Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?
My mother is a piano teacher. I used to crawl under the piano when my mother was teaching – I am talking about when I was not even a year old. So, it was totally natural for me to take up piano lessons. As for pursuing a career, I am still looking for the secret to succeed. Quite honestly, I still feel like a music college student because the basics of my life have been the same (whether piano practise is done or not is a major issue of the day).
Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?
My mother Michiko for a start. As for teachers, I am really grateful to two teachers, Mr. Hironaka who taught me in Japan and Benjamin Kaplan who coped with me in London. Ben was the one who told me how to look at the music, how to analyse, and how to perform.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
I cannot think of anything much off the top of my head. Coming from a family with a piano teacher with absolutely no connection to any ‘important’ people in Japan, let alone outside Japan, I feel I have done pretty OK.
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
Recordings…. Takemitsu piano music because it was the first CD of the journey with Robert von Bahr and BIS (now, I have recorded 33 CDs with them!!!!). I am proud of the most recent recording, SATIE with an 1890 Erard Piano. I was asked to perform a recital on an Erard piano once. I was reluctant because I am not a period instrument specialist, but the piano was so wonderful that I fell in love immediately. As soon as I played the concert, I grabbed the arm of the owner of the instrument. I asked him if I could use the piano for a CD recording. I am totally fascinated by Erik Satie at the moment. His music is raw, but the ideas he came up with are 20-30 years ahead of his time. I feel privileged to have this opportunity to re-discover his ability, to look into his musicality with more respect. Satie has been underestimated for a long time. Having the Erard for the recording has helped me to realise his genius approach, just because I love this particular instrument so very much!!
Which particular works do you think you perform best?
Debussy, Takemitsu for sure because I like working on ‘beauty of sound’ at the piano. And some Rachmaninov. I say this because every time I work with Russian orchestra, they tell me I have a ‘quasi-Russian’ heart. Personally, I like performing Schumann and Liszt very much and I have been including their pieces in my solo recitals this year because 2016 is marks anniversaries of their deaths [Schumann 1856, Liszt 1886]. They show me the depth of piano music. Very often, I am totally emotional and shaken by their music when I walk off the stage after a performance.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
Nowadays, it is important to know ‘anniversaries’ of composers or any musical events. When I find my favourite composers’ anniversaries, I feel as though I won a lottery. It doesn’t mean I am worked up with it. In reality, I speak to the promoters of concerts and build programmes. So, each concert is unique.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
I am one of the advisors of Muza Kawasaki Symphony Hall in Japan. It is a magnificent concert hall. Of course, Royal Festival Hall, Barbican, Wigmore, Cadogan, Kings Place in London are all very special to me. Personally, I am happy wherever I am taken. A school classroom can be a wonderful venue if I establish rapport with the audience.
Who are your favourite musicians?
I like my close colleagues rather than superstars in the world. I get excited when I get to see what is so amazing about them close up – Peter Donohoe, Martin Roscoe, Kathryn Stott, Ronan O’Hora, Charles Owen, Katya Apekisheva to name a few.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
When a huge black hairy spider came out from ‘between keys’ on the piano after I finished playing the first item. The spider looked massive and dramatic against very white keys!
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
One has to go through very tough practising. It is important to have that level of work to get out there. On top of it, there are many things one has to have in order to make career. Noticing a moment of ‘chance’ is important. I am talking about all yjr practical bits. Of course, talent and enthusiasm have to be there too.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
The same… if I can still manage the same things in 10 years from now, I would be delighted.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Happiness is something every individual decides. I am happy when I am pottering around the house. Equally, I am very happy when I receive some good feedback from the audience. I nearly forgot to say this… I am very happy when a performance has gone well. But even happier when I have done my piano practice according to my plan (most of the time, everything gets delayed, I don’t complete my plan)
What is your most treasured possession?
I have been keeping my diary for the last 30 some years, nothing detailed, it is more like a log, just a record what I have done that day. I often think what would be my luxury on a desert island. Nail clippers!
Noriko Ogawa has achieved considerable renown throughout the world since her success at the Leeds International Piano Competition. Noriko’s “ravishingly poetic playing” (Telegraph) sets her apart from her contemporaries and acclaim for her complete Debussy series with BIS Records, confirms her as a fine Debussy specialist. Her Images Book I and II were chosen as the top recommendation ‘exquisite delicacy’, BBC Radio 3’s CD Review, January 2014. Noriko’s latest recording for BIS records is of solo piano music by Eric Satie.
Noriko appears with all the major European, Japanese and US orchestras including the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra of Moscow Radio, BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, Czech National Symphony Orchestra, St. Petersburg Symphony Orchestra, as well as the BBC Symphony Orchestra for the world premiere of Richard Dubugnon’s Piano Concerto. Noriko made her BBC Proms debut in August 2013 and appeared again in 2014 with the Endymion Ensemble. She was the Artistic Director for the Reflections on Debussy Festival 2012 at Bridgewater Hall. In 2015 she continued as Associate Artist for Ravel and Rachmaninov Festival.
As a recitalist and chamber musician, with her piano duet partner Kathryn Stott, Noriko has performed Malcolm Arnold’s Concerto for Two Pianos at the 2013 BBC Proms.
Noriko regularly judges the BBC Young Musician, Munich International Piano Competition, Honens International Piano Competition and the Scottish International Piano Competition. Noriko has been appointed as Chairperson of the Jury for Japan’s prestigious 10th Hamamatsu International Piano Competition in 2018.
Noriko’s Japanese translation of Susan Tomes’s book Out of Silence – a pianist’s yearbook has been reprinted due to popular demand.
Noriko is passionate about charity work, after the tsunami in Japan in 2011, she has raised over £40,000 for the British Red Cross Japan Tsunami Fund. Noriko founded Jamie’s Concerts a series for autistic children and parents and is a Cultural Ambassador for the National Autistic Society.
Noriko is a professor at Guildhall School of Music and Drama.