Japanese-Canadian pianist Yoko Hirota stuns with impeccable pianism on SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL: MINIATURE PIANO PIECES. Originally recorded in 2009, this remastered edition brings out the intricacies of 20th- and 21st-century piano composition with a clarity that was previously unheard of.
Today, Yoko is our featured artist in “The Inside Story,” a blog series exploring the inner workings and personalities of our composers and performers. Read on to discover her favorite activities when returning to her hometown of Kobe, Japan…
If we looked through your music library, what would we be surprised to find?
Besides classical music, there is a lot of Japanese pop music, especially of the ‘70s and ‘80s. I came to North America in 1982, so I was not following much Japanese pop music. In recent years, I started to listen to more of those since they are more available and easier to buy via digital platforms. The rock band of the ‘70s “Happy End” is my favorite!
Do you have any specific hopes about what this album will mean to listeners?
I hope my album SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL: MINIATURE PIANO PIECES will help the listeners discover such small (short) pieces can be so exquisite and stand as concert repertoire. It’s like a short poem in which each word is important and creates a universe of its own. The pieces in my album are similar to that. Each one expresses the intense character and universe of its composer.
What were your first musical experiences?
I started my piano lessons at the age of 4 at Yamaha music school. I remember having a pouf under my feet while playing piano. Since then, practicing piano has become one of my daily routines, like brushing my teeth! When I was admitted to Yamaha’s special-training classes at the age of 7, we studied music theory, composition, and ensemble aside from individual piano lessons. These four years at the special-training classes gave me a lot of opportunity to learn and appreciate classical music in general.
How do you prepare for a performance?
Practice, practice, practice. Since my expertise is contemporary classical music, often the composers of the pieces I play are still alive! So, one of the important things for me is to play the piece for the composer and ask his or her critiques. I like this stage where I can participate in the creative process of the composer and to make their music better than they imagined sometimes.
What are your other passions besides music?
Gastronomy! I like cooking but also going to bistros and restaurants. My favorite bistros are in Paris and “Izakaya” in Kobe, Japan. We go back to Japan regularly, and my hometown Kobe is famous for good bakeries, the china town, Indian restaurants, Kobe steak, etc. So, this is an endless passion for me to pursue!
Who are your musical mentors?
My mentors are my piano teachers with whom I studied – the late Livingston Gearhart at the State University of New York at Buffalo, Louis-Philippe Pelletier at McGill University, Gabor Eckhardt at Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Hungary, Gabor Csalog at the Bartók Music Conservatory in Hungary, Herbert Henck in Germany, and Florent Boffard, former pianist with L’Ensemble InterContemporain in France.
I also admire pianists such as Pierre-Laurent Aimard and the late Charles Rosen.