My Brief Brush With Fame

My apologies for not having updated for the past...3 months? Something like that. Things have gotten busy.

But leaving aside jobs and thoughts of long stretches of the past and future, I would like to write about just one night.

Friday, November 4th. Suntory Hall, Roppongi, Tokyo. In a secluded area tucked away behind the ANA Continental Hotel, one could walk past Suntory Hall everyday without knowing it.

It isn't much to look at from the front, yet this hall has hosted some of the best in classical music and is, in my opinion, the top concert hall in Tokyo and Japan.

Considering this is my blog, "in my opinion" is redundant. I shall leave it out from now on. Assume everything is my opinion, and, by definition, unequivocally and obviously correct.

You may know that my favorite pianist is Dame Mitsuko Uchida. Please refer to the following links as you continue to read, for background music. The first link is my first exposure to her, the first movement of Mozart's piano concerto No. 25 with Ricardo Muti:


The second one is the third movement of Beethoven's 4th piano concerto with Sir Simon Rattle.


However, perhaps the most touching of the videos I have seen of hers is this one where she plays an encore with Mozart's piano sonata K. 545 - Andante


This last tune is probably one that is familiar to many, and one I have played myself, yet one I never knew could be so beautiful, until I heard it through her fingers.

She was born in Atami, a small seaside town about an hour away from Tokyo. Her father was the Japanese ambassador to Austria, and she moved with her parents to Vienna at an early age, studied piano, and then took 2nd at the International Chopin Competition. However, in her later years she focused much of her repertoire on Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, and the second Viennese school (Schoenberg etc.).

She tours mostly in Europe and the USA, and though she doesn't seem particularly fond of Japan, she does play here once every year and I try to attend as many of her concerts as I can.

One major warning must be taken into consideration when writing about music however, and I think Charles Rosen sums it up very nicely in his book, Piano Notes: The World of the Pianist:

"The temptation is great to write inspirational prose in the grand style about an experience as intense as playing is for any committed pianist. I am embarrassed when I read that kind of prose, however, as the intensity of feeling is only made factitious by being diluted with words, so I have largely preferred to let that intensity be taken for granted."

I have realized through my own efforts in trying to write about music is that it is futile from someone with my limited writing abilities. The emotions I try to convey get lost in a jumble of grandiose words that in the end lose the focus and point I was trying to make in the first place. Music is auditory, reading is visual. Perhaps that basic difference is enough to make words inadequate in describing the experience of music.

With regards to the evening itself, I met up with 2 other friends at Suntory Hall for the concert. We had seats in the first row, though off to the right, so we could only see her face and feet.

Which was just fine. Her facial expressions are a wonderful part of the performance, and the feet gave me a much better knowledge of her pedal technique.

The performance that night was a Mozart Fantasia, Schumann's Davidbundlertanze, and a Schubert sonata, plus a Mozart sonata movement for the encore. During the first half of the performance,  I thought this was my one chance in life to give her flowers considering I was sitting in the first row. I dashed out as the intermission started and ran into the ANA Continental Hotel, sprinting into a florist 5 minutes before it closed. I picked out a small bouquet of roses, and as the flower lady arranged them, I wrote a long note to the object of piano-related adoration.

Running back into the Suntory Hall with around 5 minutes to spare before the end of intermission, I tried to get into the auditorium but was quickly stopped by at least 3 ladies working there. They would have made great secret service seeing as how they converged and took me down before I was even close to the door with my flowers.

"I'm sorry sir, but you can't enter the hall with the flowers. Would you like me to give them to her?"

"I would prefer to give them to her myself if possible..."

"Well, we'll keep them at the front and you can go backstage after the concert. She may have a meeting planned beforehand, but if not, there is a chance you can see her."

This, of course, was better than I had imagined.

You see, I hadn't exactly come up with a plan after getting the flowers. Leap up on stage afterwards and try not to get shot before I could give her the flowers?

The concert itself was wonderful. To be honest, I do prefer her Mozart over everything else, but the Schubert was also excellent. There was enough applause at the end and she came out one last time to play a Mozart piano sonata movement for an encore.

After giving her a standing ovation and seeing the lights in the concert hall slowly come back to life, I dashed outside, grabbed my flowers, and navigated the parking lot maze to the basement of Suntory Hall. There were already 2 other people in front of me, and within 10 minutes, the line extended to about 30 people behind me. Of all these Japanese, I was the only one who brought flowers, while the rest just had programs to sign.

No class, really.

It was a long wait punctuated by a false alarm when a cellist came out who apparently performed at a smaller side hall. Finally, a stern faced Japanese man came out through the doors and told us that all photography was forbidden and that it was possible she wasn't going to get to everyone and to just shove it.

My stomach was doing cartwheels in my abdomen.

A few moments later, she stepped out from the glass doors saying "Last order!" in German-accented Japanese. Normally restaurant employees go around saying this when the shop is about to close haha. She asked if she could borrow a pen from one of the people in front of me (well, more like said it and took it and he nodded vacantly), and then she got to me.

I shouted out "Dame Uchida!" and I think the English caught her by surprise as she stopped and took the flowers and offered her hand for me to shake. Guided by some divine force, I shook her hand and then, I swear to god, bowed and kissed it. Though the memory is a slow-motion blur, I think she took it well.

The following 30 seconds were just me spewing up every compliment I could think of in terms of her music, how it changed my life and you're such an inspiration and it really moves me every time I hear you play a concerto and your Mozart cadenzas are works of art and really, I would love to discuss your creative process behind how you make up your own improvisations and embellishments to the music and what your favorite piece is and which piano concerto you love to play and the one that speaks to you the most.


I was out of breath and she was nodding and then she smiled and said "Good luck" like she knew I was a fellow pianist. I was just beaming at her, my cheeks flushed as she moved on down the queue waiting for her autograph. She reached the end and during at some point one of her assistants had taken the flowers and was carrying them for her. We all watched as she got into a van with tinted windows and it drove off, ferrying her to some wonderful hotel in Tokyo no doubt.

I played piano after getting home, and I swear, Mozart's No. 20 in D minor sounded better than ever before.

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