Home > Interviews, Music > Interview: World Class Pianist Chisato Kusunoki

Interview: World Class Pianist Chisato Kusunoki

“Music is a sublime form of spiritual existence for me.” (Chisato Kusunoki)

Chisato Kusunoki is an award winning world class pianist who has been described as being one of the most talented players of all time. She attended and read music at the University College, Oxford where she graduated with the prestigious Gibbs Prize in performance. Her outstanding performances at various prestigious venues around the world, such as the Purcell Room in London, the Mendelssohn Institute in Leipzig, the Sumida Triphony Hall in Tokyo, and more recently the internatioanl festival Palermo Classica in Italy, have won her much acclaim. Those who have seen her perform live will agree that as a player she has the ability to engage the audience immediately bringing them into her world of musical magic and wonder.

Recently, Diverse Japan witnessed at first hand the talent of this gifted musician during her mesmerising recital at St. James’s Church in Piccadilly, London. After her performance Ms. Kusunoki kindly gave us an interview (over tea and scones) and spoke about her life and passion for music. She also graciously partook in a photoshoot. You can see by the photographs below that she is very photogenic and is as delightful as the music she plays.

Please enjoy the interview and feel free to leave a comment.

Interviewer: Spencer Lloyd Peet (Diverse Japan Administrator)

(Photo © markkphotography All rights reserved)

Could you please tell us a little about your background, where you were born etc…

I was born in Düsseldorf, Germany, which has a fair size of Japanese community – my family was based there due to my father’s job. About 1 1/2 years later we moved to London. Then we returned to Japan when I was 3 1/2.

So you didn’t really get a chance to learn to speak German?

No. One day I would like to find the time to study it.

Do you have any siblings?

Yes, I have two sisters – I’m in the middle.

What were you like as a child, were you outgoing, shy?

I was extremely shy. I remember I used to hide myself during the school drama classes. I was too shy to face the audience.

But you’re still playing to an audience.

Yes, of course. When I am inside the music, I am transported into a different world.

(Photo © markkphotography All rights reserved)

What made you want to learn the piano?

It was a natural thing for me. In Japan many children learn to play the piano at an early age. My father and older sister played. Before I could read, I found myself being able to play melodies that I hear. It could be a melody by Mozart or a bird song that came into my ears. I loved discovering the wonders of this instrument. It was certainly my favourite toy as a child.

That’s interesting. So do you believe there’s some truth to the notion that when women are pregnant, listening to classical music can have an effect on the child?

I would like to believe it.

You also play the flute, don’t you?

Yes, I used to. I hardly practised it because much of my time was taken either practising (or rather playing) the piano or playing with friends outdoor.

Does the environment in which you play, such as a church or a large concert hall, affect your performance in any way?

I am often surprised and inspired by how different atmosphere, people, climate and indeed all sorts of invisible things can affect my playing-though mostly in positive ways.

(Photo © markkphotography All rights reserved)

Are you a lot more conscientious playing in front of well-established people?

Yes, I used to be in the past. Fortunately these matters don’t affect me very much these days.  Having said that I would be extremely nervous if great figures such as Liszt and Rachmaninoff were to be present at my concert.

What mental exercises, if any, do you do? For instance, do you meditate or do certain breathing exercises?

Much of my mental exercises are done during my practising hours, and that is on everyday basis. The process of polishing a piece of music to a level where I would aim for ’perfection’ requires much discipline and dedication.  Of course such ‘perfection’ does not exist in reality in my view, as the pursuit of art is infinite. Apart from that, yoga has certainly helped me strengthen both physically and mentally.

Are you self-motivated or do you suffer from procrastination?

I feel blessed that I have much self-motivation, thanks to the beauty of life.

(Photo © markkphotography All rights reserved)

It’s very enjoyable watching you perform live because your performances are so animated. You’re not stiff when you play.

Really? I’m glad to know I don’t look stiff! Well, I wish I could stay still because too much movement can be distracting. I am quite small with small hands. But I have a tendency in wanting to play works that require enormous physical energy. It means I have to exert energy from the whole body to obtain maximum tone without forcing the sound. It is probably one of the reasons why I cannot help moving (laughs).

We, the audience, get a real sense that there is a connection being made between you and the music. Is it a spiritual experience for you, a divine connection of some kind between you and the music?

Absolutely. I struggle to express in words this greatness of music that I experience. Music is a sublime form of spiritual existence for me.

(Photo © markkphotography All rights reserved)

For your album (Quartz 2089), why did you decide to record works by Russian composers?

I have always been interested in Russian culture through its music and literature especially. I have been exploring many lesser-known works by late 19th – early 20th century composers. I chose pieces by Rachmaninoff, Medtner, Liapunov and Scriabin, which I have always loved, and were familiar to me for many years. Although they share the Russianness in style, each work has a strong originality and well contrasted from others. I thought they would make an unique album.

Did you consider recording works by non-Russian composers, or did you decide from the start that’s what you wanted to do?

There were many possibilities as I enjoy a wide range of repertoire. I love music from medieval to contemporary periods and by composers of varied styles.  But for the first album, those composers came straight in my mind.

Where did you record the album?

It was recorded in Champs Hill, Sussex.

(Photo © markkphotography All rights reserved)

According to the sleeve notes, it was recorded over three days: 25, 26, and 27 October 2010. On average how many hours were you in the studio for each day?

I spent an average of 7 hours each day. Chocolate was my must-have energy booster during those three days (LAUGHS).

Some of the tracks are quite long in length; the longest being track 7: Sonata In G Minor OP.22. Did you record each track all the way through from start to finish or did you break them down into segments?

Well, as in most commercial recordings, you would play through the whole piece, and then work in shorter sections for editing purposes.  Personally I prefer recording live because spontaneity can be preserved. In sessions, as soon as the red light comes on (meaning the microphone is switched on) I get tense and nervous (LAUGHS).

(Photo © markkphotography All rights reserved)

Do you plan on releasing another album soon, and are you able to say anything about the music you’re considering?

Yes. I would like to.  It will be a collection of works that I feel I can ‘say’ something special through my playing.

In the last 10 or 15 years, classical music has become much more appreciated by those who wouldn’t have normally listen to it – thanks to the like of Vanessa Mae. What is your opinion on sexiness being used as a way to sell a performance?

I believe that the true artistry can speak for itself. What can be more powerful than that?   Yes, I am aware that visual aspect is easily influenced. And if that’s the way classical music can be enjoyed by wider range of people, then I have no objection.

(Photo © markkphotography All rights reserved)

Are you an avid listener of pop music, if so what particular acts do you enjoy listening to?

No. I know very little pop music.  Having said that, I enjoy music that speaks to my soul regardless of genres. Aside from classical music, I am interested in East European folk music and dance.

Was there ever a time where you thought you would like to do something else as a career?


I’ve noticed that there are some similarities between the posture and mannerisms one takes as a guest in a tea ceremony and someone who plays the piano – sitting upright, feeling relaxed. Could learning both skills be of help to the other?

I’m sure, any learning which requires discipline is beneficial.

(Photo © markkphotography All rights reserved)

Do you feel ‘Ki’ (the breath of life/energy force known in Chinese as ‘Chi’ as in tai chi) circulating your body when you play?

Absolutely. For me, ‘Ki’ is brought by the spiritual power of music. When I can’t have good music I feel a part of my soul missing and I don’t feel right. I also believe in the medicinal powers in music.

Do you visit Japan often?

Yes, as often as I can.

Were any of your family or friends personally affected by the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in 2011?

No, fortunately not. I was devastated by it of course. I felt desperate to help those suffering as soon as possible. As a pianist I was only able to organise a fundraising concert for the Red Cross.

Besides music, what else do you enjoy doing?

Dress making, knitting, cooking, baking, wildlife, nature, reading, travelling and walking.

Do you live by a particular philosophy?

Always stay true to myself in all aspects of life, and aim to achieve the best.

(Photo © markkphotography All rights reserved)

What are you goals/aspirations for the future both professionally and personally?

For me, my professional and personal goals I have for the present and future remain the same: to live my life to the fullest and share my love with the living creatures around me– humans, animals, nature and etc…

Well music has certainly changed your life, hasn’t it?!

I am thankful to those who have come into my life-my family, friends and teachers who have welcomed me as I am and supported me unconditionally. It is their love together with the music that has changed my life.

Thank you, Chisato.

It’s my pleasure.

Chisato Kusunoki Official Website

Photography by markkphotography

(Photo © markkphotography All rights reserved)

(Photo © markkphotography All rights reserved)

(Photo © markkphotography All rights reserved)

Related Posts:

Celebrated Pianist Chisato Kusunoki Will Give FREE Live Performance In London’s West End

Music Review: Chisato Kusunoki “Piano”

  1. October 15, 2012 at 1:19 pm

    Looking forward to Chisato’s next concert on the 1st November. All the best.


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