
performing both composers on the same program, she tried to show Schubert's influence of
the "other" members of the Viennese school. She also wanted to show the
audiences both the more conventional side of modern music and the somewhat prophetic
quality of classical music. Mitsuko Uchida plays Schubert as if he were still alive,
conveying his tenderness, his subdued passion, his nostalgia, and the mystery surrounding
his music. By doing so, she successfully touches the heart of thousands everywhere and
proves herself to be an exceptional pianist.